Apollinaire (Allen Ginsberg’s 1975 NAROPA class)

AG: How many were not here last time? Okay. Last time we went through some Whitman, some Rimbaud. The point was to show the break-up in the 19th century of the older stanzaic rhymed forms, inherited from the practice of musicking the poetry, late 19th century. It broke up in the 1870s. So samples of that were Whitman, Rimbaud (and then I played some phonograph records of the Russian poets (Vladimir) Mayakovsky and Sergei Esenin (and Ezra Pound and the Italian Futurist, Giuseppe Ungaretti)). The Mayakovsky, we didn’t have any English text.

I’m going to start out with (Guillaume) Apollinaire, the earliest of them, a French poet. There’s a kind of jump between Rimbaud and Apollinaire. There’s a lot of interesting poets in-between, who influenced (T.S.) EliotJules Laforgue and Tristan Corbiere. Corbiere is worth reading, who still wrote in a rhymed form, but Corbiere’s diction was totally modern and Laforgue broke up the stanza form and wrote in prose lines like Eliot, slightly rhymed, like Eliot in “Portrait of a Lady”, which you should read somewhere else, is a take-off of Laforgue.

Student: Is that Tristan or Christian Corbiere?

AG: Tristan Corbiere. And there are excellent translations of him by… who did that now? I think William Jay Smith, unless I’m mistaken. [Editorial note – Corbiere’s translator was actually Walter McElroy, William Jay Smith published translations of Jules Laforgue). If you can find a rare volume published by the Banyon Press of Corbiere’s “Cries of a Blind Man” (Cris d’Aveugle”) and “The Rhapsody of a Deaf Man” (“Rhapside de Sord”).. But the big jump is to Apollinaire. This would be before World War 1, or around World War 1. A long poem called “Zone”, which turned on Eliot and turned on (Ezra) Pound , somewhat, influenced almost all free-style, open-page writing in the 20th Century. (There’s a) good translation by Roger Shattuck. There’s another translation, that Anne Waldman can give you the bibliography of, by Ron Padgett, who’ll be here.

[Allen proceeds to read Apollinaire’s “Zone” in its entirety] – “À la fin tu es las de ce monde ancien..” – “In the end you’re sick of the old world…” or “You are tired at last of this old world..” – “Soleil cou coupé” – “The sun’s a severed neck” or “a sun’s neck cut” – Now what does that sound like? Is that familiar? That tone? It’s a run-on of thought and a juxtaposition of thought with some likeness to the traditional Surrealist methods and (William) Burroughs‘ cut-ups. Some of Burroughs’ tone comes from Eliot which comes from this. It’s the first time that anybody wrote whatever was going on in his head, in a sense, in so precise a way that the transitions are sudden. Like Burroughs says, “I’m not American Express”, in terms of, “Here you are in Marseilles amid the watermelons/ Here you are in Coblentz at the Hotel of the Giant/ Here you are in Rome sitting under a Japanese medlar tree/ Here you are in Amsterdam with a girl you find pretty and who is ugly.”

What does it mean, jumping from place to place? At first when this was written, people couldn’t understand. It wasn’t telling a sequential story. It was Cubist almost [Apollinaire coined the term “Cubism”] or one city superimposed on another, one line superimposed on another, a simultaneity, in which all the cities were seen almost in one glimpse with only a little space on the page to jump the gap in space. Almost like a series of false starts or a series of.. maybe you thought he was going to write more but he realized that one line was a complete haiku, But he’s “not American Express”, so he doesn’t have to get you from one transition to another. He doesn’t have to get you from one city to another, or one mental thought to another, He’s already perceived that the mind jumps around.

