In Paris With You – James Fenton [OCR]

In Paris With You
James Fenton

Don’t talk to me of love. I’ve had an earful
And I get tearful when I’ve downed a drink or two.
I’m one of your talking wounded.
I’m a hostage. I’m marooned.
But I’m in Paris with you.

Yes I’m angry at the way I’ve been bamboozled
And resentful at the mess I’ve been through.
I admit I’m on the rebound
And I don’t care where are we bound.
I’m in Paris with you.

Do you mind if we do not go to the Louvre
If we say sod off to sodding Notre Dame,
If we skip the Champs Elysées
And remain here in this sleazy
Old hotel room

Doing this and that
To what and whom
Learning who you are,
Learning what I am.

Don’t talk to me of love. Let’s talk of Paris,
The little bit of Paris in our view.
There’s that crack across the ceiling
And the hotel walls are peeling
And I’m in Paris with you.

Don’t talk to me of love. Let’s talk of Paris.
I’m in Paris with the slightest thing you do.
I’m in Paris with your eyes, your mouth,
I’m in Paris with… all points south.
Am I embarrassing you?
I’m in Paris with you.


From this OCR anthology, we have seen many poems about love that are derogatory when it comes to love itself. They have not been the sentimental poems about love but instead, have been the anti-love poems that are so popular in modern songs. Perhaps this was done on purpose when the people at OCR selected these poems to put into their anthology, so you could or would, be able to write about them, comparing one with the other?

This one is no different. Fenton begins with a statement about love, from the heart as well as the mind when he says “don’t talk to me of love. I’ve had an earful and I get tearful when I’ve downed a drink or two.” The internal rhyme of “earful” and “tearful” is wonderful to see and hear when read and clearly, this is a man who has been hurt, spurned in the affairs of love and someone for whom love is a negative thing, a time when emotions get the better of people, leading to hurt and tears. He says he is one of the “talking wounded” and that he feels as if he is “a hostage” to love and all it stands for. He feels “marooned” even though he is “in Paris” with someone he is supposed to love.

He is obviously in a place he does not wish to be and this makes him feel “angry at the way [he’s] been bamboozled” as well as “resentful at the mess” he has had to endure. He feels as if he has been dragged into something he would not have wanted to go through and admits that this is probably because he is “on the rebound,” which is a term that means he has ended a relationship with one person, possibly badly and has immediately found someone else, or maybe, even has had the two relationships happening at the same time and when one has ended he has gone straight to the other for solace and comfort. He says he does not “care where [they] are … bound” because at the end of the journey [of life or a real one] he is “in Paris with” his partner.

Now, if you was in a similar situation and did not wish to be there, you would not wish to go anywhere either, so he says “do you mind if we do not go to the Louvre,” a museum in Paris where there are lots of things to look at that are famous, the painting of the Mona Lisa for one. He is not that bothered about seeing all that. It does not interest him, but there is a hint it does interest his partner and if this is true, then the two of them are not a good match. He wants to say “sod off to sodding Notre Dame” and “skip the Champs Elysées,” both places of interest in the capital of France, where most of the tourists go. Instead, his desire is to “remain … in this sleazy old hotel room doing this and that,” which may be a reference to seeking to be intimate with each other, or to simply share each other’s company and not be so like the rest of the tourist masses.

He wants to learn who his partner is as much as his partner learns about him which does suggest they have not been together long. Or is this because he is embarrassed by being out in public with this partner for some reason? There is a faint possibility that this may be the case because he asks that they do not talk of love but instead instructs the partner to “talk of Paris, the little bit of Paris in [their] view.” This is the bit that they can see from their hotel room, or the bits inside the room, the “crack across the ceiling and the hotel walls [that] are peeling.” Now depending on how you view love, there has to be a reason why he does not want to be out and about and instead be “in Paris” with the partner. We are left to assume that for some reason, the tourist spots are not of interest, but what is close by is.

He says that he is “in Paris with the slightest thing you do” which does suggest his intentions and eyes are for one person only, the partner he is there with. He is in the French city with the “eyes” and the “mouth” and “all points south.” This level of private intimacy shows a love that could be seen one of two ways. Firstly, it could be seen as more like lust than love especially as he then has to ask, “am I embarrassing you?” Or, possibly, it could be a reference to love in the closeness of their relationship, in Paris, together, not prepared to share the partner with every single tourist that they will bump into, but more likely, that he has a preference for the quiet, romantic weekend, rather than the time spent where you are walking everywhere and feel like you need a holiday after the break to get over it.

Finally, the last line repeats the opening line, bringing the whole thing to a circular conclusion, like the poems before it, with the line, “I’m in Paris with you.” The repetition is important to note in these poems because it is meant to drive home the meaning that this man prefers to spend time with his partner together, alone, instead of sharing said partner with everyone else in such a busy city.

As love poems go, this one is a little odd in places because it has the tendency to make you think it is anti-love, but then states the preference for closeness in their love. In this way, there is a sense of balance as well as a lack of equilibrium because the two people want radically different things from their trip to Paris and their relationship with each other. In the end, love will come through though and win the situation and we are left to assume that as much as he wants to stay in the hotel room sharing an intimate experience, somehow, the partner will find a way to experience both aspects of their trip to France. This is then, a lovely poem showing the duality of love but also the difficulty of being in a loving relationship where balance is sadly lacking.