India, PROSOPISIA A venture A.R.A.W.LII... Vol - VIII, No. 2, 2015

Apollinaire's Road to Sainthood

Only 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 persuadée
Je t' aime toi qui donnas un sens à l' Image grâce à l' Idée.
(Apollinaire, 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 symbolic parable:

Come 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.

Between 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 2. 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 limiting, meanings.

Some 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 Futurism manifesto.

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.

The eiderdown and our dreams are equally unreal. (Apollinaire)

Says 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.

Paradoxically, 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.

We 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"?

This 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.

O temps de la tyrannie


Beau temps où faudra s’aimer les uns les autres

Et n’être aimé de personne

Ne rien laisser derrière soi

Et préparer le plaisir de tout le monde

Ni trop sublime ni trop infime.

(Apollinaire, Orphée)

Guillaume Apollinaire, until the end, stood as a guardian to great love and great poetry and in this sense he earned his sainthood.

Krystyna Lenkowska

Translated into English by Jadwiga Ryba and Kirk Stone