“The Song of the Poorly Loved” consists of fifty-nine stanzas, each five lines long. It is divided into seven sections, three of which have their own titles. Guillaume Apollinaire assembled it, probably in 1904, from poems and fragments he had written at various times over the previous few years.
The initial motivation for the poem came from Apollinaire’s own life: In Germany, he had met and fallen in love with a young Englishwoman named Annie Playden. He visited her twice in London with intentions to marry her, but she emigrated to America. The poem opens in misty London, where Apollinaire was rebuffed by Annie in November, 1903, and closes the following June in Paris, where he returned with all hope lost in May, 1904. As the comparison between his love and the phoenix in the five-line epigraph indicates, the poem revolves around Apollinaire’s efforts to resurrect his life after this unhappy love affair.
The long first section begins with a nightmarish episode in London. The poet is confronted by two figures who resemble his beloved and remind him of the transitory nature of love. He compares the mistreatment he has suffered to various fictional and historical examples of fidelity. Contemplation of his memories and regrets brings him to the nostalgic recollection of the heyday of his love. This he depicts in the three-stanza second section, which he calls an “Aubade” (a traditional form of morning love song).
In the third section, the poet is in...
(The entire section is 611 words.)