|French literary history|
Guillaume Apollinaire (August 26, 1880 – November 9, 1918) was a poet, writer, and art critic born in Italy. Among the foremost poets of the early 20th century, he is credited with coining the word surrealism and writing one of the earliest works described as surrealist, the play Les Mamelles de Tirésias (1917). Two years after being wounded in World War I, he died at 38 of the Spanish flu during a pandemic.
Born Wilhelm Albert Vladimir Apollinaris Kostrowitzky / Wąż-Kostrowicki in Rome, Italy, and raised speaking French, among other languages, he emigrated to France and adopted the name Guillaume Apollinaire. His mother, born Angelica Kostrowicka, was a Pole of the Szlachta nobility born near Nowogródek (now in Belarus). His father is unknown but may have been Francesco Flugi d'Aspermont, a Swiss-Italian aristocrat who disappeared early from Apollinaire's life.
Apollinaire was one of the most popular members of the artistic community of Montparnasse in Paris. His friends and collaborators during that period included Pablo Picasso, Max Jacob, André Salmon, Marie Laurencin, André Breton, André Derain, Blaise Cendrars, Pierre Reverdy, Jean Cocteau, Erik Satie, Ossip Zadkine, Marc Chagall and Marcel Duchamp. In 1911, he joined the Puteaux Group, a branch of the cubist movement. On September 7 of the same year, police arrested and jailed him on suspicion of stealing the Mona Lisa, but released him a week later.
He fought in World War I and, in 1916, received a serious shrapnel wound to the temple (see photo). He wrote Les Mamelles de Tirésias while recovering from this wound. During this period he coined the word surrealism in the program notes for Jean Cocteau and Erik Satie's ballet Parade, first performed on 18 May 1917. He also published an artistic manifesto, L'Esprit nouveau et les poètes. Apollinaire's status as a critic is most famous and influential in his recognition of the Marquis de Sade, whose works were for a long time obscure as, "The freest spirit that ever existed."
The war-weakened Apollinaire died of influenza during the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918. He was interred in the Le Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris.
Apollinaire's first collection of poetry was L'enchanteur pourrissant (1909), but Alcools (1913) established his reputation. The poems, influenced in part by the Symbolists, juxtapose the old and the new, combining traditional poetic forms with modern imagery. In 1913, Apollinaire published the essay Les Peintres cubistes on the cubist painters, a movement which he helped to define. He also coined the term orphism to describe a tendency towards absolute abstraction in the paintings of Robert Delaunay and others.
In 1907, Apollinaire wrote the well-known erotic novel, The Eleven Thousand Rods (Les Onze Mille Verges). Officially banned in France until 1970, various printings of it circulated widely for many years. Apollinaire never publicly acknowledged authorship of the novel. Another erotic novel attributed to him was The Exploits of a Young Don Juan (Les exploits d'un jeune Don Juan), in which the 15-year-old hero fathers three children with various members of his entourage, including his aunt. The book was made into a movie in 1987.
Shortly after his death, Calligrammes, a collection of his concrete poetry (poetry in which typography and layout adds to the overall effect), was published.