Medieval Modernism

Unlike certain 19th-century poets of difficult character or seemingly foredoomed, whom Paul Verlaine called maudits (accursed)—Rimbaud, Gérard de Nerval, Corbière, Verlaine himself—Guillaume Apollinaire (1880-1918) was a pleasant, cheerful fellow.  He, too, suffered misfortune, including illegitimate birth and absence of a father, unrequited love, wounding in the Great War, and premature death during the influenza epidemic of 1918.  But he did not generally bring misfortune upon himself, as Verlaine and Rimbaud did, and he was not subject to depression—unlike Nerval, who hanged himself, and Corbière, who suffered from isolation and endured horrible winters in his Breton boarding school.  Apollinaire’s many lasting friendships in the art and literary world in early 20th-century Paris attest to his good humor, as well as to his lively spirit.  The present bilingual edition of his work is appealing, with good deckled-edge paper, attractive font, sepia-toned printing, charming Dufy woodcuts, a short essay by the translator, notes, and a 1905 drawing by Picasso depicting Apollinaire, various beasts, and a magician (suggesting Orpheus or Trismegistus, magi with whom the poet identified).

Apollinaire was born in Rome, the son of a minor Polish noblewoman, Angelika Kostrowicka (or Kostrowitzsky), and a father long unidentified—but almost surely Francesco Flugi d’Aspermont, a military...

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