Guillaume Apollinaire

Guillaume Apollinaire is considered one of the most important literary figures of the early twentieth century. His brief career influenced the development of such artistic movements as Futurism, Cubism, Dadaism, and Surrealism, and the legend of his personality—bohemian artist, raconteur, gourmand, soldier—became the model for avant-garde deportment. Although some critics hesitate to rank him with the greatest poets of the century, Apollinaire's legacy is claimed by such important literary innovators as Philippe Soupault, Louis Aragon, Jean Cocteau, and Gertrude Stein. Shortly before Apollinaire died, author Jacques Vache wrote to Andre Breton, the leader of the Surrealist movement: "[Apollinaire] marks an epoch. The beautiful things we can do now!"

According to most sources, Apollinaire was born in Rome, the illegitimate son of a Polish woman and an unidentified man—there is speculation that his father may have been an Italian military officer, a prelate, or even a cardinal in the Church; his friends, Pablo Picasso in particular, liked to joke that Apollinaire was the son of the Pope himself. He spent most of his youth traveling in Europe and as a result developed a cosmopolitan outlook and a fascination with a variety of cultures and fields of study. By the age of eighteen Apollinaire had finished school and settled in Paris. After securing work as a bank clerk, he became friends with and an avid supporter of avant-garde artists, including Picasso, Georges Braque, Henri Rousseau, and Marcel Duchamp. Never affiliated solely with one group or school but, seemingly, a partisan of all modern artists, Apollinaire was intrigued by, and tended to associate with, those who appeared challenging or antagonistic toward bourgeois society; this inclination probably led to his six-day imprisonment in 1911 when he was wrongly suspected of being connected with the theft of the Mona Lisa. In 1914 he joined the French army, volunteering to defend his adopted country in World War I. Although initially a member of an artillery division that was relatively safe from active combat, he soon volunteered to fight at the front with the infantry. He suffered a head wound in 1916 and was sent back to Paris, where he saw the staging of his drama Les mamelles de Tiresias: Drame surrealiste (The Breasts of Tiresias). This play, the subtitle of which was later adopted by a group of artists and writers known as the Surrealists, established a model for advanced avant-garde theater and influenced such authors as Tristan Tzara, the titular leader of the Dada movement, and Andre Breton. In 1917 Apollinaire delivered the lecture "L'esprit nouveau et les poetes," a modern art manifesto in which he called for pure invention and a total surrender to inspiration. Apollinaire, weakened by the wound from which he never fully recovered, died of influenza two days before Armistice Day.

Apollinaire's earliest publications, the short story collections L'enchanteur pourrissant and L'heresiarque et cie (The Heresiarch and Co.), prefigure his subsequent work in their extravagant use of the imagination. The fantastic characters and situations depicted in these stories signal Apollinaire's repudiation of the realistic and naturalistic approaches to writing, which he believed, like the Symbolist writers before him, imposed arbitrary limitations on the writer's vision. Unlike the Symbolists, however, whose work intentionally ignored everyday reality, Apollinaire's writing demonstrates a serious attempt to confront and transform worldly experience in its diversity, from the crises and joys of personal emotional life to the advancements of technology and the tragedies of war. As Anna Balakian has observed, Apollinaire's ambition was "to change the world through language." Among his other works of fiction, the novel Le poete assassine ( The Poet Assassinated) introduces the theme of the poet as a creator of new worlds—a role that Apollinaire himself assumed in his major works, the poetry collections Alcools: Poemes 1898-1913 and Calligrammes: Poemes de la paix de la guerre (Calligrams).

Both Alcools and Calligrams are notable for their stylistic experimentation and the novelty of their themes and subjects. Many of these motifs—particularly those taken from contemporary life, including technology and the alienation of modern existence—had never been treated before in serious poetry. Moreover, in his treatment of such traditional poetic themes as war and romance, Apollinaire revealed his astonishing willingness to contemplate the severest emotions from new points of view. For example, his unique and liberating sense of humor serves to clarify—rather than diminish—the poignancy of his often tragic themes. He frequently achieved this somewhat paradoxical effect through stylistic innovations—avoiding punctuation in Alcools and shaping verse text into various objects in Calligrams —which a number of critics view as his most significant contribution to modern poetry. In addition to its technical innovations, Alcools contains what many critics regard as his most successful individual poems, "Zone" and "La chanson du mal-aime" ("Song of the Ill-Beloved"), which, with their hope and excitement in modernity, their erudite literary references, and their poignant expressions of disappointed love, embody the full range and complexity of his poetic vision. Apollinaire's works, from his visual poems to pornographic novels like Les onze mille verges ( The Debauched Hospodar), as well as his flamboyant personality, present numerous examples of those artistic traits which led the Surrealists and other literary experimentalists to claim him as one of their predecessors. Critics agree that Apollinaire's most striking qualities were his vitality and his constant readiness to take both personal and artistic risks.



  • Oeuvres poetiques, Bibliotheque de la Pleiade, 1956.
  • 1965-66 Oeuvres completes, edited by Michel Decaudin, four volumes.
  • Oeuvres en prose, Bibliotheque de la Pleiade, edited by Michel Decaudin, 1977, Schoenhof's Foreign Books, 1988.
  • (With Others) Allies des serbes, l Age d Homme (Lausanne, Switzerland), 1998.
  • Lettres a Guillaume Apollinaire, 1904-1918, edited by Ricciotto Canudo, Klincksieck (Paris, France), 1999.


