Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Zone by Guillaume Apollinaire

You are weary at last of this ancient world
Shepherdess O Eiffel tower whose flock of bridges bleats at the morning

You have lived long enough with Greek and Roman antiquity

Here even automobiles look old
Only religion stays news religion
As simple as hangars at the airfield

Alone in Europe you Christianity are not antique
The one modern European is you Pope Pius X
And you whom windows watch what shame keeps you
From entering a church and confessing your sins this morning
Handbills catalogues advertisements that sing overhead
Furnish your morning's poetry for prose there are newspapers
Dime detective novels packed with adventure
Biographies of great men a thousand and one titles

This morning I saw a fine street whose name slips my mind
New and bright the sun's clarion
Where executives and workers sweet stenographers
Hurry every weekday dawn and dusk
Three times a morning sirens groan
A choleric bell barks at noon
Billboards posters and
Doorplates twitter like parakeets
There is charm to this Paris factory street
Between rue Aumont-Thiéville and the avenue des Ternes

Here is the young street and you still a baby
Dressed by your mother only in blue and white
A pious child with your oldest friend René Dalize
You like nothing so much as church ceremonies
Nine o'clock the gas turns blue you slip out of bed
To pray all night in the school chapel
While an eternal adorable amethyst depth
Christ's flaming halo revolves forever
He is the lovely lily we all worship
He is the red-haired torch no wind may blow out
Pale and scarlet son of the sorrowful mother
Tree hung with prayer
Twofold gallows of honor and eternity
Six-pointed star
God who dies Friday and rises on Sunday
Christ who flies higher than the aviators
And holds the world's record

Christ pupil of the eye
Twentieth pupil of the centuries he knows his business
And changed to a bird this century ascends like Jesus
Devils in hell raise their heads to stare
They say it imitates Simon Magus in Judea
They say if it lifts to call it a lifter
Angels soar past the young trapeze artist
Icarus Enoch Elijah Apollonius of Tyana
Hover near the original airplane
Or give place to those whom the Eucharist elevates
Priests rising continuously as they raise the Host
At last the plane lands with wings outspread
Through heaven come flying a million swallows
At full speed crows owls falcons
Ibises flamingoes storks from Africa
Roc so celebrated in song and story
Clutching Adam's skull the original head
Eagle from the horizon pounces screaming
Hummingbird arrives from America
From China long supple phis
Who have only one wing and fly in couples
Here comes the dove immaculate spirit
Escorted by lyrebird and ocellated peacock
That funeral pyre the phoenix engendering himself
Momentarily veils all with his ardent ash
Sirens quit their perilous perches
And arrive each singing beautifully
Everyone eagle phoenix phis
Fraternizes with the flying machine

Now you stride alone through the Paris crowds
Busses in bellowing herds roll by
Anguish clutches your throat
As if you would never again be loved
In the old days you would have turned monk
With shame you catch yourself praying
And jeer your laughter crackles like hellfire
Its sparks gild the depths of your life
Which like a painting in a dark museum
You approach sometimes to peer at closely

Today in Paris the women are bloodstained
It was as I would rather forget it was during beauty's decline

From fervent flames Our Lady gazed down on me in Chartres
Your Sacred Heart's blood drowned me in Montmartre
I am sick of hearing blessed words
My love is a shameful disease
You are sleepless anguished but possessed by an image
Which hovers never distant

By the Mediterranean
Under lemon trees that flower the year long
You take ship with friends
One from Nice one from Menton two from La Turbie
Terrified we see in the depths giant squid
And fish the Savior's symbols gliding through seaweed

In a tavern garden near Prague
You are content instead of writing your stories
To watch a rose on the table and
A rosebug asleep in the rose's heart

Agahst you trace your likeness in the mosaics at Saint Vitus
And that day almost died of grief to see yourself portrayed
As Lazarus distracted by daylight
The hands of the ghetto clock run backward
You also creep slowly backward through life
Climbing to the hradchen listening at twilight
To Czech songs from the taverns

