History of Modern France

The Third French Republic 1870-1940. Part 6

6 October 2021

French Poetry & the Great War

with Sylvie Koneski

G. Apollinaire, "la colombe poignardée et le jet d'eau", Calligrammes, 1918

 

The First World War has been recognized as being a deeply literary war. Poets and novelists, were caught up in the universal mobilizations of 1914. Some enlisted voluntarily, carried along by a wave of patriotic fervor. The most famous were Guillaume Apollinaire and Blaise Cendrars. They have left us an authentic record of the war in art and writing, but they also broke new ground artistically with adventurous new forms.

 

During the Great War, poetry had many channels of expression : Newspapers, magazines, pamphlets, anthologies, and individual collections featured poems by combatants and non-combatants, by men but also by women - like Lucie Delarue-Mardrus and Anna de Noailles – back in Paris or near the front lines.

 

French soldier poets are memorialized under the broader banner of écrivains-combattants ‘soldier-writers’: To be a soldier was to write, not just fight. It became another facet of a soldier’s duty - culturally, morally, and aesthetically - to capture his experiences in the written word.

Sonia Delaunay, Blaise  Cendrars

La Prose du Transsibérien et de la petite Jehanne, 1913