Biographical origins and literary evolution of Apollinaire’s early concepts of love and poetic creativity
Permanent link to Research Commons versionhttps://hdl.handle.net/10289/16240
The common difficulties of studying any conceptual aspect of a poet’s work are intensified in the case of Guillaume Apollinaire. His poems cannot be studied without close reference to his life, since in his own words “chacun de mes poèmes est la commémoration d’un événement de ma vie.” These “events” include, moreover, those of his interior life, peculiarly coloured by the special circumstances of his early family history. Nor can we hesitate to define the poems as “event”: many of his important poems interpenetrate with other works, involving a development of earlier symbols and including parts of other poems so that none can be taken in isolation. Nor again can the major poems be taken in a simple chronological order, finally dealt with each in turn, since their content springs from a timeless rumination on past, present and future, however the material or objective reference may be localised in time and space. This study therefore seeks to show, in Bergsonian terms, how the poet’s mature concept of poetry springs from his early years and the whole corpus of his immature poetry. He was descended from two noble families, eminent in the Church, the Army and society, noted also for their artistic gifts. But Apollinaire himself was an illegitimate exile, whose mother, despite her breeding, was a social outcast, wandering from place to place as the fortunes of love and gambling led. Young Guillaume received, nevertheless, an excellent religious education. From these early circumstances resulted three major factors in the poet’s personality: his rejection of the religion in which he had been immersed, chiefly on the grounds that the Church rejected his mother; his desire to achieve through his work the respect and the “name” that would have been his automatic due had he been able to lay legitimate claim to his ancestry; and his longing for a settled family life of love and security. Hence his early attitudes of both rebellion and attraction regarding religion, his devotion to his vocation as poet, and his painful efforts to realise the sort of love that would lead to a settled life of bourgeois respectability. His appetite for physical love, inherited from both father and mother, manifested as a desire to be needed, made him impatient, jealous and domineering, traits which drove marriageable women from him and drove him to the other sort. We thus have a triangle of conflicting but interdependent themes of biographical origin. First there is his dedication to the calling of poet, with a determination to achieve distinction and status through the publication of a highly original masterpiece. Secondly there is the theme of a quarrel between his desire for domestic love, stability and children, and the casual love he felt attracted to as an expedient allowing him freedom to devote himself to poetic creation. Thirdly there is his love and respect for a religion which he was increasingly unable to accept because of his inability to revere the Holy Virgin and frequent the lowest type of womanhood at the same time. Eventually he was able to harmonise all these conflicts into one philosophy, a religious attitude to poetry and an esthetic based on love and the acceptance of suffering. We therefore examine in this study first the poet’s formative years, and then the emergent themes of love, lust, fertility and poetic creativity up to the great turning-point of 1907 when he matured and found himself and his esthetic. It is hoped that this approach will distinguish the essential Apollinaire from his participation in the many literary movements that tend to obscure his originality and consistency; and that it will add new depths to the interpretation of certain of his poems. It must be emphasised, moreover, that in most of Apollinaire’s work the polyvalence of his symbols requires a cautious definition of what is a “correct” meaning. It is suggested that where several interpretations are probable, they should not of necessity be seen as mutually exclusive, but should be accepted if they can be seen to arise out of the “events” of his life, and especially when they fit not merely one specific reference but are consistent with the whole evolution of Apollinaire’s concepts.
The University of Waikato
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