Rimbaud was still doing it within a traditional syntax, as if it made syntactical sense, or as if it made rational sense. That’s what the prettiness and irony of Rimbaud is. “A hare playing through a spiderweb on a bluebell.” (A hare stopped in the clover and swaying flowerbells and said a prayer to the rainbow, through the spider’s web” – “Un lièvre s’arrêta dans les sainfoins et les clochettes mouvantes et dit sa prière à l’arc-en-ciel à travers la toile de l’araignée” (from “Après le Déluge” in “Illuminations”) – “When I awoke it was noon” (“Au réveil il était midi”). Rimbaud discovered a little bit – like in that prose-poem, having spent the morning drunk, “Matinée d’ivresse”, I guess – and then he ended, “When I awoke it was noon” (“Au réveil il était midi”) (this, from “Aube” (Dawn) in “Illuminations”). Very abruptly. So there’s a little element in Rimbaud that Apollinaire picks up on and carries through, a sudden transition of mind, almost like hashish transitions, hashish thoughts, suddenly shifting.

The other element here in the French is that there is no punctuation at all. So it’s just the thoughts because they are not syntactically sequential in terms of rational French or English purity of grammatical and punctuational notation. They are just scattered thoughts, in a sense, so there is no need for punctuation, because it represents the process of the mind moving around. Now I don’t know what other writers abandoned punctuation, and I once read, I think, that Apollinaire eliminated all the punctuation deliberately in the proofs of the book in which this (Zone) was published. Anybody got anything to say about Apollinaire?

Student: “You”.. Did he start that “you”, instead of “I” – “You”

AG: (quoting, again, Zone’s opening line) – “You are tired at last of this old world” – “À la fin tu es las de ce monde ancien” – “In the end you’re sick of this ancient world”.
There’s also, in Apollinaire, another element of a heartfelt sentiment. The religious passages, talking about Christ, are obviously very funny and surrealist. “Religion alone is simple, religion alone like the hangars in the airfield” (“La religion seule est restée toute neuve la religion / Est restée simple comme les hangars de Port-Aviation”). First of all, throughout the whole religious passage, he actually is, sort of, seriously devotional, mixed in with the humor, which is an element of modern, what they call, irony, I suppose, but there’s a serious sentimentality in there, which is really pretty, and which is really useful, and which you don’t get very often in ironic modern Surrealist poetry. You do get (it) in the poet Philip Lamantia, who is an heir of Apollinaire and (of) the later Surrealists. So, if you have a chance, check out the Lamantia in the library (or I might get a chance to read something, before the session’s out)

Student: That was pretty realistic for a Surrealist

AG: Well, ok, “absolutely moderne” (“il faut être absolument moderne” – Rimbaud in “Une Saison en Enfer”). Apollinaire alone is modern, like the hangars in the airfield. He was almost the first one to bring in that sudden jarring juxtaposition that’s actually extraordinarily beautiful, like this vast hangar in the airfield compared to religion. It’s a very accurate comparison.

Student: I meant towards the end of the poem where it was going through those shots from city to city. It was dreamlike the way Surrealist stuff is, but it was flicked out, not like Surrealist, but..

AG: There’s a naturalistic base..

Student: ..It’s like a Ken Russell movie? – Have you seen “The Music Lovers”? There’s a scene in that where he (Tchaikovsky)’s playing this unbelievable piece on this piano and he’s really smashing it out, because he was woken… and he’s just smashing it out (with), like, the whole audience behind him, and then it’ll go into another piece where suddenly there’s this fantasy of his, of this entire white birch forest, where every tree is white, and he’s dressed in white, and running in a syncopated… and it’s like hashish, that other thing too.. and then they’ll cut to some woman. There are all of these fantasies and they all sort of jar against each other and build into this incredible crystal.

AG: I think it was Apollinaire who was among the earliest people to discover that – photo-montage – and he may even have been influenced by movies, because he was a Modernist, in that sense. His big influence actually was Cubism, not Surrealism, but Cubism, which was a predecessor [as noted before, he actually coined the term “Cubism”‘]. It was seeing things simultaneously from different angles.

Student: They were all such emotionally-charged things!’

AG: In Russell or in Apollinaire?

