The Poem

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 652

“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.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

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 7, the poem returns to the religious theme and becomes a poem set in memory rather than the present. Apollinaire, remembering his own pious childhood, when he prayed “all night in the school chapel” with his friend René Dalize, begins a litany in honor of the “flaming glory of Christ.” The litany, however, ends with a reference to Christ that compares his Ascension to an airplane’s flight. Irreverently, Apollinaire suggests that Christ holds the “world altitude record.”

The mixture of religion and technology, the sacred and profane, is continued in the eighth and longest section. Here the progress of the twentieth century, epitomized by the invention of the airplane, is praised. The century “soars like Jesus,” and angels fly around the “pretty flyer” of the first airplane. The distance that one would expect between the ancient world of myth and the modern era of scientific advancement is nullified by Apollinaire’s conflation of various biblical and classical images: The third person of the Trinity, the Dove, joins with Icarus, the phoenix, and Elijah in fraternizing “with the flying machine” of the modern era.

Leaving this extended meditation, the poet returns to the present time of the poem, the morning, and his walk through Paris “among the crowds/ And herds of autobuses.” He recalls the pain or grief he is feeling because of a personal loss of love and anxiously thinks that he is “never going to be loved again.” Sections 12 through 20 record generally positive memories the poet has of his travels on the Riviera, in Prague, Marseilles, Koblenz, Rome, and Amsterdam. The travelogue ends, however, with an odd summation: “I have lived like an idiot,” and “I feel like sobbing/ Over you over the girl and over everything that has terrified you.”

The poem, once again, shifts back to the present, which by this time is evening. The poet sees “the eyes of those emigrants which are brimming with tears” and drinks coffee and then spirits in a “crapulous baramong the unfortunates.” He feels pity for the outcasts, perhaps seeing a mirror of himself in them.

In the end, the poem returns to its beginning. Night “passes away,” and morning arrives with the milkman. The poet completes his sojourn, wants to return to sleep among his idols, his “minor Christs,” and notices the sun coming up, a “corseless head.”

Forms and Devices

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 419

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 because of the violence implicit in love, or the failure of love. Two lines later, the bloodstained women are temporarily replaced by “the blood of the Sacred Heart drown[ing]” the poet in Montmartre. The lost love for a woman, the painter Marie Laurencin according to biographers, has been juxtaposed with the overwhelming love the speaker feels for Christ, or the love he remembers feeling for Christ in his youth.

What makes this poem particularly modern is not only this discordant joining together of images but also Apollinaire’s playing with the conventional subject matter for poems. Poets often reminisce about the romantic adventures they had while traveling, and Apollinaire remembers an affair with a pretty girl in Amsterdam. Then he adds that she was actually ugly and already engaged. He also focuses on a Parisian woman’s chapped hands and scarred belly. The symbol of beauty about which poets often write, the rose, Apollinaire transforms as well; instead of admiring the color or aroma of the rose (only the odor of the emigrants is noted in this poem), the poet concentrates on the rosebug asleep in the heart of the rose.”

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Previous

Themes