Apollinaire was modernism’s first champion, and after his early death in 1918, he became its first saint. Lying in a hospital bed in 1915, recovering from combat wounds suffered in World War I, Apollinaire assembled the fragments of a tragicomic, mock-epic, and occasionally obscene autobiography-à-clef: The Poet Assassinated. This novella recounts the life and death of Croniamantal, whose birth is “saluted” by the Eiffel Tower’s “beautiful erection,” who rises through the Parisian literary world to proclaim himself “the greatest of living poets,” and who is then torn to pieces by a mob. A statue built “out of nothing, like poetry and glory,” is constructed in his honor.
This translation is by Matthew Josephson, an American editor who arrived in Paris just after the war and entered the circle of avant-garde artists and poets that had been galvanized by Apollinaire’s life and death. Josephson was among the first to introduce these dadaists and surrealists to the U.S. via his archetypal small magazine, Broom, and among his most ambitious projects was this translation, published by Broom as a limited edition book in 1923 and never since reprinted.