  • Le Bestiaire; ou, Cortege d'Orphee, Deplanche (Paris), 1911, published in English as Le Bestiaire, Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, NY), 1977.
  • Alcools: Poemes 1898-1913, edited by Tristan Tzara, [France], 1913, published in English as Alcools, 1964, Humanities Press International, 1975.
  • Case d'armons, [France], 1915.
  • Vitam impendere amori, [France], 1917.
  • Calligrammes: Poemes de la paix et de la guerre, 1918, published as Calligrammes: Poems of Peace and War, University of California Press, 1991.
  • Le cortege priapique, [France], 1925.
  • Julie; ou, La Rose, [France], 1927.
  • Le condor et le morpion, [France], 1931.
  • Ombre de mon amour, P. Cailler Vesenaz, 1947, revised edition published as Poemes a Lou, 1955, French and European Publications, 1969.
  • Le guetteur melancolique, 1952, Gallimard, 1970.
  • Tendre comme le souvenir, Gallimard, 1952.
  • Selected Poems, edited by Oliver Bernard, 1956, Anvil Press Poetry (London), 1986.
  • Les mamelles de Tiresias (produced in 1917 ), Editions Sic, 1918.
  • Couleur du temps (produced in 1918), 1949, translated as Color of Time, Zone (New York, NY), 1980.
  • Casanova, Gallimard, 1952.
  • (With Andre Salmon) La temperature (produced in 1975), published in Oeuvres en prose, 1977.
  • Three Pre-Surrealist Plays, translation, introduction, and notes by Maya Slater, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1997.


  • Les exploits d'un jeune Don Juan, 1907, French and European Publications, 1991.
  • Les onze mille verges, 1907, published as The Debauched Hospodar, 1958, and Les onze mille verges, 1979, Dufour Editions, 1992.
  • L'heresiarque et cie, P.V. Stock (Paris), 1910, issued as Contes choisis, 1922, published as The Heresiarch and Company, 1965, Exact Change, 1991.
  • La fin de Babylone, Bibliotheque de Curieux, 1914.
  • Les trois Don Juan, Bibliotheque de Curieux, 1915.
  • Le poete assassine, 1916, published as The Poet Assassinated, Broom (New York, NY), 1923.
  • L'enchanteur pourrissant, [France], 1919.
  • La femme assise, 1920, revised edition, Editions de la Nouvelle revue francaise (Paris), 1928, French and European Publications, 1982.
  • Les epingles: Contes, [France], 1928.
  • Que faire?, Nouvelle Edition (Paris), 1950.
  • The Wandering Jew and Other Stories, Hart-Davis (London), 1967.
  • Meditations esthetiques: Les peintres cubistes, 1913 , published as The Cubist Painters: Aesthetic Meditations, 1913, Wittenborn (New York, NY), 1944.
  • Le flaneur des deux rives suivi de Contemporains pittoresques, 1918, revised edition, Gallimard, 1975.
  • Il y a, 1925, revised edition, Messein, 1949.
  • Anecdotiques, 1926, revised edition, Gallimard, 1955.
  • Contemporains pittoresques, [France], 1929.
  • Oeuvres erotiques completes (verse and prose), three volumes, [France], 1934.
  • L'esprit nouveau et les poetes, [France], 1946.
  • Lettres a sa marraine, [France], 1948.
  • Selected Writings, edited by Roger Shattuck, New Directions (New York, NY), 1950.
  • Chroniques d'art, 1902-1918, edited by Leroy C. Breunig, 1961, published as Apollinaire On Art, Da Capo Press, 1972.
  • (With Andre Level) Correspondance, edited by Brigitte Level, Lettres modernes (Paris), 1976.
  • A propos d art negre, 1909-1918, new revised edition, Toguna (Toulouse, France), 1999.

Also editor of Chronique des grands siecles de la France, 1912. Some writings appear under the pseudonym Wilhelm Apollinaris de Kostrowitzki.

Further Readings


  • Adema, Marcel, Apollinaire, Heinemann, 1954.
  • Bates, Scott, Guillaume Apollinaire, edited by David O'Connell, Twayne, 1989.
  • Bohn, Willard, Apollinaire and the International Avant-Garde, State University of New York Press (Albany), 1997.
  • Davies, Margaret, Apollinaire, Oliver &Boyd, 1964.
  • Encyclopedia of World Literature in the Twentieth Century, updated edition, Ungar, 1967.
  • Mackworth, Cecily, Guillaume Apollinaire and the Cubist Life, Horizon, 1964.
  • Mathews, Timothy, Reading Apollinaire: Theories of Poetic Language, Manchester University Press, 1987.
  • Oxford Companion to French Literature, corrected edition, Clarendon, 1966.
  • Peltier, Jacqueline, Apollinaire: Poet of War and Peace, Cecil Woolf (London), 2012.
  • Poetry Criticism, Volume 7, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1994.
  • Steegmuller, Francis, Apollinaire: Poet among Painters, Farrar, Straus, 1963.
  • Twentieth Century Authors: A Biographical Dictionary of Modern Literature, H.W. Wilson, 1942.
  • Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism, Volume 51, Gale, 1980.
  • Twentieth Century Writing: A Reader's Guide to Contemporary Literature, Transatlantic, 1969.