The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Hills” is a poem in blank verse divided into forty-four stanzas of five lines each. The title is a metaphor that will continue throughout the poem, thus giving coherence to a long sequence of apparently disparate images. The hills suggest altitude and, implicitly, the possibility of a better vision: One can have a better perspective and see farther from the top of a promontory. This elevated position becomes the equivalent of foresight and superior knowledge.

Like traditional lyric poetry, “The Hills” is written mainly in the first person, but, in the original French version, poet Guillaume Apollinaire sometimes uses the second-person singular (tu) when addressing his old self in order to make a clear distinction between his old nature and his new one, between past and future. He also uses the second-person plural (vous) when he addresses the whole of humankind in a prophetic voice.

The poem begins with an image that could be related to Apollinaire’s experience in World War I: two planes involved in combat over Paris. However, one of the planes symbolizes the poet’s childhood and youth, and it is brought down by the other one, which symbolizes the future. This metaphoric victory of the future over the past announces a new era of unlimited knowledge and magic, where poets can perceive, as if from the top of a hill, things that had not been seen before and where they can announce “Billions of prodigies” to come.


(The entire section is 608 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Although it has no punctuation, “The Hills” may seem more traditional than other poems published by Apollinaire in Calligrammes because of its regular stanzas. (Calligrammes is famous for its poems that are shaped like objects such as cigars, trees, guitars, and the Eiffel Tower.) In spite of its regular pattern, however, “The Hills” experiments with new poetic language and imagery. Each stanza contains a global and instantaneous image of the world. The poem is made of several such independent frames that succeed each other in an order that seems arbitrary; it is actually the result of a different temporal perspective that is specific to a poetic vision that covers present, past, and future in one glance. The poet uses the future tense to mark his prophetic tone (“A time will come for suffering” or “Man will become a god”), and he alternates it with both the past tense, which indicates a return in time, and the present tense, which he uses to describe himself experiencing the future he predicts.

Many critics have contrasted the Apollinaire of Calligrammes to the Apollinaire of Alcools (1913; Alcohols, 1964) and other early works in prose and verse, stating that the war experience marked a turning point in the writer’s style and themes. However, the unique graphic arrangement of some poems in Calligrammes should not prevent readers from seeing the continuation of certain images and...

(The entire section is 473 words.)