The poem describes a man preparing and drinking coffee, smoking, and putting on his jacket and hat to leave. These simple actions are elevated in the eyes of the speaker who sees a great deal of meaning. In ‘Breakfast’ they also emphasize how this man does not acknowledge them at all.
‘Breakfast’ by Jacques Prévert is a thoughtful and direct poem that describes a speaker’s reactions to an unknown man’s coffee, cigarette, and departure.
The speaker uses the first part of the poem to describe, step by step, the way a man prepares and drinks his coffee. The lines are quite direct and without emotion. As the poem progresses, the speaker moves on to describe how the man smokes, gets his hat and jacket on, and goes out into the rain. All this occurs without the man speaking to or looking at the speaker. This is something that troubles the speaker and leaves them in tears at the end of the poem.
You can read the full poem here.
He poured the coffee
Into the cup
Without any word to me
He emptied the coffee with milk
And he put down the cup
Without any word to me
In the first lines of ‘Breakfast,’ the speaker begins by describing someone only referred to as “He.” This person never gets a name or any deeper description. They’re the sole focus of the speaker’s thirty-five lines. Throughout the first part of the poem, the speaker describes “his” actions. They are mostly concerned with putting coffee into a cup, then adding sugar, and milk. He uses a “small spoon” and drank the coffee. These are simple actions. But, the speaker is taking a great deal of care when talking about the man’s movements. This makes it easy to assume that the speaker cares deeply about this person.
Finally, the speaker refers to themselves towards the middle of the poem. They use the pronoun, “me,” revealing very little about themselves. The man they’ve been focusing on doesn’t talk to them. He empties his cup “Without any word to me.” This phrase is repeated multiple times, ensuring the reader understands its importance.
He made circles
Without any word to me
Without any look at me
And I buried
My face in my hands
And I cried
In the second part of the poem, the speaker focuses on the man smoking, getting his hat on, and his raincoat, and then walking out into the rain. These are, once again, quite simple things. To another observer, they wouldn’t be at all interesting. But, to this speaker, they are of the utmost importance. They are moved by what the man does and especially by the fact that he leaves without “any look at me.” The end of the poem may come as a surprise. The speaker cries, with their head in their hands, over the way this person acted towards them.
It’s unclear as the poem comes to a close whether or not the speaker knows the person they’ve been talking about (and that person purposefully ignored them) or if they don’t know this person and are projecting unrelated emotions onto them.
Structure and Form
‘Breakfast’ by Jacques Prévert is a thirty-five-line poem that was originally written in French. This translated version loses some of the rhymes and examples of rhythm that the original had but it does a good job representing the poem as a whole. Throughout this version, readers can find examples of several literary devices that are used in both the English and French versions.
Throughout this poem, Prévert makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:
- Anaphora: occurs when the poet repeats the same word or phrases at the beginning of lines. For example, “He” and “Into” which start almost every line.
- Imagery: can be seen when the poet uses a particularly effective description. This should trigger the reader’s senses and inspire them to imagine exactly what the poet’s describing. For example, “He emptied the coffee with milk / And he put down the cup” and “And I buried / My face in my hands / And I cried.”
- Enjambment: can be seen when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines one and two as well as lines five and six. It is used numerous times throughout this poem.
The tone is descriptive and distant. The speaker uses very basic language to describe the man’s actions, and it’s only towards the end of the poem that the emotion is evident.
The meaning is that even the simplest actions and encounters can be imbued with a great deal of meaning. In the end, it doesn’t matter whether or not the speaker knows the man they’re describing.
The purpose is to emphasize the importance that small moments can have to the right person. The man drinking coffee and smoking likely doesn’t see any meaning in his actions. But, for the speaker, they are incredibly moving.
The themes at work in this poem are ones of everyday life and alienation. The speaker clearly feels distant from the man they’re describing, and it’s also quite clear that they want to be closer to this person.
Readers who enjoyed ‘Breakfast’ should also consider reading some related poems. For example:
- ‘Historic Evening’ by Arthur Rimbaud – focuses on the evocative quality of words and the construction of rich sensory imagery.
- ‘Zone’ by Guillaume Apollinaire – describes a walk through Paris that spans an entire day, from sunup to sunup.
- ‘Summer Sadness’ by Stéphane Mallarmé – is about the guilt felt by a man who does not love their partner in the way that he should.