A New Kind of Refinement



Guillaume Apollinaire and Madeleine Pagès in December 1915.

A letter from Guillaume Apollinaire to Madeleine Pagès, dated October 11, 1915. Apollinaire had met Pagès, who taught literature, on a train in January of that year; by August they were engaged and Apollinaire was stationed in the trenches of Champagne, fighting the Great War. His prolific correspondence with Pagès from this period is remarkable not just in its erotic candor but in its portrayal of life in the trenches, down to the finest details: “mud, what mud, you cannot imagine the mud you have to have seen it here, sometimes the consistency of putty, sometimes like whipped cream or even wax and extraordinarily slippery.” At times he rebuked his lover for not writing often or well enough, though the beginning of this letter finds him pleased with her efforts. The following year, he was wounded by shrapnel; the injury so disturbed him that he refused to receive his fiancée during his convalescence, and soon the letters, along with their engagement, dried up.

My love, I had two letters from you today. I am very happy with them … especially out here, where your precious sensuality is a consolation to me, the sole remedy for all my troubles. Please do mark this well, my love. You said yourself that we should strengthen the secret between us, so do strengthen it, and fear for nothing. Be naked before me—as far away as I am … Your meaningful look in Marseilles is admirably clear to me in memory, charged with all the voluptuousness that is part of you. You are very beautiful. I kiss your mouth through your hat veil, tearing it like a Veil of Isis and grasping the whole of that little traveller who is now my own beloved little wife and clasping her madly to me …

I take your whole mouth and kiss it, and then your breasts, so sensitive, whose tips harden at my kiss and strain towards me like your desire itself. I wrap my arms about you and hold you fight forever against my heart.

This is the time of day when the epeirids, cruciferous spiders, strew their gossamer all around. Looking at these white threads that the breeze tosses about and causes to shimmer in the light makes me think of you oh my adorable lily.

Today we were treated to the splendid sight of a homeward-bound squadron of twenty-eight bombers intercepted by our fighter planes. The clash took place very high up, albeit not as high as our love, and the sky was speckled with thousands of white puffs of smoke from the explosions. A spectacle at once agonizing and fascinating. Such a new kind of refinement! In the distance along the two fronts the vile priapic sausage-balloons maintained their defiantly immobile watch like maggots hatched in a rotting field of blue. It is perhaps these grubs that give birth to such graceful butterflies, the aeroplanes.

As for you, I adore you. I take you naked as a pearl and devour you with kisses all over from your feet to your head, so swoon from love, my darling love, I eat your mouth and your fine breasts which belong to me and which swollen with voluptuousness thrill me with endless delight.


Translated from the French by Donald Nicholson-Smith.