The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Little Car” is written in free verse, its forty lines divided into six stanzas, excluding the calligram inserted in the middle of the poem. It is autobiographical, relating the feelings and impressions of Guillaume Apollinaire as he thinks back on his journey with friends from Deauville across the French countryside to Paris, where they enlisted to fight in World War I.

By providing the date, hour, and location of their departure, Apollinaire establishes a specific setting and moment in time. The mention of the “little car” in the third line, and in the title, gives a sense of significance to a usually trivial detail. The following one-line stanza tells that the men in the car numbered three, a number that appears two more times in the poem.

In the next stanza, the poem shifts to a more profound level as the speaker suggests that their seemingly innocuous journey actually symbolizes the end of an entire “era.” War is described in apocalyptic and prophetic metaphors as a wave of mysterious and otherworldly forces unleashed around the frail, helpless little car. Armies become “furious giants”; planes are “eagles” flying from their nests; submarines seem like “fish” ascending from the sea.

The poem shifts back to a more intimate focus in the fourth stanza. The “dogs” can be seen in two ways: literally, as dogs the speaker hears barking in the distance, or figuratively, as the dogs of war beckoning...

(The entire section is 509 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The most significant aspect of the poetic form of “The Little Car” is its freedom. Apollinaire wanted to divorce himself from the traditional poetic forms of the past, feeling they did not allow enough freedom for him to express himself in a spontaneous manner. The stanzas are not uniform in either line length or line number; he even offers a one-line stanza.

To further distance himself from the rigid forms of the past, Apollinaire removed all punctuation from the poem. One can see how lack of punctuation serves his purposes for the poem: Without punctuation, words and meaning become ambiguous; ideas and images flow and shift with more ease, just as images and impressions change and transform as they swirl through the speaker’s mind during an emotional moment.

The most dramatic resistance against traditional poetic form is the inclusion of the calligram. Just as a poet uses imagery to help the reader form a vision in his or her mind, Apollinaire provides the vision by literally forming words into a picture. This concept stretches the poem’s appeal to different senses. The effectiveness of the calligram is debatable, though, because the words seem subordinated to the image, their meaning obscured and impact weakened by the more powerful visual effect of the picture.

The frequent shifts in focus, the sense that the speaker is moving in and out of reality and dream, sometimes functioning in both at the same time, and the...

(The entire section is 523 words.)