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||Guillaume Apollinaire (1880-1918) - pseudonym of Guillelmus (or Wilhelm) Apollinaris de Kostrowitzky|
Poet who took part in all avant-garde movements in French literature at the beginning of the 20th century. Besides writing poetry, Apollinaire published semi-pornographical books; he was an innovator in the theatre of the absurd, and made known Cubism as a school of painting with his study Les peintres cubistes (1913). During the World War I Apollinaire enlisted and fought on the front. In a letter he described war as a "beautiful thing" and continued: "... despite all the risks I run, the exhaustion, the total lack of water, of everything, I am not unhappy to be here..."
"Although he lived his days among the baladins of Cubism and Futurism, he was not a modern man. He was somewhat less complex and more happy, more ancient, and stronger. (He was so unmodern that modernity seemed picturesque, and perhaps even moving, to him.) He was the "winged and sacred thing" of Platonic dialogue; he was a man of elemental and, therefore, eternal feelings; he was, when the fundaments of earth and sky shook, the poet of ancient courage and ancient honor." (Jorge Luis Borges in The Total Library, 1999)
Apollinaris de Kostrowitzky kept his origin secret,
but he was probably born in Rome, the illegitimate son of a Polish
adventurer called Angelica de Kostrowitzky, a rebellious Polish girl.
Her father had been a colonel in the Papal guard. Apollinaire's father
was possibly a Swiss-Italian aristocrat, Francesco Flugi
d'Aspermont. He disappeared early from Apollinaire's life, and the
future poet was raised by his gambling mother in Italy, in Monaco, on
the French Riviera, and in Paris.
Living apart from his mother with his brother Albert in complete freedom, Apollinaire assumed in his youth the identity of a Russian prince. He received a French education at the Collège Saint-Charles in Monaco, and afterwards in schools in Cannes and Nice. Employed as a tutor for the daughter of a German viscountess, Apollinaire traveled widely in Europe. During the summer of 1899 he went to the Ardennes region of Belgium.
At the age of 20 Apollinaire settled in Paris, where he worked for a time for a bank. He contibuted to such periodicals as La Revue blanche, La Plume, and Le Mercure de France. In 1903 he founded his own magazine, Le Festin d'Esope, and the short-lived La Revue immoraliste. Among his friends were such artist as Pablo Picasso, André Derain, playwright Alfred Jarry, and the painter Marie Laurencin, who was his lover. At the age of twenty-one he traveled in Germany. In 1901-02 he worked as a tutor in the Rhineland. Although Apollinaire wrote poetry, as a member of la bande à Picasso he was more known in the following years as the advocate of modern painting. He brought Picasso and Braque together, and helped organize the cubist room 41 at the Salon des Indépendants in 1911.
Apollinaire also edited a number of reviews, published satirical and semi-pornographical texts, and proclaimed that the writing of de Sade would dominate the 20th-century. His first prose work, L’Enchanteur pourrissant (1909), was illustrated with woodcuts by André Derain. The prose-poem depicted the entombment of Merlin the Enchanter. His grave is visited by a number of figures from mythology, folklore and history. They have been interpreted as Merlin's alter egos. From his love for Viviane, the Lady of the Lake, Merlin creates a new vision of men and women.
With the publication of Alcools (1913) Apollinaire was recognized as a highly original voice in contemporary poetry. Le Bestiaire ou Cortège d'Orphée (1911), initially illustrated by Raoul Dufy's woodcuts, was later set to music by Francis Poulenc. Alcools was a selection of poems written over the previous 15 years. It combined classical verse forms with modern imagery, involving transcriptions of street conversations overheard by change and the absence of punctuation. It opened with the poem 'Zone', in which the tormented poet wanders through streets after the loss of his mistress. Among its other famous lyrical pieces is 'Le pont Mirabeau.' Some of its poems were inspired by Jacqueline Kolb. Annie Playden, an English governess, inspired the Rhineland piece, 'La chanson du mal-aime.'
