Alcools Summary

Summary (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Alcools, a book of poems, is notable for its lack of chronological order. The long poem that opens the volume, “Zone,” was in fact one of the last composed before the book’s publication. The title of the volume, although evocative of alcohol, in fact has more to do with distilled essences. An earlier working title, “Eau de Vie,” suggests clear beverages, presumably alcoholic. Both titles also suggest something strong yet rare and fleeting.

By presenting his poems in apparently random rather than chronological order, Apollinaire was in fact making a statement, stressing product over process. He did not claim to have moved beyond his early work, but rather to be still present in it. Regardless of chronology, the poems differ widely in length, form, and content. Yet they are all of a piece. “Zone,” in particular, is a remarkable piece of work, a de facto preface to the entire collection. Borrowing in part from cinematic technique, Apollinaire, in “Zone,” frequently shifts viewpoints, alternately addressing himself in the first and second person, as if training a camera on himself. Recent inventions, such as cars and airplanes, figure prominently in “Zone”; yet the speaker seems to need no such transportation for his travels throughout Europe, from Paris to Prague to the Mediterranean.

Also included in Alcools are the “Rhenish” poems, composed during or just after Apollinaire’s residence and travels in the Rhineland. Although technically stateless, the poet regards things German with the ironic detachment of a Frenchman, even as he shows some affinity for the German Romantic tradition. Some poems record overheard...

(The entire section is 688 words.)