GUILLAUME APOLLINAIRE was born in Rome in 1880 as Wilhelm Apollinaris de Kostrowitsky. His school years (1887-99) were spent in Monaco and Cannes. Thereafter he settled in Paris and for the first decade of the twentieth century pursued the life of poet, homme de lettres, and friend and promoter of many of the pioneers of the modern movement in art. Emerging from Symbolism, Apollinaire was the harbinger of Surrealism. Today his iconic role as midwife and tutelary spirit to the literary and artistic avant-gardes of the twentieth century is beyond dispute.
When the Great War broke out, Apollinaire startled many of his antimilitaristic friends by enlisting and becoming an artilleryman. The Letters to Madeleine constitute a large portion of his literary legacy from his time in the trenches.
Apollinaire's war (and indeed his relationship with Madeleine) was cut short by a shrapnel wound to the head sustained on 17 March 1916. He was invalided out, trepanned, and a slow recuperation followed. By the end of the year he had resumed his frenetic literary life in the French capital. But in November 1918 he contracted the Spanish flu, then rampant in Paris, and died just two days before the Armistice.
DONALD NICHOLSON-SMITH has translated works by Jean Piaget, Guy Debord, Jean-Patrick Manchette, Paco Ignacio Taibo II, Antonin Artaud, Thierry Jonquet, Henri Lefebvre, Raoul Vaneigem, and Yasmina Khadra. Born in Manchester, England, he is a long-time denizen of Brooklyn.
Little fairy, we had the same notion, we both felt the same concern: neither of us must let too much time pass before sending news. Your sweet card of todaysent on the 3rdwas an even more marvellous surprise (if possible) than your first letter, for I was expecting nothing before twenty days or so had gone by.
- from LETTERS TO MADELEINE by Guillame Apollinaire and translated from the French by Donald Nicholson-Smith