The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Zone,” an exemplary modernist work, is a fairly long poem of 159 lines divided into thirty-four irregular sections; a section may contain only two words or be as long as twenty-nine lines. The title of the poem is as enigmatic as the poem itself. It most likely refers to the region just outside Paris where the indigent and homeless lived during Guillaume Apollinaire’s time. The poem’s form and content similarly inhabit a region just outside the normal boundaries for poetry.

The poem begins in the morning, a traditional starting place for narrative poems, but Apollinaire immediately indicates that something different is happening here: The Eiffel tower, in his eyes, becomes a shepherdess “whose flock of bridges bleats at the morning.” The bizarre image is followed by another, more typical allusion to a shepherd with a flock—the pope and his church. Apollinaire explains that the “most modern European is you Pope Pius X,” and the reader can only guess why or whether the poet is being sarcastic. Clarity does not come easily in this poem.

The sixth section moves away from the world of religion into the very secular world of work. The poet admires a “pretty street” where typists, laborers, and directors pass back and forth to work four times a day. There is a certain “gracefulness to this industrial street” which the poet loves. Unlike a more typical poem, which might speak of lovers beginning their day, “Zone” acknowledges Apollinaire’s love in the morning for a street, and a type of street not normally admired by poets.

In section...

(The entire section is 652 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The principal technique Apollinaire employs in this poem that travels through time and space, moods and tones, is juxtaposition. At the simplest level, he is combining two normally antithetical devices: rhyming couplets and free verse. This union of modern and traditional forms serves the poem well, since it in many ways celebrates the twentieth century’s innovations as well as the power of the mythic past.

The powerful and, some might say, sacrilegious union of Christianity and aviation is the most glaring example of juxtaposition in the poem. Within the space of six lines, angels gather around the heroic flyer, making way from time to time “for those whom the Eucharist transports,” while “host-elevating priests ascend endlessly” and “the airplane alights at last without folding its wings.” Science and religion, usually opposed, are here combined; the upward spiritual journey is conflated with the soaring possibilities of the plane. The fact that Apollinaire uses no punctuation whatsoever in the poem allows these separate worlds to glide into each other more easily.

Apollinaire also brings together specific images that are normally kept apart. Sections 9 through 11, while they move from private grief over love lost to religious passion, are joined by the image of blood. Apollinaire walks the streets in despair, thinking that he will “never be loved again,” and sees that all the “women are covered with blood,” perhaps...

(The entire section is 419 words.)