Themes and Meanings

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A strong religious theme joins the imagery of wine throughout the poem, drawing on the role of wine as the blood of Christ in Communion. The power of religion places the poet in an ambiguous role, for while as a visionary he dominates his world, he must also recognize the superiority of the divine.

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Again the poem is divided between the enclosure segments where, with the dominant wine imagery there are references to the poet’s authority, and the voices of the cities that advance religious themes. In the opening line Apollinaire addresses “men of the future” who should remember him. The theme of his own poetic immortality continues in Apollinaire’s later poetry written on the battlefields of World War I. In the 1917 poem “Merveille de la Guerre” (“Marvel of War”), for example, he leaves his own story as a “legacy to the future” and continues the universal perception he claims in “Vendémiaire,” saying that he “was at war but knew how to be everywhere.” The poet’s vision allowed him to escape the harsh context of battle.

Explicit religious imagery arrives with the songs of the various cities. Though all seem to give a form of tribute to centrally located Paris, they simultaneously lay claim to forms of transcendent power. The towns of Brittany establish the religious theme with the image of hands forming steeples and then refer repeatedly to mystery, culminating in that of “another life,” the afterlife that no man can know.

The industries of the northern cities and of Lyon are described as “holy,” with “angels” at Lyon weaving the cloth for which the city was famous. The question of religious authority returns, however, in the voices of the southern cities and of Sicily, which resolve the dualism of dominance and submission. The southern cities say that Paris and the Mediterranean should “share our bodies, as one breaks communion wafers.” Clearly, with the example of Christ, it is possible for the victim of a sacrifice to retain a dominant position. Similarly, Rome asserts its power through its “vin par deux fois millénaire,” which shares the age of the sacrament established by Christ but must also witness the fall of the pope’s triple crown.

The end of the poem reasserts the power of the poet. Because he has drunk all the elements of the universe, he has gained universal knowledge. In his confidence in his poetic role, Apollinaire sets aside the biblical prohibition that men must not aspire to the knowledge of good and evil. As he urges future generations to “listen to my songs of universal drunkenness,” he affirms his role in transmitting a divine message. The sun rises on a new day as the poet emerges from his night of visions with a new truth.

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