“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.
(The entire section is 652 words.)