Guillaume Apollinaire

“Guillaume Apollinaire” by Eugenio Baroncelli
Translated by Chenxin Jiang

“Red Love saluted
by those who are about to die.”

G. Apollinaire

Paris, 9 November 1918. He died at five in the afternoon – like that bullfighter – in his house at 202 Boulevard Saint-Germain. Six days earlier he had been confined to bed with a high fever. It was an unusual fever: even blinder and brusquer than the war, it would claim 25 million lives in two years. Yet he refused to believe that his time had come. How could it be? He had escaped the perils of the wicked forest where bombs lurked and trees were felled (“Watch where you put your feet, and don’t get yourself crushed by a tree trunk,” warned Madame Kostravitzky, the extravagant, possessive mother who still thought of him as a child); they had drilled his skull full of new verses in order to flush out the splinter of 150-shrapnel that had pierced his helmet and lodged in his temple. Was he going to go now, like this? A soldier-poet was not to be treated this way. But he went anyway. The following day, in the red sunset, a funeral procession made its way to Père-Lachaise, slow like the hours that no longer passed for him. The armistice had been signed two days earlier. All through the streets, the crowd was celebrating victory. “Death to Guillaume!” they cried. Meaning the Kaiser, not him.

 

«Rosso porpora Amore salutato
da quelli che stanno per morire»

G. APOLLINAIRE

“Guillaume Apollinaire” by Eugenio Baroncelli

Parigi, 9 novembre 1918. Muore alle cinque della sera, come quel torero, nella sua casa al 202 di boulevard Saint-Germain. Sei giorni prima si è messo a letto con la febbre alta. Quella è una febbre speciale, più cieca e sbrigativa perfino della guerra (farà 25 milioni di morti in due anni), eppure lui non vuole credere che sia arrivata la sua ora. Ma come, è scampato ai pericoli del bosco malandrino, dove nascondono le bombe e tagliano gli alberi (“Guarda dove metti i piedi, sta’ attento a non farti schiacciare da un tronco”, si raccomanda Madame Kostrowitzky, quella madre stravagante e possessiva che lo crede ancora un bambino), gli hanno trapanato il cranio pieno di nuovi versi per snidare dalla tempia quella scheggia di granata da 150 che gli ha perforato l’elmetto, e adesso dovrebbe andarsene così? Questo a un poeta soldato non si fa. E invece se ne va. L’indomani, nel tramonto rosso porpora, apre il corteo che muove verso il Père-Lachaise, lento come le ore quando non passano più. L’armistizio è stato firmato da due giorni. Per le strade, la folla festeggia la vittoria. Grida: “Morte a Guillaume”. Il kaiser, non lui.

© 2010 Sellerio Editore, Palermo

 

Eugenio Baroncelli was born in Rimini and lives in Ravenna. He was previously an Italian and Latin teacher and is also interested in film theory and criticism. His books include Mosche d’inverno. 271 morti in due o tre pose (Flies in Winter: 271 deaths posed two or three ways, 2010), which won the Premio Supermondello and Premio Piero Chiara, Falene. 237 vite quasi perfette (Moths: 237 almost perfect lives, 2012), and Pagine Bianche. 55 libri che non ho scritto (Blank Pages: 55 books I didn’t write, 2013).

Chenxin Jiang

Chenxin Jiang is a writer and translator who grew up in Hong Kong and lives in Berlin. She most recently translated The Cowshed: Memories of the Chinese Cultural Revolution for New York Review Books.

Latest posts by Chenxin Jiang (see all)

Author: Chenxin Jiang

Chenxin Jiang is a writer and translator who grew up in Hong Kong and lives in Berlin. She most recently translated The Cowshed: Memories of the Chinese Cultural Revolution for New York Review Books.