Student: Well, both,

AG: Yeah. There’s also an element of real realism, psychological realism, or real disillusionment, in which, after all the romance of the 19th Century, and after all the Romantic surges and prettiness of earlier French poets (with the exception, maybe, of (Charles) Baudelaire – Rimbaud was still pretty pretty, Rimbaud still had beauty. He seated her on his knee(s) and found her bitter and cursed her). The beauty in Apollinaire comes from his frankness and the frankness seems to come from some element of spontaneity in the composition. In other words, I think he must have written down that line about the girl who I find pretty but who was really ugly,

Student: Yeah, I think..

AG: “Here you are in Amsterdam with a girl you find pretty”. I bet he didn’t think of “and who is ugly” until he’d already written “a girl you find” and said “pretty”, and then..

Student: He could’ve thought of it just going down the street, or it could have happened to him, but..

AG: Oh, it happened to him! Of course.

Student: Yeah, well…

AG: But what I’m saying is most poets wouldn’t have admitted that the girl was really ugly.

Student: But that was what was getting him inside probably, so that was how he got…

AG: Of course and it hits everybody inside but they never say it. So he was one of the first people that was willing to admit his first thought perceptions

Student: But where’s the music in that?

AG: It’s pretty pretty. Well, where is the music? Of course, I’m reading it in English.

Student: Were you translating it as you were reading it?

AG: This is Roger (Shattuck’s translation). Actually, I was translating a number of lines, yeah. Actually, is this the right translation? [tape ends here]

[tape continues] – Bernard (sic), do you know any better? Could you read a few lines in French?

Specifically is there any half-page that you know well, that you like musically? In terms of the impulse of rhythm of the poem?

(Bernard): Boy, it’s a good deal of poem there.

AG: No, I don’t want you to read the whole poem. I can’t stand it. Half a page or..maybe, well, the obvious..

(Bernard): Well, the repetition is very musical

AG: Okay – “the flaming glory of Christ” – page 118 – “C’est le beau lys que tous nous cultivons..“? Can you read that, loud, tho’?

Bernard: “C’est le beau lys que tous nous cultivons / C’est la torche aux cheveux roux que n’éteint pas le vent / C’est le fils pâle et vermeil de la douloureuse mère “

AG: Doh-low-ruse or Doh-low-ru-suh?

Bernard: Doh-lew-rose – ” C’est l’arbre toujours touffu de toutes les prières/ C’est la double potence de l’honneur et de l’éternité / C’est l’étoile à six branches / C’est Dieu qui meurt le vendredi et ressuscite le dimanche..” And that’s it, it’s long.

AG: Yeah, there’s a certain musicality in the repetition, as in (Christopher) Smart.

Bernard: “C’est Dieu qui meurt le vendredi et ressuscite le dimanche. C’est le Christ qui monte au ciel mieux que les aviateurs / Il détient le record du monde pour la hauteur / Pupille Christ de l’oeil. / Vingtième pupille des siècles il sait y faire. / Et changé en oiseau ce siècle comme Jésus monte dans l’air”. It’s rhymed. Many times.

AG: Yeah. In French.

Bernard: “Les diables dans les abîmes lèvent la tête pour le regarder / Ils disent qu’il imite Simon Mage en Judée / Ils crient s’il sait voler qu’on l’appelle voleur / Les anges voltigent autour du joli voltigeur / Icare Énoch Élie Apollonius de Thyane / Flottent autour du premier aéroplane.”

AG: Okay, So thus rhymed like that. In English you only get it with “Surrounded by fervent flames Notre Dame looked at me in Chartres/ The blood of your sacred heart flooded me in the Montmartre”.

Student: Sam(uel) Beckett has a translation that brings more of the sound there

AG: Yeah, where did you see it? in The European Caravan?

Student: An edition of simply that poem (Zone)

AG: Yeah, I think it was printed in a book called The European Caravan years ago. Well (so) what do you mean by music (sound)?

Student: Well, I just heard it

AG: Huh?

Student: I just heard it

AG: Well, he read it a little haltingly. The music is in a funny kind of run-on thought.

Student: In French, it’s very rhymical it’s almost classical.

AG: Yeah, The French is very ornamented.


