Poems of Peace and War by Guillaume Apollinaire


Cette adorable personne c’est toi
Sous le grand chapeau canotier

La bouche
Voici l’ovale de ta figure
Ton cou exquis
Voici enfin l’imparfaite image de ton buste adoré
vu comme à travers un nuage 

Un peu plus bas c’est ton coeur qui bat

The beautiful thing about visual poetry, which you are looking at, is that you don’t have to know the language (in this case French) to enjoy it. In front of you is a representation of an elegant female wearing a wide brimmed hat. And that is what the poem is about! However, if you do speak French you should try to read it, although it can be hard to read Guillaume Apollinaire’s handwriting, especially in the oval of the woman’s face.

The present work is part of the calligrammes subtitled Poems of War and Peace (1913—16), a collection of poems where words are spatially arranged to create an image. The technique is an invention of Surrealism, an art historical movement invented by Guillaume Apollinaire and Andre Breton. Eventually the group grew to include Paul Éluard, Benjamin Péret, René Crevel, Robert Desnos, Jacques Baron, Max Morise, Pierre Naville, Roger Vitrac, Gala Éluard, Max Ernst, Salvador Dalí, Man Ray, Hans Arp, Georges Malkine, Michel Leiris, Georges Limbour, Antonin Artaud, Raymond Queneau, André Masson, Joan Miró, Marcel Duchamp, Jacques Prévert, and Yves Tanguy.

Apollinaire was the inventor of the modern calligramme, or “beautiful lines” as translated from Greek. Here the image constructed through the use of letters and words serves as an aid to our imagination and when you read the poem you already have an image of this woman in your mind. Thanks to the calligramme as a means of expression, this image coincides with the one that Apollinaire had in his head when he was working on it.

Guillaume Apollinaire was an artist in a non-linear way. The medium he worked in were not paints and brushes, but letters and language. He took the elements common to drawing and writing and combined them into a single art form thus creating numerous possibilities of multiple readings along different lines. Apollinaire secured that he will always be present in his work not just through words, but also through his unique handwriting and the constructed imagery.

His innovative approach to poetry had a profound effect on modern and contemporary poets.

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