Racy humour in both Poulenc and Apollinaire is always capable of suddenly yielding to the deepest emotion. The word ‘bleu’ is slang for a young soldier, and the title of the song Bleuet
(which literally means ‘cornflower’) is a tender diminutive. The boy soldier is about to die; five o’clock is the time to leave the trenches and face the enemy fire. But there is no exaggerated heroism or patriotism in this song. Poulenc wrote: ‘Humility, whether it concerns prayer or the sacrifice of a life is what touches me most … the soul flies away after a long, last look at “la douceur d’autrefois”.’ It is Poulenc’s only mélodie for tenor, and the voice needs to be that of a Cuenod rather than a Gigli; in describing the young man of twenty, the sad waste of his life, and that long last look, the narrator’s voice should have a special and ethereal timbre. Apollinaire wrote the poem in 1917, a year or so before he himself died as a long-term result of his war wounds.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1985