You in Marseilles among piles of watermelons

You in Coblenz at the Giant's hotel

In Rome sitting under a Japanese medlar tree

In Amsterdam with a girl you find pretty but who is ugly
And engaged to a student from Leyden
One can rent rooms there in Latin Cubicula locanda
I remember three days there and three at Gouda

You are in Paris arrainged before the judge
Arrested like a criminal

You went on sad and merry journeys
Before growing aware of lies and old age
Love made you unhappy at twenty again at thirty
I have lived like a fool and wasted my youth
You no longer dare examine your hands and at any moment I could weep
Over you over her whom I love over all that has frightened you

With tears in your eyes you see the shabby refugees
Who have faith in God and pray the mothers nurse their children
Their smell fills the waiting room at the gare St. Lazare
Like the three kings they believe in a star
Hoping to strike it rich in Argentina
And return home wealthy
One family carries a crimson quilt as you your heart
Quilt and our dreams are equally unreal
Some of these refugees stay on and lodge
In slums on the rue des Rosiers or the rue des Écouffes
They keep close to home like chessmen
And are mostly Jewish their wives wear wigs
Pallid they sit at the back of little shops

You stand at the counter of a dirty bar
Taking a café for two sous among the wretched

You are in a huge restaurant at night
These women are not evil only careworn
Each has tortured her lover even the ugliest

Who is the daughter of a Jersey policeman

Her hands which I had not noticed are calloused and cracked

Pity fills me for the scars on her belly

Now I humble my mouth to a poor creature with a horrible laugh

You are alone morning comes
Milkmen clink bottles along the street

Night leaves like a lovely Métive
Ferdine the false or watchful Lea

You sip a liquor as burning as your life
Your life you drain like an eau-de-vie

And stride home to Auteil
To sleep among your fetish from Oceania or Guinea
Other forms of Christ and other faiths
Lesser Christs of dim aspirations

Farewell Farewell

Sun slit throat

Guillaume Apollinaire

1 comment:

  1. I have no great knowledge or expertise with regard to poetry, which is why - in occasionally posting poems that I enjoy, either old favorites or new discoveries - I will confine my comments to the comment field, so as not to allow my clumsy musings to detract from the poems themselves.

    Twenty-five or more years ago, my knowledge of “modernist” poetry, sadly, began and ended with Eliot. I recall seeing a book a friend of mine was reading, and taking an interest in it. Time passed, and I could no longer recall the name of the author. I knew he was one of those 20th century European intellectual types, and that his name began with “A”. Browsing a bookstore, I came upon a study of religious themes in the work of Guillaume Apollinaire and thought that this might be my man (it wasn’t - the author I was seeking was actually Theodor Adorno). I purchased this volume and read it with some interest: I haven’t looked at it for years, but it did have the effect of piquing my interest in Apollinaire, which led to Rimbaud and Baudelaire, which led to Huysmans, etc., etc., in the usual chain reaction. In reality, the most interesting portion of this study by Robert Couffignal was the text of the poem “Zone” which was included in an appendix. This poem fascinated me. It attracted me far more than the deep moralizing intonations of Eliot. The imagery was superb, and would no doubt later draw me into my continued interest in Dadaism and surrealism, art forms which Apollinaire anticipated. The aviator Christ, the Oceanic fetishes, the reveries of childhood, the wonders of modern Paris juxtaposed against the old moralities of the Church, and that entrancing opening line, which appealed to my need to pull my mind from classicism and the ancient world: “Finally you are tired of this ancient world…” The poem “Zone” appears in the collection entitled Alcools, published in 1913. I still find it a fascinating and rewarding text.

    Guillaume Apollinaire was a poet, critic, pornographer, and soldier. He survived a shrapnel wound to the head in the First World War and died in an epidemic of Spanish influenza only days before the signing of the Armistice. His existence was fortuitous, for without him, there would have been a no doubt perceptible void in the literature of the 20th century.


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