June 29, 2012

Guillaume Apollinaire

Guillaume Apollinaire [Wilhelm-Apollinaris de Kostrowitski] [France]

Wilhelm-Apollinaris de Kostrowitski was born on August 26th, 1880 in Rome, the son of an unmarried woman of Polish origin. His father had been a colonel in the Papal guard, which led Apollinaire to believe throughout his life that the father was a prelate of high standing in the Roman Catholic Church as a Cardinal perhaps or, as some suggested, the Pope himself.

   After a nomadic childhood, Guillaume along with brother Albert were sent to the Riviera for a Catholic schooling at Monaco, Nices and Canne. With his classmates, and free from parental restrictions, Apollinaire read Mallarmé, de Regnier, Racine, Corneille, de Gourmont, Verlaine, and Nerval among other poets. Sent out into the world at 18 to make his own living, he found a position as a tutor to the daughter of a German viscountess, which gave him opportunity to travel extensively about Europe.

    In 1902 he settled in Paris, working in a bank and living with his mother. Here he grew to be friends with many of the important young poets and artists of his time, including Pablo Picasso, Paul Fort, Max Jacob, Marie Laurencin, and Alfred Jarry. In 1903, in the name of Guillaume Apollinaire, he founded a literary review, Le Festin d'Esope, which further involved him in the literary scene of France. He wrote extensively, penning articles, stories, translations, theses of university students and introductions to special editions of erotic literature. His first major publication was a book of stories, L'Hérésiaque et Cie (The Heresiarch & Co.). In 1911 his first book of poems, Le Bestiarie was published with drawings by Raoul Dufy.

    Soon after the Mona Lisa was stolen from the Louvre, and Apollinaire was arrested and held in prison for six days. Disgusted the experience and the publicity he received, Apollinaire began another review in order to bolster his reputation; Le Soirées de Paris was a great success, lasting until 1914.

    In 1913 he published Les Peintres Cubistes, the result of collaboration and discussions with Picasso, Braque, Gris, Laurencin, Picabia, Metzinger, Léger, Marcoussis, and many others. The book put Apollinarie in the position of being the Cubist movement's major aesthetician and defender. The same year his L'Antitraditon Futuriste, a futurist manifesto, appeared in Milan. And Alcools, his first major collection of poetry, was published by Mercure de France. Thus he was at the height of his literary and critical powers when he volunteered for French military.

    Throughout World War I Apollinaire, serving as a lieutenant with the infantry at the front, continued to write, reproducing a sheaf of verse in gelatin from the trenches. In 1916 he was shot in the head, and, although he survived, was returned to Paris, unfit for continued military service. There he took a job with the Bureau of Censorship and continued writing, producing his second collection of poetry, Calligrammes, and completing his play Les Mamelles de Tirésias, billed as the first "surrealist" play. Apollinaire was also romantically in involved with several women, including a English governess, Annie, and the artist Marie Laurenicn. Other attachments followed his loss of Laurencin, serving as sources for much of his writing. In May 1918 he was married to Jacqueline Kolb, whom he had met while recovering from his head wound.

    The wound and his subsequent operations, however, began to undermine his health, and on November 9th of that year he died of Spanish influenza.


L'Enchanteur pourrissant (Paris, 1909); The Bestiaire ou Cortège d'Orphée (Paris: Deplanche, 1911); Alcools (Paris: Mercure de France, 1913);  Vitam impendere amori' (1917); Calligrammes (Paris, 1918); Il y a... (Paris: Messein, 1925); Julie ou la rose (1927); Ombre de mon amour (1947); Poèmes secrets à Medeleine  (1949); Le Guetteur mélancolique (1952); Poèms à Lou (1955); Oeuvres Poétiques (Paris: Gallimard, 1956); Soldes (1985)


Alcools: Poems, 1989-1913 (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1964); Calligrams, trans. by Anne Hyde Greet (Santa Barbara, California: Unicorn Press, 1970); Selected Writings (New York: New Directions, 1971; reprinted as Selected Writings of Guillaume Apollinaire, 1971); Zone, trans. by Samuel Beckett (Dublin: Dolmen Press, 1972); Zone (Brooklyn: Zonepress, 1977); Apollinaire: Alcools: Poems (Hanover, New Hampshire: Wesleyan University Press, 1995); Selected Poems (London /Dover, New Hampshire: Anvil Press, 1986); Autumn: Twenty Poems (Belfast: Lapwing, 2003); Calligrammes: Poems of Peace and War (1913-1916) (Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 2004)

The Crocus

The meadow is poisonous but pretty in fall
The cows calmly
Poison themselves
The crocus ringed in color and lilacs
Like your eyes bloom
Violet as their rings and as autumn
My life sucks poison in

School children come in a fracas
Dressed like harmonica-playing gulps
To pluck crocuses just like their mothers
Daughters of daughters they share the color of your eyelids
Fluttering like flowers in the demented wind

Softly the cowboy sings
While the slow and lowing beasts leave
The land so evilly flowered by fall

                  —Translated from the French by Douglas Messerli

 (from Alcools, 1913)


On the coast of Texas
Between Mobile and Galveston there is
A grand garden filled with roses
There is also a grand house
Which is one big rose

A woman often walks
In the garden by herself
And when I cut cross the lime-bordered road
We come face to face
Because she is a Mennonite
Her roses and clothes have nothing to secure them
I am missing two buttons on my coat
The woman and I are of the same faith almost

         --Translated from the French by Douglas Messerli

 (from Alcools, 1913)

Snow White

Angels angels in the sky
One is dressed as officer
One is dressed as chef
And the others sing

Bright officer color of the sky
Long after Christmas spring will softly bring
A shining sun to regale you
    A shining sun

The chef plucks the geese
    Ah! the vault of snow
    The fall and no
Sweetheart to enter my embrace

               —Translated from the French by Douglas Messerli

(From Alcools, 1913)

Hunting Horns

Our history is noble and tragic
As a tyrant's mask
No drama of chance or magic
Nor the tritest of details
Turns our love to pathos

Here Thomas de Quincey drinks
Pure poison to poor Anne
Dreaming away his life
Let's move on, let's move on since everything must
I'll frequently turn back

Memories are horns of the chase
Which die when the winds stop

—Translated from the French by Douglas Messerli

(from Alcools, 1913)

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