Sous le pont Mirabeau coule la Seine
Et nos amours
Faut-il qu'il m'en souvienne
La joie venait toujours après la peine
Vienne la nuit sonne l'heure
Les jours s'en vont je demeure
Under the Mirabeau bridge flows the Seine
And our loves
Is it necessary that it remind me
Joy always came after the pain
Let the night come let the hour strike
The days slip away I remain
"Not even the theater can give an idea of the terrible bombardment that purples the sky suddenly, of the whistling of the zeppelins passing by in the air like cars passing over a racecourse, of the rending explosion of the bombs and shells, of the insane crackling of riflefire, dominated by the nearby tac-tac-tac of the machine gun," wrote Apollinaire on December 10, 1915, to Madeleine. This reference to "the theater" is significant: aesthetics were part of the poet's perception. All of his letters, to one degree or another, are witness to a vision and carry it onto the stage of writing.He was called up for service in January 1915, when he went to the town of Nîmes in southern France to join his regiment. On that train to Marseilles, where he went first, he met Madeleine Pagès, a 22-year-old literature teacher on the way back to her home near Oran. She edited the first edition of Apollinaire's letters to her, in 1952, which was "incomplete and notably expurgated." This edition presumably gives us all the naughty bits.
At the front line, as an infantry sous-lieutenant, Apollinaire knew what he was talking about. A few months later, on March 17, 1916, he was wounded in the head and sent home on May 9. He did not return to the front and would never be the same Guillaume ever again. He died on November 9, 1918, at the age of 38.
Madeleine was one side of Apollinaire's erotic coin in this part of his life (apparently he wrote many erotic letters to her, now finally available). Before going to Nîmes, he had been rejected by Louise de Coligny-Châtillon, whom he called Lou, and he also wrote letters to her. Finally, for Christmas vacation at the turn of the year before he was wounded, he took his leave and went to Algeria to stay with Madeleine and her parents. If only he had gone AWOL at that point, he might have written a lot more wonderful poetry.
Another article (Apollinaire à l'Honneur, July 25) by Aude Brédy for L'Humanité describes a performance, On July 22 in the Cour d'Honneur of the Palais des Papes at the Avignon Festival, by actor Jean-Louis Trintignant. He read selections from Apollinaire's poetry, including several of the poems he wrote to Lou, in alternation with music by Erik Satie, played by accordionist Daniel Mille and cellist Grégoire Kornulik. Fabienne Darge covered this event (Sobriété et vague à l'âme d'Apollinaire le mal-aimé, July 24) for Le Monde. You can find more of Apollinaire's poems here.