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.)