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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Myth in the work of Apollinaire Strange , Derek Ernest


Throughout the work of Apollinaire are to be found references to mythological figures and incidents, drawn from many different areas of mythology and legend, both ancient and more modern. Apollinaire had a taste for somewhat bizarre and esoteric detail, such as these references. But they are clearly not interspersed throughout his writing in a gratuitous manner: it would seem that each one fits into a larger plan of the poet's inspiration and creation. The aim of this examination of myth in the work of Apollinaire is to try to trace a link between his interest in, and references to myths, and his own artistic expression. There appears to be a synthesis of the two elements of traditional mythology and personal expression, .which transforms both elements into a peculiarly Apollinairian form of myth. Personal inspiration draws upon mythology and, at the same time revitalizes the myths themselves, freeing them from the immobility, of tradition. For Apollinaire, myth becomes a constituent part of what he called "1'esprit nouveau", which was a new, free form of spiritual adventure. After attempting to define the areas of mythology and legend from which Apollinaire draws most often, we shall use these precisions in studying some aspects of Apollinaire's poetic imagery, to see how he incarnates and animates certain aspects of myth in his own way. In this is to be found an important aspect of Apollinaire's renovation of myth, in which myth merges with new, surprising images of the new kind of poetry that was being formed after the Symbolists. The solar myth, and other myths of fire, for example, are taken up by Apollinaire to the end of a personal poetic expression. Similarly, water, music or shadows are used to illustrate or dramatize Apollinaire's individual interpretations and transformations of myth. Finally, as a kind of cross-reference, we will turn to Apollinaire's biography in order to discuss the possible role played by mythology in his views and attitudes towards his own life and experiences. In some poems, for example, he likens himself to certain aspects of the figure or myth of Orpheus or Christ. His own life, and above all, his writing, bears this imprint of mythology, and, on the other hand, the myths that he uses bear the imprint of Apollinaire himself. From a reciprocal transformation such as this comes a new attitude to myth, which becomes part of the "new spirit", and also part of the vague legend of Apollinaire himself. Apollinaire's treatment and use of myth thus appears, in the context of early 20th century poetry, as an overture to a new poetic vogue, the themes of which were to be embellished by the Surrealists. His poetic and mythological example shows that 20th century poetry had not entirely broken with the former spirit and tradition of poetic mythology, but had merely adapted it to reflect the spirit of its own creation

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