AG: The English is sparer, but the swiftness of the lines, which I was reading very swiftly, very rarely stopping, it’s a quality of swiftness of thought. That’s interesting, first of all, but, read aloud, it’s the model for all of the poems you hear in English in which the poet gets up and just reels off a string of words without any kind of tone variation, but just sort of a single cry/lament. Do you know that kind of Beatnik poetry?

Student(s): Yeah.. There’s a music there in the cry and lament that isn’t there in the prosaic. Do you know what I mean?

AG: Yes. But what I’m saying is that, even in English, in the Shattuck translation, there’s a kind of nostalgic European schmaltz. Well, I’ll tell you, in a line like “It was and I would prefer not to remember it was during beauty’s decline”, there’s a funny thing that happens without punctuation. You have a little run-on in the single line where it’s swiftness of mind-thought, but also spoken aloud as a single breath. If it isn’t heard then I wonder how to analyze it . I depended on this myself for “Howl” and for a lot of my poems, like, “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked” – that’s just the length of it.

Student: There’s energy in that and it isn’t just this flat thing.

AG: Well, I don’t think that it’s that flat in this translation, but maybe I was reading it too flat. I wouldn’t take a vote on it, either.

Student: ..(just hearing it) in the French

AG: Yeah, that’s understood but we’re now discussing the English. The basic thing is a traditional alexandrine. And variations of that, with irregular rhymes, an irregular rhyme.

Student: He’s not very strict about the rhyme. It’s almost very classical and perfect and classical.

AG: Oddly, I was struck by the music of it in English, or maybe just in the technique of the fast shift of thought, even within one line. “I am ill from hearing happy words/ The love from which I suffer is a sacred sickness”. I think there the music comes closer to actual speech than to poetry, that is, it would be whatever music there is in someone talking very melancholically, talking in a melancholic mode. When people talk in a melancholy mood, there’s a funny kind of mellowness to the line. So it isn’t the ornamentation of the original, and it isn’t the music of a verse for music, or a lyric rhyme, it’s a modern music, I think, even in English.

Student: Can you read a little piece of it again?

AG: Well I can’t do any better than I did before. I’m ashamed that it sounded so bad. [unnecessarily self-effacing] – I’ll try and read something else.

Student: Maybe I just didn’t hear it.

Student: Do you know the poem that starts out..>

AG: I was interested in reading a poem which has influenced a lot of poets in America, the “Poem Read at the Marriage of Andre Salmon – July 13 1909″ – “Seeing the flags this morning I didn’t say… [Allen reads the poem in its entirety] – Aside from any vowel music, there’s the obvious forward, ongoing rhythm of a single thought from beginning to end, which ends with a thump and a whump and a complete syntactical statement. Beginning seeing the flags this morning and then a whole series of “Nor-nor-nor-nor-nor”, a whole series of repetitions using the single first word, going on to a pretty energetic description of their childhood together, then ending on this apostrophe “let us, let us, let us, let us”, “not, not, not, not”, “nor, nor, nor, nor”.”Let us rejoice” – and then he ends it, he comes.. “Let us rejoice, because.. and then he says it “because the director of fire and of poets/ Love which like light fills/ all solid space between the stars and planets/ Love desires that my friend Andre Salmon should get married today”. So both in this and in Apollinaire there’s a forward impulse, an energy that you spoke of. More obvious in here as I read it because I was more conscious of having to please you with a palpable rhythm, a palpable impulse that rolls through the poem,

Student: Isn’t it Gertrude Stein who said that French is the spoken language and English is the written language?

AG: Is it? Does Anne (Waldman) know? She’s the expert. [continuing] – I’ll see if there’s anything else. He wrote in a very pure, classical lyric French form in the poem “Mirabeau” which I’d like to read a little in French, because it’s so pretty. It’s a little rhymed poem. – “Sous le pont Mirabeau..” [Allen reads the poem, first in French then in English translation – “Under Pont Mirabeau..” – Because it rhymes in French – “Vienne la nuit sonne l’heure/ Les jours sont vont je demeure” – Really pretty in French – In English, even the thought is pretty in English – “Under Pont Mirabeau flows the Seine” has a really great sound, a great sound in English, even as in French. That’s 1909. When was “Zone”? Do you know, Bernard?

