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IF GUILLAUME'S DEATH HAD BEEN CHRISTIAN, by                 Poet's Biography


"If Guillaume's Death Had Been Christian," a prose poem by Max Jacob, opens an intriguing and deeply emotional window into the life and impact of Guillaume Apollinaire, a figure who loomed large in the art and poetry of his era. Apollinaire, as perceived by Jacob, is imbued with a kind of immortality that defies the very concept of death. The poem grapples with themes of mortality, spirituality, and the elusive essence of a human being that transcends bodily existence.

Max Jacob was a French poet, painter, and writer, closely associated with the Cubist movement and the broader avant-garde artistic circles of early 20th-century Paris where he became friends with key figures of the art world such as Pablo Picasso and Apollinaire.

The opening lines, where Jacob is "so sure" Apollinaire was going to die that he had drawn him on his deathbed, play with the notion of certainty and finality. It is as if the act of drawing, itself a form of creation, could seal Apollinaire's fate. However, Apollinaire defies this artistic prediction, appearing the next day "walking around Paris, strong and majestic." This sets the tone for a narrative that consistently undermines our conventional expectations of life, death, and memory.

The surreal imagery at Sacre-Ceur de Montmartre further deepens this complexity. The presence of two black cats, often symbolic of mystery or the supernatural, and a voice that advises against fear introduces an almost mystical atmosphere. This spiritual and somewhat ethereal setting aptly frames Apollinaire, who appears "like a bird with a man's head." Jacob blurs the boundaries between life and death, making us question what it truly means to be alive or dead.

The poem's climax occurs when Jacob encounters Apollinaire leading "a group of disciples." The comparison to Dante is particularly striking, evoking the legendary poet's journey through the realms of Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven. Like Dante, Apollinaire seems to inhabit multiple worlds at once: the earthly and the otherworldly, the mortal and the eternal. This duality forms the crux of the poem, representing Apollinaire as a figure too grand, too multifaceted to be constrained by something as final as death.

Towards the end, a "stout and clever priest" provides an explicit statement that serves as a resolution: "There's no one more alive than Guillaume Apollinaire." This assertion encapsulates the poem's core message: that Apollinaire's spirit, his influence, his art, render him immortal. It is as if his very essence has been disseminated into the world, making him a permanent part of its fabric.

In "If Guillaume's Death Had Been Christian," Max Jacob delivers a powerful tribute that transcends the conventions of an elegy or memorial. Through a blend of vivid imagery, symbolic allusions, and shifting narrative perspectives, he captures the larger-than-life aura of Guillaume Apollinaire. The prose poem becomes an artistic medium through which both poets defy the limitations of earthly existence, reaching towards something infinitely more profound.


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