Apollinaire's Road to Sainthood
to very few great people of this world can we assign the attribute
of "sainthood", without facing reproof for the melodrama or
even ecstasy of our pen (obviously we are not talking here about the
codes of the Church, although everything in the universe aims at the
common endpoint, generally called metaphysics). One of them was the
French poet, Guillaume Apollinaire, who treated the art of love,
sensual poetry as a poem of adoration, a litany to the most divine
female body, ritual prayer, worthy of sacred worship, risking an
impeding accusation of "trash trader", an opinion which was
later refuted by critics thousands of times.
In this sense, it seems
in Polish contemporary literature he could only be compared to
Leśmian, our brilliant writer of erotica.
Oreille droite de mon amour troisième porte
C' est en
te prenant que j' arrivai à ouvrir entièrement les
deux premières portes
Oreille porte de ma voix qui t' a
Je t' aime toi qui donnas un sens à l'
Image grâce à l' Idée.
Les neuf portes de ton corps)
Apollinaire's poetry never left the border of real
art, although it often hovers on the edge of religious morality, or
the worlds of high and low culture. Risk has always been tempting for
poets. This is how Apollinaire writes about it in the form of
to the edge, he said. We are afraid, they said. Come to the edge, he
said. They came. He pushed them... they flew (Apollinaire)
His libertine lifestyle, as well as his gluttony
and drinking must be regarded as extreme by his Parisian society.
However, he does not deviate in virtue from his artistic Boheme,
which he deceptively calls "Rose". He does not entertain
the feeling of indecency when he publishes the works of Marquis de
Sade . He is planning to publish his love and erotic-ballistic poems
to Louise. He won't have enough time.
Discovered accidentally, and published after both
wars, letters written by Gui to Lou are not only a beautiful report
on the soldier's longing for his beloved woman, but also a pulsating
expression of unsatiated male desire. The saucy, unprudish language
and style of his writing can be regarded as a unique work of
pornographic epistolary art.
1880 and 1918, during the poet's short life, a plethora of events
took place in Paris, "the beast's belly" of Europe. The
period saw the appearance of steam trams, the Lumière
Brothers' cinèmatographe device and Mélies' short
films. Scientists were discovering electromagnetic waves, X-Rays,
free electrons and were studying laughter, hysteria, and dreams. The
current fashion trends included a moderate libertine lifestyle, irony
and Absinth. Henri Poincaré found new scientific truth, the
artists of the Montmartre Bohemé, Picasso and Braque, found
cubist truth, and "their" poet nicknamed Apollinaris -
"electric roses in the garden of his memory". Apollinaire
says then that memory is the source of his poetry, and love is the
function of that memory. According to Adam Ważyk, the poet, in that
time, gives priority to intellectual extravagance and the syncretic
mystery play of the carnival over feelings .
He plays deception games, jeers, toys with phallic meanings, and in
Rosamund's Palace he devours brains and thoughts, as well as
urine coloured soup accompanied by a "Lady with a pearl butt".
He removes punctuation marks from his Alcools, adding, and not
facts seem important. 12 years earlier Wilhelm de Kostrowitzky,
called Koster, falls in love without reciprocation with Linda Molina,
and shortly after that, with Annie Playden, who flees from him to
America. La Chanson du mal-aime is created. In this text the
poet rushes into enruptured love complaint, into anger, and into
derision. In his scornful game he mistakes his beloved one with a
"street girl". The poem is published only in 1909, after he
has been living, for two years, in a stormy love relationship with a
painter, Marie Laurencin. Three years later Marie does not accept
Koster's proposal. She is fed up with his infidelity and fits of
tyranny. Apollinaire-the-lover was capricious, just like the reigning
style in Paris - called rococo (in Poland and Austria called
secession). In this spirit the poet faces the risk of artificiality
with his poetic bouquets. Apollinaire was not only a relentless
experimenter (the first Lyrical Ideograms were created at the same
time), but also a consistent critic and art theoretician. Before he
went to the war front he delivered a number of speeches, wrote a
multitude of essays, articles, polemic texts, introductions for
catalogues and a few books devoted to painting, sculpture, Cubism,
Simultanism, which he called Orphism, moreover, he published a
Around the same time he "performs seven love
acts or seven fantasies on the phallus", he dreams about the
touch of a woman's body from a distance and amorous relations with
women from previous centuries. He tries opium, and maybe as a result
of this he reaches a state of internal ease, like Rimbaud some time
earlier. In his poetry, simultaneously with Picasso's art, the blue
period comes next - with special attention to detail, making it more
real, more ordinary, stripping it of its uniqueness.
It was difficult to keep pace with Apollinaire's
literary dynamics for his contemporaries. Together with discovering
the commonplace, "the low voice", he lays aside his
erudition, praises off-hand manners, he discards the modernist
solemnity of stable ground in favour of poetry attained through the
senses within the natural force of chance. He wants to "experience
boundless flames", he wants matter's revenge for the
centrifugal-spiritual demands of the preceding generations.
eiderdown and our dreams are equally unreal. (Apollinaire)
the author of Zone, the realist-and-visionary, tired with
the old world in which he has not found lasting love and has
discarded God, just like when the magic of childhood faith
disappears and only unclear intuitions remain.
The poet volunteers to be enlisted and go to the
war on an impulse of patriotic duty. He feels Polish, but also a
French patriot. Besides that, it was a masculine thing and his
wounded pride after three failures in love.
it was during the war, frequently on the first front line, while
facing the demoralising images of killing, or maybe this is why it
happened there, as a result of re-evaluating ideas, his attitude
towards the woman came closer to a pure contemplative admiration
comparable to the Song of Songs. And although they are not
quite devoid of subtle a streak of decadence, the war erotic poems
took him to a safe distance from libertine inclinations and became
focused on the emotion for one, well, maybe episodically, two women,
Louise and Madeleine. In those letters he writes that he is in the
state of great moral purity.
After returning from the front he speaks about
enriching poetry with the natural sounds of the human body and about
the fact that poetry is always subordinate to love. And although he
left Madelaine, his illusory war love, and he lost his good health as
well as faith in a bright future and his ability to keep pace with
avant-garde poetry, he came to believe in reciprocated love to "the
red-haired beauty", his flaming anima.
can assume that his neurotic, rococo, as we have established already,
fluctuations, in life and poetry, as well as finding pleasure in the
planned discarding of beloved women, which possibly was a concealed
sadistic inclination, were to vanish for good. "However, it was
me who didn't love as one should", he admits. Unfortunately, he
died a few months after the publication of La Jollie Rousse
and his marriage to Jacqueline Kolb. He did manage to publish his
avant-garde Calligrammes written since 1913, and shout in his
hospital bed that he did not want to die, because he still had a lot
to say. Did he also mean "a lot to love"?
is what he wrote in one of the poems entitled: Orphée
with irony and fear about the
insufficiency of love in the new epoch coming with great force.
temps de la tyrannie
temps où faudra s’aimer les uns les autres
n’être aimé de personne
rien laisser derrière soi
préparer le plaisir de tout le monde
trop sublime ni trop infime.
until the end, stood as a guardian to great love and great poetry and
in this sense he earned his sainthood.
Translated into English by Jadwiga Ryba and Kirk Stone