Guillaume Apollinaire Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Guillaume Apollinaire’s major importance as a writer lies in his poetry and his art criticism. He was part of a new age of experimentation in free verse and was closely involved both creatively and socially with the major figures in the Parisian avant-garde from 1905 to 1918. His literary career began in earnest in 1903 with a poem dedicated to a lost love and continued through the publication in 1910 of L’Hérésiarque et Cie. (The Heresiarch and Co., 1965), a collection of twenty-three fantastical and haunting stories that have often been compared to the writings of Edgar Allan Poe. In 1911, he brought forth his first collection of poems, Le Bestiaire (Bestiary, 1978), and, in 1913, a perceptive book about cubism. In 1916, he published a novel, Le Poète assassiné (The Poet Assassinated, 1923), and the following year, he gave a lecture that anticipated the development of Surrealism.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Guillaume Apollinaire, who is considered one of France’s most revolutionary and original poets as well as “the impresario of the avant-garde,” never won a major award during his lifetime. He almost had enough votes to win the Prix Goncourt for The Heresiarch and Co. in 1910 and was proposed for the Legion of Honor in 1918 but was not made a member. From 1908 to 1909, Apollinaire gained a reputation as a leader in literary circles and as an art critic. Critics recognized the novelty of Apollinaire’s inspiration and his originality of form; a few of them proclaimed him to be the “master of us all.”

Apollinaire wrote many theoretical articles defining the most important trends in the visual arts while establishing his own place within the various art forms. Always ready for new experiences, he added another medium to his writings by recording three of his poems. His experimentation with new poetic forms continued from 1913 to 1916 with the creation of “lyrical ideograms,” poem-drawings that were published in 1918 as Calligrammes (English translation, 1980).

All Apollinaire’s experiments and achievements in poetry and criticism are reflected in the creation of his three major dramas. Although his involvement with the theater lasted only two years, what he achieved in that time indicates the extent of his creative imagination and the importance that he placed on experimentation, the exploring of new approaches, and the willingness to depart from antiquated formulas.

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Was Guillaume Apollinaire’s complicated early family life an advantage or disadvantage to him as a writer?

Did Apollinaire have to have many love affairs to generate the love poems he wrote?

What did Apollinaire mean by “surreal”?

Consider whether Apollinaire’s elimination of punctuation from the poems in Alcools is beneficial or an unnecessary distraction to the reader.

What features of Apollinaire’s poetry might be most likely to bring about a revitalization of his reputation?


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Adéma, Marcel. Apollinaire. Translated by Denise Folliot. New York: Grove Press, 1955. This is the prime source of biographical material, the bible of scholars researching the poet and his epoch.

Bates, Scott. Guillaume Apollinaire. Rev. ed. Boston: Twayne, 1989. This book offers detailed erudite analyses of Apollinaire’s major works and informed judgments on his place in French literature and in the development of art criticism. It emphasizes the importance to the entire world of Apollinaire’s vision of a cultural millennium propelled by science and democracy and implemented by poetry. Included are a chronology, a twenty-six-page glossary of references, notes, and selected bibliographies of both primary and secondary sources.

Bohn, Willard. The Aesthetics of Visual Poetry: 1914-1928. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1986. Chapter 3, “Apollinaire’s Plastic Imagination,” reveals the lyric innovations that Apollinaire brought to visual poetry with Calligrammes: new forms, new content, multiple figures in a unified composition, a dual sign system used to express a simultaneity, and a difficulty of reading that mirrors the act of creation. Chapter 4, “Toward a Calligrammar,” offers a sophisticated structural and statistical analysis of the calligrammes to demonstrate metonymy as the principal force binding the visual tropes, whereas metaphor and metonymy occur evenly in the verbal arena.

Bohn, Willard. Apollinaire and the...

(The entire section is 664 words.)