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Poetry and the First World War (2)

Guillaume Apollinaire

One of the ways many of us have learnt about different soldier’s experiences is through the poetry of British war poets such as Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon and Rupert Brooke. Poetry of other the nations who fought in the First World War, however, is not as common.

Guillaume Apollinaire (1880 – 1918) was a French poet who became famous for his experimental verse and his support for avant-garde art movements such as Cubism. He is also considered the fore-father of Surrealism as he coined the term. During World War I he fought as a soldier, however in 1916 was badly wounded and never fully recovered. He died of influenza during the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918.

 

 

There is – Guillaume Apollinaire

There is this ship which has taken my beloved back again

There are six Zeppelin sausages in the sky and with night coming on it makes a man think of the maggots from which the stars might someday be reborn

There is this enemy submarine slipping up beneath my love

There are one thousand young pine trees splintered by the bursting of the same shells falling around me now

There is this infantryman walking by completely blinded by poison gas

There is the obvious fact that all that is happening here was hatched a long time ago in the intestinal trenches of Nietzche
Goethe and the metaphysicians of the town of Cologne

There is the obvious fact that I'm dying over a letter which has thus far been delayed

There are in my wallet various photos of my beloved

There are prisoners marching past with anxious faces

There is this artillery battery with its faithful servants hurrying among the guns

There is the postmaster arriving at a trot on the road beneath the single tree in silhouette

There is according to rumor a spy who infiltrates somewhere
near here invisible as the horizon as the horizon-blue French
uniform he has assumed for offensive purposes and in which he
is now most effectively camouflaged

There is erect as any lily the bosom of my beloved

There is this captain anxiously awaiting the latest radio
dispatch to reach us via transatlantic cable

There are at midnight these details of soldiers sawing planks
for coffins

There are women somewhere in Mexico pleading with wild cries
for more Indian corn and maize

There is this Gulf Stream which is so warm and beneficial

There is this cemetery covered with crosses only five
kilometers away

There are all these crosses everywhere this way that way

There are paradisial persimmons growing on cactus-trees in
Algeria

There are the long hands of my love

There is this inkwell which I've made from a 150 mm shell I
saved from shooting

There is my cavalry saddle left out in the rain

There are all these rivers blasted off their courses which will
never go back to their banks

There is the god of Love who leads me on so sweetly

There is this German prisoner carrying his machine-gun across
his shoulders

There are men on earth who've never fought in the war

There are Hindus here who look with astonishment on the
occidental style of campaign

They meditate gravely upon those who've left this place
wondering whether they'll ever see them again

Knowing as they do what great progress we've made during this
particular war in the art of invisibility

Learn more about Apollinaire here: http://www.firstworldwar.com/poetsandprose/apollinaire.htm
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