(Bernard): Pardon?

AG: What was the date of “Zone”?

(Bernard): I don’t know. About 1916.

AG: Before he got messed up in the war.

(Bernard): Yeah

AG: Yeah.. He was…

Bernard): He was killed in 1917.

AG: He got injured in the war. He thought he had to go out and do a big poetic thing and fight in the war. Do you know a little about him? Does anybody know anything about Apollinaire? Or who doesn’t know much of his biography?. Can you… his relations with the Cubists, and..

(Bernard): I don’t know very much of him.

AG: Okay. He was a poet very much like the American, Frank O’Hara – a great friend of painters. So he knew Picasso and the friends of Picasso in Le Bateau-Lavoir, a big house, communal house, a lot of painters shared together. Marie Laurencin, a lady painter, who would come with her kid, walking down the street in Montmartre (and up the hill) to visit her boyfriend(s) in the house.. And Picasso shared the house with (Georges) Braque, and they had a big…

(Bernard): Max Jacob was there also.

AG: Max Jacob, another poet hanging around. It was a real center

Student: Allen, there’s a good story…

AG: (In) The Banquet Years by Roger Shattuck?

Student: And also in a Stein biography, The Charmed Circle

AG: The what?

Student; The Stein biograpy, The Charmed Circle

AG: Gertrude (Stein)?

Student: Yeah, it deals a lot about it.

AG: A famous friend was a crank painter named le Douanier Rousseau. Rousseau you know? “The Sleeping Gypsy”?. And they all got together and decided to give him a big banquet, I guess Apollinaire was there, to honor him. So Picasso and all the sophisticates got together and gave him a real honorific banquet, where he sat at the head of the table with his beard, played his violin and wept…

Apollinaire made his living writing articles. He was somewhat of a madcap, and I think he stole a Greek statue head from the Louvre and he got caught, like the college student who steals the Dean’s chair or something. His main thing was art criticism, or a great thing he did was art criticism. Not his man thing – his main thing was poetry, but he did a lot of art criticism, like Frank O’Hara. In the course of really exploring with a modern spirit what was going on, he got to be friends with all of the early (20th) Century French painters, who were initiating a whole theory, or a whole practice of relativism in their paintings, breaking things up, so, literally, you could see the table, if you were doing a still life, from various angles at one time, (they were) interested in taking (Paul) Cézanne‘s theory of hot colors – (red) advances into the eyeball – optical eyeball kicks – hot colors advance, cool colors recede. That was Cézanne’s understanding and so Cézanne created his “petite sensation”, his little sensation of space. Space that we consider (at NAROPA) when we’re meditating on space, the spaciousness Cézanne created (in) his little sensation of space, not by perspective lines but by optical arrangements on the flat canvas that would deceive the eye into seeing space because overlapping red and, say, green, which is cooler, would make the red stand out in the eyeball. The Cubists took that specific optical perception to a greater openness and an extreme, and began creating vast artificial spaces by making great blocks of design and color, which, if you look at them high on grass, or with a trained eye, or look at them squinty-eyed, will turn from two-dimensional canvases into big space cubes.

How many of you have seen Cubist paintings as 3-D? like real 3-D? How many of you have looked at Cubist paintings? You know, the Museum of Modern Art. How many have never seen them as 3-D but have seen them as mainly flat designs, very beautiful but flat designs? So the thing to do is, when you go to a museum next time, see if you can find some old Braque of that period, 1909, 1905-1909, or a Picasso, and look at it. Sit down in front of it and look at it a long time and you see it begin to open like the tiled squares in bathrooms that suddenly become not flat squares. It’s the same eyeball kick, same process, that goes on with the Cubists and among the great Cubists (or, even later painters, the Abstract Expressionists, like Willem de Kooning‘s series called “Excavations”. If you look at it a while, letting your eye rest, you can see it as a great three-dimensional wooden crystal construction(s). An easy way to practice it is look at Paul Klee‘s “Magic Squares”, (which are like checkerboards, except all different colors), and if you look at them for a while, you see that they become great fundamental buttresses, rising in space, with giant castellated block-holes in them.

