À Édouard Férot

LA            TE
    C      VA

          QUE  TU
        ET  QUI  T  '
        ORNE O CI
      OTE-      TU  VEUX
        LA          BIEN
      SI              RESPI

                   MME L
                CO     'ON
                 S'A   SE

                                   les                  la
                  et le                                      beau
                vers                                 Mon
              dantesque                               coeur      té
           luisant et
         cadavérique                                                 de

     le bel                                                     les
    inconnu                    Il                                yeux   vie
                                est      Et
                                  -     tout                             pas
                                  5      se
  les Muses                        en    ra                               se
aux portes de                       fin  fi
 ton corps                               ni                     l'enfant  la


  l'infini                                                             leur
     redressé                                                   Agia
       par un fou                                                      de
        de philosophe

                   semaine                      la main


The tie and the watch.
The painful tie you are wearing oh civilised one,
take it off if you wish to breathe well
What fun we are having
my heart
the child
the hand
the infinite propped by a mad philosopher
the Muses at the doors of your body
the stately stranger
and the shiny and cadaverous worm Background
The poem is a calligramme. It inserts itself in the surrealist movement, as well it should be. For after all it is the author, Guillaume Apollinaire, who invented the french adjective "surréaliste".
Considering it was written in 1918, the form alone of the poem is audacious. The style is very free; there are no rhymes. It is no coincidence that Tristan Tzara, two years earlier, had founded the dada movement, inspired strongly by anarchy and random thought. We are witnessing the first breaths of surrealist poetry, and those of the surrealist movement itself. How the clock works:
The poem definitely does not read from left to right, but there is a logical procedure to it.
First of all, read the uppercase letter of the tie, and going down, follow the words to the bottom left, then go back to "tu veux bien." The clock is read in four parts, whatever the order. The themes are closely related, however. The rewinding dial in uppercase is one, the hands another, the twelve (yes, as the numbers on a clock) phrases immediately around the hands, and the arc around the right half of the clock. What does it all mean?
The poem challenges the dogmas of the early 20th century society. Clothing was, somewhat like today, a hierchical symbol. Tight fitting clothing then was preffered (or rather required) among the higher class or the "civilised" as Apollinaire refers to them sarcastically. Corsets for women, ties for men. "Take it off," he writes in the tie section "if you wish to breathe." The clock is a delicious treat. The rewinding dial dial is one of two cyclical symbols, and spells "Comme l'on s'amuse bien," or what fun we are having. Going around and around the proletarian cycle (we are not far from the realist movement), ever starting over. The twelve phrases are very significant. Twelve for "les heures," one for "Mon coeur," seven for "semaine." etc... The more obvious ones are hints to how the poem works. There is an neat visual play on the number eight, where we read the word "infinite" (if you turn the number "8" 90 degrees... there you go!) For the other phrases, their relation to the numbers are a little more obscure. "le bel inconnu" at 10 o'clock could, indeed, be anyone. But his presence at this hour suggests he is a secret lover. Agia is possibly a woman Apollinaire knew, while Tireis is really At Tireis, a city in Sudan. The hands are the other cyclical symbol, inevitably coming back to the hour. However this cycle represents not a day but a lifetime, starting in the early stages with a heart, eyes, a child, Tireis (possibly referring to travels), to end with "le vers dantesque luisant et cadavérique," which represents death. They travel around the clock, and we presently witness them at 11:55. "Il est -5 enfin, Et tout sera fini," five minutes to the hour at last, and all shall be over. Does the author submit gladly to death? Perhaps, but in the final part (if we may call it such), does he also look brightly upon life. "La beauté de vivre passe la douleur de mourir," the beauty of life is beyond the pain in dying.

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