The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Guillaume Apollinaire’s poem “Vendémiaire” takes as its title the name of the first month of the new calendar adopted in the wake of the French Revolution. This month, corresponding to September 22 to October 21, was named for the grape harvest (la vendange in French, as opposed to la moisson, for harvest in general). Thus themes of wine, drinking, and even drunkenness permeate the poem along with the gathering in of the harvest.

“Vendémiaire,” the last poem in Apollinaire’s collection Alcools (alcohols), parallels the opening poem “Zone” and continues the street scenes of Paris that recur throughout the collection. “Zone” began with an image of the Eiffel Tower as a shepherdess of the bleating flock of Parisian bridges. In contrast to the sights of Paris that dominate the earlier poem, Apollinaire turns in “Vendémiaire” to a general evocation of Paris that emphasizes the sounds of voices.

The opening quatrain focuses on the poet himself rather than his surroundings. Apollinaire situates his life “à l’époque où finissaient les rois,” at the time when the new calendar of the revolution had replaced the time of the monarchy. In accord with the title, he walks through Paris in late September, where, during nights filled with grapevines, he awaits “the harvest of the dawn.” The harvest, however, will be composed not of grapes but of song. One night, he hears Paris sing: “I am...

(The entire section is 498 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Several elements place “Vendémiaire” at the beginning of modern poetry. Many of its lines retain the twelve syllables of the classical French Alexandrine form, but some are cut shorter. Many couplets rhyme, but other lines are unrhymed. Also, this was the first poem Apollinaire published without punctuation, a form he continued in his later, freer verse. In keeping with this advent of modern style, the opening section of the poem contains echoes of Charles Baudelaire, who developed a use of imagery that would become modern Symbolism. In his prefatory poem to Les Fleurs du Mal (1857; Flowers of Evil, 1931), Baudelaire describes a descent into hell, where he sees “Satan Trismégiste.” Apollinaire uses the same adjective to describe the “three-times-powerful” kings who were nonetheless dying.

The poet, according to Baudelaire, descends into the sinful temptations of the world seeking the inspiration that will form his poetry, the evil from which he will derive poetic flowers. Central to this experience is drunkenness. Here Baudelaire was continuing a definition established by the Romantic poets, for whom ivresse was not mere physical intoxication but any intense experience, physical or emotional, that led to a form of enlightenment.

Apollinaire uses multiple references to this concept as he describes Paris “at the end of September” (the autumnal season Baudelaire also favored) as a place where vines...

(The entire section is 469 words.)