The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“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.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Probably the most striking formal feature of “The Song of the Poorly Loved” is the enormous variety of tone and mood. Apollinaire borrows techniques from the poetic practice of both the recent and the distant past and adds his own inventions to create an original and quintessentially modern work.

In many passages, Apollinaire’s writing owes much to the French Symbolist poets who were his illustrious predecessors. The description of the poet’s melancholic state of mind in stanzas 9 through 11 employs images and formulations similar to those used by Charles Baudelaire in his “Spleen” poems. The complex syntax of stanza 13 is reminiscent of the work of Stéphane Mallarmé. Yet Apollinaire constantly disrupts this Symbolist tone by employing surprisingly crude language; the lyrical evocation of spring in stanzas 38 and 39, for example, is followed by the use of cul (“ass”) as a simile.

The range of language in “The Song of the Poorly Loved” is such that scatological words rub shoulders with extremely erudite allusions. Most readers will need to research such esoteric terms as “argyraspids”; and they may look in vain, since Apollinaire liked to coin his own neologisms.

Another aspect of the poem’s variety is the constantly shifting perspective. Even within a single section, the poet’s point of view may change from impassioned lover to dispassionate narrator to reflective commentator. All of the...

(The entire section is 587 words.)