So this was a specific perception which Apollinaire understood. He was able to write very elegantly and intelligently with personal knowledge of the painters of that day, so there’s a kind of application of that to his poetry. I don’t know if you see the parallelism of the painter’s approach to simultaneous view of space and his approach to the simultaneous appearance of imagery in the mind’s eye, one image set next to the other, without connective, in a sense, without the connectives of perspective lines. Perspective lines in painting might be equivalent to the syntactical connectives of “and”‘s, “but”‘s, “if”‘s, “or”‘s in language, or punctuation. In a sense, without perspective lines in the poetry, he created both space and a sense of passing time.

Student: Does the Cubist see that in one shot, or is he moving his eye around, to pick up those angles?

AG: Not (being) a painter, I don’t know, but I think they perceived it first in Cézanne, according to Picasso and other people. Cézanne was very conscious of that. He wrote a letter to Emile Bernard, an old friend, when he was really old, saying “thank God I am not like those men who vice has coarsened the senses of. I can go out and look at Mont Sainte-Victoire and reconstruct “ma petite sensation“, my little sensation of space, my little sensation which is none other than painter omnipotent, eternades. He actually said that in the letter. “My little sensation is none other than the Father Omnipotent, Eternal God – or, in Buddhist terminology, dharmakaya, or empty space, or the petite sensation, if you wanted to put it in more patois, if you wanted to say it in small talk. “My little sensation”, modestly, he said. He described being able to stand in the field and look at Mont Sainte-Victoire, and, by moving his head an inch to the left or an inch to the right, the entire composition of the canvas changed. The entire composition of the field in front of him, the field of his eyeball, changed, and all the cubes, triangles, what were they? -does anybody know Cézanne? anybody paint here? – Triangles.. he built his canvases by means of reducing the landscape to triangles, cubes, and one other geometric element.. Huh?

Student: Spheres

AG: Yeah well, cube, square. Cone, cubes – cones and cubes, Making them advance or recede in the eyeball by hot and cool colors advancing and receding. Picasso discovered that, and began digging Cézanne, as a great secret Gnostic master, who was not just painting these muzzy landscapes, but was creating eyeball crystals, that is great crystalline structures which hung in the eyeball as in space as a background for where the Moderns have found themselves, the 20th Century people. Apollinaire was plunged into that like, say, the poets of the 1950’s were plunged into marijuana perceptions, or later poets might be plunged into vipassana examination of sight, smell, sound, taste, touch, and mind, and the simultaneous realness of it and illusoriness of those little sensations. So the beginning of the crack-up of consciousness that lead to an Einstein-ian doubt as to the external reality of the world entirely in poetry and in painting.

Student: Allen, a lot of the poets in the Surrealist movement.. There were never any musicians in the Surrealist movement… The Surrealist movement was incomplete…

AG: The tradition continued in New York, especially with Frank O’Hara and John Ashbery, because John Ashbery edited (worked for) ARTNews and O’Hara was a great friend of De Kooning ,(Franz) Kline, (Jackson) Pollock, and wrote monographs on them and drank with them.

Student: It is remarkable, these conditions…Baudelaire has written..

AG: Yeah. Baudelaire was also a friend of (Eugene) Delacroix and hung around painters.

Student: He wrote things about music and if you look at what kind of music he liked, you know, the music he liked was real concrete, was very like (Eugene) Delacroix‘s paintings. He liked..

AG: (Walt) Whitman used to do opera reviews, which he later thought was over-fancy-pants…

(Audio for the first part of this transcription is available at http://www.archive.org/details/Allen_Ginsberg_class_The_history_of_poetry_part_16_June_1975_75P017

(starting approx 46 minutes in).
Audio for the second part begins at

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