Apollinaire: The Poet and the Bridge

Apollinaire: The Poet and the Bridge

Muse Inspiring the Poet, by Henri Rousseau. 1908.

Born in Rome, in 1880, Wilhelm Albert Włodzimierz Apolinary Kostrowicki became one of the most important figures in the history of modernism, likely coining the terms Surrealism and Orphism along the way. Apollinaire, the name he adopted when he moved to France, was a tireless champion of the avant-garde, especially when it came to the cubist movement, painters, poets, composers and writers in general. His own production of poetry, novels and plays was prodigious, though there is still debate as to where he ranks in the pantheon of French modernism.

 

There can’t be any doubt, however, that he was a central figure and helped propel the modernist stream forward, as he set the table for Dada, Surrealism and a few other isms before his short life was over.

I first encountered Apollinaire’s work via The Random House Book of Twentieth Century French Poetry. An exceptional, bilingual anthology, its editor, Paul Auster, chose translations from poets who were great in their own right. An example is Samuel Beckett’s translation of “Zone,” from Apollinaire’s collection, Alcools. An excerpt:

 In the end you are weary of this ancient world

 This morning the bridges are bleating Eiffel Tower oh herd

 Weary of living in Roman antiquity and Greek

 Here even the motor-cars look antique
Religion alone has stayed young religion
Has stayed simple like the hangars at Port Aviation

 You alone in Europe Christianity are not ancient
The more modern European is you Pope Pius X
And you whom the windows watch shame restrains
From entering a church this morning and confessing your sins
You read the handbills the catalogues the singing posters
So much for poetry this morning and the prose is in the papers
Special editions full of crimes
Celebrities and other attractions for 25 centimes

 

 You can read translations of Apollinaire at the Poetry Foundation’s website. It includes a solid, but brief biography. And over at Penn Sound, they have audio of Apollinaire reading his own poetry. In French, of course:

 

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