A la fin tu es las de ce monde ancien
When cubism had become a powerful force, Apollinaire published
The Cubist Painters, which explored the theory of cubism
analyzed psychologically the chief cubists and their works. According
to Apollinaire, art is not a mirror held up to nature, so cubism is
basically conceptual rather than perceptual. By means of the mind, one
know the essential transcendental reality that subsists "beyond the
scope of nature." Ten days after the appearance of the book,
deserted cubism for Orphism. The concept was also invented by him and
described "the art of painting new structures out of elements that have
not been borrowed from the visual sphere but have been created entirely
by the artist himself, and have been endowed by him with the fullness
of reality." Among Orphicist artist were Robert Delaunay, Fernand
Léger, Francis Picabia, and Frantisek Kupka. The Surrealist painter
Giorgio de Chirico made in 1914 two paintings in tribute to
Apollinaire. In Portrait of Apollinaire as a Premonition the
poet uses sunglasses - he is blind. His neckties Apollinaire kept in a bottle; Picabia, using China ink, painted a tie on Apollinaire's shirt-front
In 1914 Apollinaire had a short-lived affair with Louise de Coligny, then with a schoolteacher called Madeleine Pagès, to whom he became engaged. Then he met Jacqueline Kolb, whom he married in 1918. Disenchanted with his reputation as a dangerous foreigner and thief - in 1911 he had been detained for a week on suspicion of stealing Leonardo's Mona Lisa from the Louvre museum in Paris - he took out French nationality and enlisted in the infantry. (Apollinaire was not one of the thieves, but a casual friend of his had stolen some statuettes from the Louvre. Though he was famous for his erratic conduct, the publicity he gained from this episode was entirely repugnant to him.)
Apollinaire fought on the front in Champagne until 1916, when he received a head
wound while reading a new issue of the Mercure de France.
Some of his poems Apollinaire wrote in the trench under fire:
"The sky is starry with Boche shells / The marvelous forest where I
live is giving a ball." Apollinaire's medical treatment included two
operations on his skull. Unfit for active service, Apollinaire took a
job in the Bureau of Censorship.
During and after his convalescence in Paris Apollinaire continued to arrange new exhibitions and staged his one play The Breasts of Tiresias in 1917, about a housewife, Therèse, who changes sex and lets her breasts floating upwards as toy balloons. Apollinaire called the play "Drame surréaliste," making the term known. "I have coined the adjective 'surrealist' which does not mean symbolical . . . but rather well defines a tendency of art, if it is no newer than anything else under the sun, has at least never been utilized to form an artistic or literary creed." In this successor of Alfred Jarry's Ubu Roi Apollinaire combined his own sexual obsessions with a satirical exploitation of Greek legend and ironic preoccupation with the low birth rate in 19c-20c France.
Le Poète assassiné (1916, The Poet Assassinated) was a collage of the great fictional poet Croniamantal from his birth to his breakthrough as a poet and death at the hand of a mob. Apollinaire composed the work from pieces which he had saved for years. Its a broken, episodic narrative changes from farcical to exalted: "Others profited from the intermission by vomiting wildly, their eyes bulging out of their heads; their neighbours encouraged them with an imperturbable seriousness. Hannes Irlbeck, who had gotten back on his feet, but not without great effort, sniffed and murmured. 'There's no more beer in Munich.'"
Apollinaire died of influenza in the great epidemic of 1918, on November 9, in Paris, in his apartment on the Boulevard Saint-Germain. Experimental Calligrammes (1918), Apollinaire's poetic record of his war experiences, came out a few months before his death. André Breton, Tristan Tzara, Paul Éluard, and Louis Aragon and other poets of the younger generation took up its call to investigate new worlds of expression. Cubism left its marks on several literary works and authors. Max Jacon, André Salmon, Pierre Reverdy, and Gertrude Stein were intimately connected with the cubist painters. In prose, critics have seen cubist aesthetics in André Gide's novel Les Fauxmonnayeurs (1925). Apollinaire's stature has continued to grow since his death, as the precursor of surrealism and as a modernist poet. The Breasts of Tiresias was made into an opera (1947) by Francis Poulenc.