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Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

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.

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...

(The entire section is 464 words.)