Guillaume Apollinaire’s first book of poems has charmed readers with its brief celebrations of animals, birds, fish, insects, and the mythical poet Orpheus since it was first published in 1911. Though Apollinaire would go on to longer and more ambitious work, his Bestiary reveals key elements of his later poetry, among them surprising images, wit, formal mastery, and wry irony.
X. J. Kennedy’s fresh translation follows Apollinaire in casting the poems into rhymed stanzas, suggesting music and sudden closures while remaining faithful to their sense. Kennedy provides the English alongside the original French, inviting readers to compare the two and appreciate the fidelity of the former to the latter. He includes a critical and historical essay that relates the Bestiary to its sources in medieval “creature books,” provides a brief biography and summation of the troubled circumstances surrounding the book’s initial publication, and places the poems in the context of Apollinaire’s work as a poet and as a champion of avant garde art.
This short introduction to the work of an essentially modern writer includes four curious poems apparently suppressed from the first edition and reprints of the Raoul Dufy woodcuts published in the 1911 edition.