Apollinaire – whose writings ranged from plays to experimental poetry, from art criticism to erotica – was at the heart of literary and artistic life in early 20th-century Paris. Both his work and his flamboyant personality had a defining influence on the development of Surrealism, Dadaism and other artistic movements.
In late 1914 Apollinaire swapped the high life of avant-garde Paris for the mud and desolation of war in the trenches. But his poems of this period are wholly different from those that for English readers have come to define the genre of war poetry: exploding shells are compared to champagne bottles, and juxtaposed with the orgy of destruction are nostalgia for antiquity, impatience for the future, melancholy and exuberance.
Apollinaire died in 1918. The new translations in this bilingual edition comprise mostly poems written after 1914, but include ‘Zone’ (in the first English version since Samuel Beckett’s to match the original’s use of rhyme) and some other pre-war poems. A century later, they remain as daring and alive as when they were written.