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Literary artist and critic Guillaume Apollinaire (1880-1918) is best associated with Wallace Stevens in Michel Benamou’s critical essay “Wallace Stevens and Apollinaire,” in which Benamou compares a transitional period in the lives of both poets. This transitional period that moves both artists from the classical, romantic, and specifically in Stevens’ case, naturalistic themes, symbols, and forms of writing into the throes of modernism was not as easy a transition for Stevens as it was for Apollinaire. Regardless of the ease with which either poet moved from one literary era to another, both artists were significantly touched and influenced by the Cubist movement of the early twentieth century. [1]

Multilingual Apollinaire was born in Italy but moved from Rome to Paris in the early 1900s to join a community of artists that included Paul Cezanne, Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall, Marcel Duchamp, Jean Metzinger, and others. He quickly embraced the cubist movement, and the years 1910-12 were the periods of most radical change and evolution for him. [1] The publication of his first book of poetry, Alcools (1913), and his essays on art, specifically “Le Peintres cubists” (1913), defined Apollinaire as a modernist and shaped the cubist movement. [2]

Contrarily, in a letter to his wife, Stevens reports that he was relatively unmoved and lacked the proclivity (in his mind) to understand Marcel Duchamp's artwork when he had the opportunity to view it. However, during the early to mid-1930s, Stevens became quite taken with cubist paintings and the desire to understand the problems with realization presented to the painter as he/she created art.  The shift in Stevens’ mindset to a more orderly approach to acknowledging urbanization and industrialization can be seen, most significantly, in Ideas of Order (1936) and “The Man with the Blue Guitar” (1937), which alludes to Picasso’s The Old Guitarist. [1] Picasso painted The Old Guitarist during his Blue Period, an emotionally and financially vacuous time in his life [3], and one can only imagine that Stevens, whether consciously or not, used that particular painting as a source of inspiration during a vacuous transitional time in his life, as well, when his depictions of nature and the earth no longer reflected his perception of reality.

Structurally, Stevens’ poem “The Man with the Blue Guitar” is divided into sections, and each section is written in couplets. Both Apollinaire and Stevens wrote during their shift towards modernism by using classical forms to convey new images. Additionally, at times Apollinaire wrote calligrams. While Stevens and Apollinaire were never closely associated with one another, and at critical points in their lives, they seem to explore in depth the importance of order and structure as a means of conveying reality in small, self-contained pieces. As a result, the multifaceted nature of cubist paintings is clearly reflected in the writings of both poets.

Old Guitarist

The Old Guitarist

Apollinaire

Apollinaire by Jean Metzinger



NotesEdit

1. Benamou.

2. Guillaume Apollinaire.

3. The Old Guitarist.


Calligram

Calligram by Apollinaire

References

Benamou, Michel. “Wallace Stevens and Apollinaire.” Comparative Literature 20.4 (Autumn 1968):

       289-300. JSTOR. Web. 25 Jan. 2014.

Guillaume Apollinaire

The Old Guitarist