by Larry Fyffe
The poems of Guillaume Apollinaire, who is credited with coining the words ‘cubism’ and ‘surrealism’, are not all filled with dark humour; there be light-humoured poems as well. The Rimbardian fairy-tale-like poem by Apollinaire given below creates ancient mythological correspondences with the human condiction in modern times. Sigmund Freud does much the same thing.
Apollinaire, in his long poem, does so more directly than do the lyrics of singer/songwriter Bob Dylan in his song ‘Man Gave Names To All The Animals,’ which alludes to religion:
And Adam gave names to all cattle And to every fowl of the air And to every beast of the field (Genesis 2: 20)
In ancient mythology, Orpheus plays a lyre made from a tortoise shell given to him by the Sun God, Apollo, whose sister is the Moon Goddess, Diana; Orpheus grows up in the Thrace region of Greece; Eurydice becomes his wife – she dies from a snakebite, and Orpheus fails to get her all the way out of Hades because he’s told not to look back at her, and he does.
Orpheus accompanies Jason on a sea journey in quest of the Golden Fleece, the skin from the Holy Ram of the Thunder God, Zeus, that’s guarded by a dragon. On the way back, Orpheus with his lyre drowns out the seductive voices of the dangerous Sirens. Winged Medusa, with her hair of poisonous snakes, turns men into stone who look at her face; she gives birth to Pegasus, a winged horse, ridden by the Greek hero who slays the monster that has a head of a lion, a body of a goat, and a tail of a serpent.
In his song lyrics, Bob Dylan refers to bears, bulls, cows, pigs, snakes, and sheep; Guillaume, in his poem, to lions, horses, serpents, tortoises, elephants, mice, and more.
Following are some verses of “The Beastiary Or Orpheus’ Procession” by Gùillaume Apollinaire (translated by Kline):
From magic Trace, O delirium! My sure fingers sound the strings The creatures pass to the sounds Of my tortoise, and the songs I sing (The Tortoise) My harsh dreams knew the riding of you My gold-chariot will be your lovely car That for reins will hold tight to frenzy My verses, the patterns of all poetry (The Horse) The fleece of this goat and even That gold one which cost such pain To Jason's not worth a sou towards The tresses which I take The Tibetan Goat) You set yourself against beauty And how many women have been Victims of your cruelty! Eve, Eurydice, Cleopatra I know three or four more (The Serpent)
Bob Dylan obliquely alludes to the story of Orpheus and Eurydice in the following song lyrics; the writer changes the artist into a woman who looks not back but to the present for inspiration to create art:
She's got everything she needs She's an artist, she don't look back She can take the dark out of the night-time And paint the daytime black (Bob Dylan: She Belongs To Me)
Apollinaire looks back to ancient mythology; he brings into the present in order to objectify human emotions and sexuality in the context of modern times.
The story of Medusa is called upon:
Medusas, miserable heads With hairs of violet You enjoy the hurricane And I enjoy the very same (Guillaume Apollinaire: The Jellyfish)
In the following song lyrics, there’s an allusion thereto as well, but it’s not so direct:
See the primitive wallflower freeze When the jelly-faced women all sneezed (Bob Dylan: Visions Of Johanna)
There also be a well-hidden mythological allusion to Venus, the Goddess of Love, giving her shield, adorned with a goose, to her son:
Train wheels runnin' through the back of my memory When I ran on the hilltop following a pack of wild geese (Bob Dylan: When I Paint My Masterpiece)
And there the silvery goose flying through the gilded Colonnades cackled that the Gauls were at the gate (Virgil: The Aeneid)
Religion is not left untouched by Guillaume Apolinaire’s sexually suggestive humour:
Dove, both love and spirit Who engendered Jesus Christ Like you I love Mary And so with her I marry (Guillaume Apollinaire: The Dove)
The singer/singer, as mentioned, messes around with stories in the Judeo-Christian holy book:
Hot chili peppers in the blistering sun Dust on my face, and my cape Me and Magdalena on the run I think this time we shall escape (Bob Dylan: Romance In Durango ~ Dylan/Levy)
What else is on the site
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