With the outbreak of the Great War in 1914, Apollinaire—an assiduously cosmopolitan promoter of new movements in art, from Cubism to German Expressionism—enlisted in the French army. On New Year’s Day in 1915, while traveling by train from Marseilles to Nice, he met a young schoolteacher from Algeria named Madeleine Pagès, and their encounter soon blossomed into an intense epistolary relationship. Apollinaire’s side of the correspondence has been assembled in Letters to Madeleine, recently translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith. These letters—containing the first versions of many of the poems later published in the poet’s last collection, Calligrammes—are indispensable to lovers of modern poetry, and their origins in what the poet called “the very forefront of France-in-arms,” amid the horrors of trench warfare, make them a powerful testimonial of the Great War, on the level of classic accounts by authors such as Robert Graves, Wilfred Owen, Erich Maria Remarque, and Siegfried Sassoon.
more from Christopher Winks at Bookforum here.