Calligrammes by Guillaume Apollinaire from ‘Poems of Peace and War’. Apollinaire – La Colombe Poignardée et le jet d’eau. from Calligrammes: Poems of Peace and War (). The Stabbed [bleeding] Dove (top image). Guillaume Apollinaire’s Calligrammes reveals a modernism unmatched by English poets of the first world war, says Stephen Romer.

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Apollinaire’s Calligrammes

Astonishingly, Guillaume Apollinaire is the sole French poet of the first world war still widely read or seriously rated. Yet more astonishingly, none of the tragic events of the war itself actually seems to resonate in his work.

Instead, he gurgles at the beauty of the Very lights, the shells explode like fireworks dalligramme a private party, the flares are pink, evoking his mistress’s nipples, the shape of the shells her breasts, the haunches of his artillery horse her hips.

Coming from the austerities of Owen or Sassoon, with their realism and psychological insight, and the calligrame intensity of their protest, you wonder quite what irresponsible hallucination you have fallen into.

Starry eyed, and starry headed – to use one of his titles – Apollinaire volunteered instill hot from a passionate love affair, and apparently ready for an immense aesthetic adventure. The author of Alcools, the leader of the Parisian avant-garde, the champion of cubism, simultaneism, futurism and every other -ism, the poet who embraced the new technologies and exploded poetic form and figure, joined his artillery batallion in Champagne the champagne front seems a peculiarly apt posting for the man for the same reason as thousands of others: As an artilleryman, positioned behind the front lines in the relative security of a wood, Apollinaire could indeed sit back, to some extent, and admire the view.


Later, he joined the infantry proper, went into the front line, and his poems darken accordingly, becoming more complex and more urgent.

Review: Calligrammes by Guillaume Apollinaire | Books | The Guardian

Elsewhere, the wood where he is stationed takes on a kind of fairylike magic, as in “La nuit d’avril “, which apoklinaire an extended fantastical conceit:. Apparently revelling in its own egotistical sublime, it is not surprising that Calligrammes, the major collection of Apollinaire’s war poems, published in and reissued here in an English translation by Anne Hyde Greet, should have raised the hackles of critics.

At callihramme most hard-nosed, in the s, Louis Aragon criticised it sharply for its aestheticism and frivolity, declaring that no poem should countenance any description of war that made it look attractive. Which only goes to show how dogmatism can blunt judgment and proscribe taste. For the truth is that to judge Apollinaire either naive or superficial is both a naive and superficial reading of these poems.

Apollinaire, it would seem, was one of those men apollunaire marched away, sans se poser trop de questions, in response to the nation’s call. There is no direct apol,inaire protest as such: It is worth remembering also that Apollinaire, Polish-Italian by birth, only received his French nationality inafter fighting at the front for more than a year.

This would have added to his unquestionably genuine patriotic ardour, since he had always desired to be recognised officially as French. What we have in these poems, instead of politics, is a subjective and affective chronicle in which the wilder imaginative flights are constantly pinned down by immediate detail.

A consistent governing sensibility expands then retracts with impressive suppleness – it’s rather like a genie returning to its bottle. In some poems, the individual destiny is frequently writ large in unashamedly mythic style, and then disarmingly deflated in a way unique to this poet. In “Merveille de la guerre” we find: This very late poem was written after Apollinaire had been wounded in the head, and undergone trepanation in Paris. The overriding requirement is still to find new poetic forms, more audacious and revolutionary metaphors, adventurous ideograms and experimental typography.


Conflicting emotions

In dalligramme victoire” he even imagines a new, improved language, made of nothing but consonants, of raucous throat noise and “labial farts”, that would issue forth accompanied by gobs of spit not “postilions” – a rare error of this translation. In Russia, anarchist poets were also declaring the sovereignty of the phoneme and the sign at this time.

This is cwlligramme Apollinaire is the modernist that the consecrated English war poets never were; his work is far more assimilable to that of TS Eliot, who published “Prufrock” injust a year before Calligrammes. This lavishly produced, bilingual edition of Calligrammes, first published in and now re-issued, remains the comprehensive edition, though I would refer the reader also to the finely judged recent translations of this poet by Robert Chandler in the much slimmer Dent Everyman series.

Not all the poems in Calligrammes are successful; Apollinaire wrote a lot, and at speed, so there are duds and wet squibs among them.

Elsewhere, the wood where he is stationed takes on a kind of fairylike magic, as in “La nuit d’avril “, which is an extended fantastical conceit: