Bécat’s illustrations for Paul Géraldy’s best-selling collection of love poetry, Toi et moi (You and Me) are probably the most anodine he ever produced, but the upmarket publisher H. Piazza knew exactly what their public wanted – a gift that could safely be given to a prospective lover which proved they had good taste and understood problematic emotions, and at the same time were hoping for more than a discreetly-exposed breast.
Géraldy (1885–1983) was a hugely popular interwar poet, his Toi et moi selling over a million copies from its first publication in 1912 up to the late 1950s, when their simplistic ideas about love went rapidly out of fashion. His verse was simple, yet innovative in its simplicity, putting it within reach of all who had any emotional response to poetry. He knew something of the complexities of love himself, having both a wife, the singer Germaine Lubin, and a long-time lover and muse, Antoinette Sasse.
Here is a sample of the poems in Moi et toi:
Non! Ne t’enfuis! Ce geste
de te repousser de moi,
cette rigueur, cette voix,
ce mot brutal, — reste! reste! —
ne s’adressaient pas à toi.
Je ne gronde et vitupère
que contre mon propre ennui.
C’est sur toi qu’en mots sévères
se délivrent mes colères,
mais c’est moi que je poursuis.
T’en vouloir? De quoi? Je pense
à ton cœur sans récompense.
Je le voudrais rendre heureux.
C’est de mon insuffisance,
pauvrette, que je t’en veux.
Ris-toi donc du méchant geste
et pardonne aux mots mauvais.
Et ne sois plus triste. Et reste ...
En toi ce que je déteste
c’est le mal que je te fais.
No! Don’t run away! The gesture
pushing you from me,
the look, the tone,
that brutal word – stay! stay! –
they were not meant for you.
If I seem cold and grumpy
it’s because of my own boredom.
I know my harsh words towards you
help me get rid of my anger,
but it’s really me I’m cross with.
Blame you? About what? I want to
reach your heart without needing reward.
I only want to make you happy.
It’s because of my inadequacy,
my poor girl, that I blame you.
Please laugh at my thoughtless gesture
and forgive my blame-filled words.
Don’t be sad any more. Please stay ...
It’s what I hate about myself
That creates the harm I do to you.
Not very subtle, but quite advanced emotional intelligence for 1912!
The Bécat-illustrated edition of Toi et moi was published by L’édition d’Art H Piazza in a limited numbered edition of 4,300 copies.