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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Poet Assassinated

Guillaume Apollinaire

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To purchase The Poet Assassinated

Title: The Poet Assassinated
Author: Guillaume Apollinaire
Genre: Novel
Written: 1916 (Eng. 1923)
Length: 153 pages
Original in: French
Availability: The Poet Assassinated - US
The Poet Assassinated - UK
The Poet Assassinated - Canada
Le Poète assassiné - Canada
The Poet Assassinated - India
Le Poète assassiné - France
Der gemordete Dichter - Deutschland
El poeta asesinado - España
  • French title: Le Poète assassiné
  • Translated by Matthew Josephson
  • Also available in a translation by Ron Padgett (1968)

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Our Assessment:

B : very rough and tumble, but appealingly inventive and often amusing

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
American Mercury F 3/1924 H.L.Mencken
Rev. of Contemp. Fiction . Fall/2000 Ben Donnelly
TLS* . 23/1/1969 Simon Watson-Taylor
TLS* . 19/4/1985 David Coward
Die Zeit . 29/3/1968 .

* indicates review of a different translation

  From the Reviews:
  • "From end to end there is not as much wit in it as you will hear in a genealogical exchange between two taxicab drivers. It is flat, flabby and idiotic. It is as profound as an editorial in the New York Tribune and as revolutionary as Ayer's Almanac. It is the best joke pulled off on the Young Forward-Lookers since Eliot floored them with the notes to The Waste Land. M.Josephson rather spoils its effect, I believe, by rubbing it in" - H.L.Mencken, American Mercury

  • "Less radical than his poems, the prose reveals the romantic roots of one of the forces of the original avant-garde. Futurist hallmarks are present: toying with typography, fractured parodies of earlier prose styles. (...) The book succeeds best as an artifact: since even the translation is grounded in the early part of the century, Apollinaire's foresight seems eerier, and his shock tactics less quaint, and his self-mythologizing a precursor to modern stardom." - Ben Donnelly, Review of Contemporary Fiction

  • "Still, even without exegesis this Rabelaisian chronicle can be read with great pleasure; it remains the best of Apollinaire's works of imaginative prose. There are splendidly exuberant poetic inventions" - Simon Watson-Taylor, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Part farce, part solar myth, it perches artfully between fable and reality. There are Rabelaisian belchings, Quixotic tiltings and Ubu-esque ribaldries, but its deadly serious theme is the exaltation of the creative artist who lives unloved in a hostile world. The plot falters repeatedly" - David Coward, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Hinweise und Ausfälle gegen Zeitgenossen Apollinaires, sehr durchsichtige Persiflagen des Pariser Literatin- und Theaterbetriebs sind eingearbeitet, und wenn solche Züge den zeitlichen Rahmen der Erzählung streckenweise genau zu fixieren scheinen, so wird er sehr bald wieder durch Querverbindungen zu vorgegebenen zeitlosen literarischen Stoffen und Topoi gesprengt." - Die Zeit

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Poet Assassinated is the story of Croniamantal -- a fantastical figure who, at the most basic biographical level, shares many similarities to author Apollinaire but, of course, is also considerably larger than life. In its opening Apollinaire insists: "The glory of Croniamantal is now universal"; nevertheless, The Poet Assassinated is an epic of the underappreciated arts (especially poetry) and artists.
       Almost a third of the novel merely leads up to Croniamantal's birth, as mother Macarée gets herself knocked up and the finds herself a (different) man to take care of her and, she hopes, her son. They travel to the Vatican, to get the pope's blessing, then on to Munich -- they had actually wanted to go to Monaco, but once on the wrong train decided not to correct their mistake; after all: "'Beer,' the baron des Ygrées had said, 'is excellent for women who are enceinte'" -- and then, for the delivery, to: "the little port of Napoule". Macarée dies in childbirth, and widower François heads off with the babe Croniamantal to Monaco, only to quickly lose all his money and promptly blow his brains out.
       Things settle down a bit when Croniamantal is taken in by Dutchman Janssen, who raises the lad, but soon he's off and running as an adult, and a poet. Like everything, Croniamantal's poetic progression comes fast and in a flurry; soon he is proclaiming: "Yesterday I wrote my last poem in regular verse" (which amounts to simply: "Well, / Hell !") -- and then announces:

I shall from now on write only poetry free from all restrictions even that of language.
       An example follows -- though only a brief one; there's only so far this, all typographical and word-play reduced to alphabetical-play, will get him, he too (or Apollinaire) realizes -- and soon enough he reveals the next stage in his literary career: "I want to write plays." Naturally, Apollinaire presents Croniamantal's efforts to break into the theater-world in the form of a mini-drama in its own right.
       A woman comes into Croniamantal's life, too, Tristouse Bellerinette, but of course it's not a simple, happy love-affair. But the poet perseveres -- though in a climate that grows increasingly hostile. True, there are thousands of prizes (8,019, at one count) and great sums being awarded to poets by all sorts of societies and organizations -- but:
On the other hand, since the taste for poetry had never spread among any class of the population of any country, public opinion had risen powerfully against the poets who were called parasites, lazy, useless, and so forth.
       An article in Australian newspaper -- by "a distinguished agricultural scientist" -- condemns poets and poetry, and ends with a call to: "choose between life and poetry" -- and promises: "The poets will be massacred." It's a message that convinces, leading the readers of the article not only to call for the prohibition of all poertry prizes but leaving them wanting: "to lose no occasion to obliterate poets". And, so: "Thus began the great persecution which swept rapidly throughout the entire world."
       The novel culminates in a confrontation between Croniamantal and Tograth, the author of the article, with Croniamantal denouncing him as one who is: "Boredom and Misery, the monstrous enemy of man", but the masses are not won over; like all the other poets, the great poet is assassinated, stuck with so many knives that: "soon there was nothing more on the ground than a corpse bristling with points like the husk of a chestnut."
       It's imagery like that make The Poet Assassinated a consistently entertaining read: Apollinaire's lively language and invention helps mask what is, at least in its details and presentation, a pretty shaky plot with rather many sputtering episodes. There's also an easy-going self-confidence to Apollinaire's narrative that excuses many of its weaknesses. The misunderstood and under-appreciated poet Apollinaire pokes fun at how poetry is seen -- but nevertheless also comes across as one who believes sincerely in the power and significance of art. There are some beautiful touches, too, such as the notion that the statue to be erected in Croniamantal's honor should not be made of marble or bronze, but rather: "out of nothing, like poetry and glory" (and the actual statue itself isn't bad, either)
       The Poet Assassinated is exuberantly silly and sincere, the work of a very creative if rather unrestrained (and not always to best effect) artist. It does rise above historical or biographical curiosity, too; it's more than just a text of its times (though it does give a nice period-overview of turn of the century literary fashion) or autobiographical gloss.
       The Poet Assassinated is not a great literary text, but certainly something to enjoy.

- M.A.Orthofer, 15 September 2012

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The Poet Assassinated: Reviews: Guillaume Apollinaire: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French poet Guillaume Apollinaire (baptized as: Guglielmo Alberto Wladimiro Alessandro Apollinare de Kostrowitzky) lived 1880 to 1918.

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