Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 469

Amid the rapid development of technology and with the dawn of a new century, artists partly envisioned and partly effected a departure from old ways. Cars and especially airplanes, whose praises are sung in “Zone,” surpassed trains in expanding horizons and in creating new perspectives. For many artists, that strengthened the impulse toward objectivity, in order to cater to the subjectivity of the reader or viewer. This impulse is present in “Windows.”

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The sprawling modern city can only be perceived in pieces. In the increased pace of daily life, several sensations strike the individual at once: Apollinaire, like the Futurists, revels in this “simultaneity” and attempts to reproduce it in writing, although he himself concedes that painting captures it better.

In the poem, the window “opens” in line 11 and again in line 35. It has not closed in between; rather, the suggestion is that all the sights and sounds of the intervening verses are perceived at once. Lines 10 through 12 move from present to future, a logical sequence, then suddenly back into the past—as if past, present, and future were somehow interchangeable. Like the cubists, however, Apollinaire does more than merely present the fragmentation. Out of the chaos of modern life, he fashions a new unity, linking all of space and time; it is not by accident that “when” and “where” are, with “and,” the major linking words in the poem.

Line 35 sums up this movement. Six place-names are juxtaposed in a typically elliptical list; they are pulled together in the mind of the poet. At the same time, “Hyères” sounds like hier (yesterday) and “Maintenon” like maintenant (now), so the verse also links past, present, and future once again. All places are unified, all times are coalesced, and space and time themselves are linked through the pun.

This vision of unity is very different from that of previous poets. Dissension is not excluded: The “diamond,” a prism refracting light, breaks up the climactic flurry of the last eight lines to remind the reader of that. It is as if the light were being broken up into colors, by a window or a diamond, and woven back together simultaneously. It is a new dynamic unity that can incorporate fragmentation.

Paradoxically, it is Apollinaire’s inability to capture the whole of the city that allows him to encompass the whole of the world. Unable to represent reality as traditional artists sought to do, he re-creates it; death leads to rebirth. “Painting,” he writes, “is no longer the art of reproduction, but of creation”; the artist “puts order in the universe.” Various forms of human control over the outside world are alluded to: hunting, technology, poetry. In fact, it is almost as if humanity were taking on the role of nature—the hands are “spiders”—in restoring harmony to the cosmos.

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