“Si je mourais là-bas sur le front de l’armée, tu pleurerais un jour ô Lou ma bien-aimée. Et puis mon souvenir s’éteindrait comme meurt un obus éclatant sur le front de l’armée, un bel obus semblable aux mimosas en fleur”.
Guillaume Apollinaire died a century ago, November 9, 1918, on the exact day of the abdication of the one who bore his name, the German Emperor Guillaume II.
He was born in Rome in 1880, not yet called then Apollinaire but Kostrowitzky. A Polish national, he arrived in Paris at the age of 18, devoting himself quickly to his great passion, poetry, and establishing himself as a key figure in Parisian literary life.
When the war broke out in 1914, Apollinaire wanted to get involved, but he had to go twice to join the French army.
It was at the same time, in September 1914, that he met in Nice Louise de Coligny-Châtillon, from which he falls head over heels in love. He writes his feelings in his first “letter to Lou“ on September 28, 1914. Then follows a romantic and erotic correspondence, oscillating between fantasy and reality.
But on April 4, 1915, it’s as an unfortunate man, a lover who has not been paid back, who goes to the front. Sub Lieutenant at the 96th Infantry Regiment, he fights in Champagne for nearly 6 months. Despite the horror of the war, he continues to write an abundant correspondence (more than 200 letters) with Lou. He describes in detail the life of the trenches and the day-to-day life in the middle of the mud and bombing.
He will stop writing to Lou in January 1916, to remain only a lover of France.
That year, finally naturalized as a French, Guillaume Apollinaire continues the war in the Aisne where he is wounded at the temple by a shrapnel.
After a long convalescence, very weakened by his injury, he will contract the Spanish flu and die in the very last days of the war.
For many, Ii will remain the wounded head bandaged, immortalized by Picasso. For others – I am one of them – the one we can listen to the poems loop, sung by another lover of France, Jean Ferrat.
iconography: the war memorial of Peyrins, Drôme, France (personal collection)