Arthur Rimbaud: Poems

Jean Nicolas Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891) was a French poet. He was born in Charleville, Ardennes. He produced his best works while still in his late teens—Victor Hugo described him at the time as "an infant Shakespeare"—and interestingly he gave up creative writing altogether before the age of 20.His poetry was subconsciously inspired and highly suggestive. Both Rimbaud’s life and poetry has inspired many poets and artists, including the French symbolists, Surrealism, the Beat Movement, and the musicians like Jim Morrison, Bob Dylan and others.



Clear water; [stinging] like the salt of a child's tears,
the whiteness of women's bodies attacking the sun;
silken, in masses and pure lily, banners under the walls a maiden defended;
The frolic of angels - No… the current of gold in motion moves its arms,
dark and above all cool, of green. She [the weed] sinks,
and having the blue Heaven for a canopy,
takes for curtains the shade of the hill and of the arch.

Oh! The wet surface stretches out its clear bubbles!
The water covers the made beds with pale and bottomless gold;
[it is as if] the faded green dresses of little girls
[were] playing at willows, out of which leap the unbridled birds.
Purer than a gold louis, yellow warm eyelid, the marsh marigold -
thy conjugal faith O Spouse! - at noon sharp,
from its dull mirror, envies the rosy beloved
Sphere in the sky wan with heat.

Madame holds herself too erect in the neighbouring meadow
where the threads of [the spider's] toil are snowing down'
parasol in her fingers; crushing the cow-parsley;
too proud for her; children reading
in the flowery greenness; their red morocco book! Alas,
He, like a thousand white angels parting on the roadway,
makes off beyond the mountain!
She, quite cold, and dark, runs!
After the flight of the man!

Nostalgia for the thick young arms of pure green!
Gold of the April moons in the heart of the hallowed bed!
Joy of the abandoned boat-yards, the prey to the August evenings
which quickened these corruptions!
How she weeps, now, under he ramparts!
The breath of the poplars above is all there is for a breeze.
Then it is the sheet of water without reflections
and without a spring, grey: an old man, a dredger,
in his motionless boat, labours.

Plaything of this eye of mournful water, I cannot reach -
O boat without motion! O too short arms! -
either this flower or that one: neither the yellow one
which importunes me here; nor the blue one,
the beloved in the ashes water.
Ah! The pollen of willows which a wing shakes!
The roses of the reeds, long since eaten away!
My boat still fast; and its anchor chain taut to the bottom
of this limitless eye of water, - in what slime? ---------------
What does it matter to us, my heart,
the sheets of blood And of red-hot coals,
and a thousand murders, and long howls Of rage ;
sobbings from every inferno destroying Every (kind of) order ;
and still the North wind across the wreckage ;
And all the vengeance ? Nothing !... -
But still, yes We desire it ! Industrialists, princes,
senates, Perish ! Power, justice, history : down !
It is our due. Blood ! blood ! the golden flame !
All to war, to vengeance, to terror, My soul !
Let us turn in the wound : Ah !
away with you, Republics of this world !
Of Emperors, Regiments, colonists, peoples, enough !
Who should stir the vortices of furious flames
But we and those whom we imagine brothers ?
It's our turn, romantic friends : we are Going to enjoy it.
Never shall we labour, O fiery waves !
Europe, Asia, America - vanish !
Our march of vengeance has occupied every place,
Cities and countrysides ! - We shall be smashed !
The volcanoes will explode ! And the Ocean, smitten...
Oh ! my friends ! - My heart, it is certain ; they are brothers ;
Dark strangers, if we began ! Come on ! Come on ! -
O evil fortune ! I feel myself tremble, the old earth,
On me who am more and more yours ! the earth melts.
It is nothing : I am here ; I am still here.

- Arthur Rimbaud

(Tr. Oliver Bernard)

The Drunken Boat

I followed deadpan Rivers down and down,
And knew my haulers had let go the ropes.
Whooping redskins took my men as targets
And nailed them nude to technicolour posts.
I didn’t give a damn about the crews,
Or the Flemish wheat and English corn.
Once the shindig with my haulers finished
I had the current take me where I wished.
In the furious riptides last winter,
With ears as tightly shut as any child’s,
I ran, and unanchored Peninsulas
Have never known such carnivals of triumph.
The storm blessed my maritime wakefulness.
Lighter than a cork I danced on the waves
Which some call eternal victim-breakers-
Ten blind nights free of idiot guiding flares.
Sweeter than sour apple-flesh to children
Green water slid inside my pine-clad hull
And washed me clean of vomit and cheap wine,
Sweeping away rudder-post and grapnel.
From that time on, I bathed in the Poem
Of the Sea, lactescent and steeped in stars,
Devouring green azures; where a drowned man
Like bleached flotsam sometimes sinks in a trance;
When suddenly tinting the bluities,
Slow deliriums in shimmering light,
Fiercer than alcohol, vaster than lyres,
The bitter rednesses of love ferment.
I know skies splintered by lightening, breakers,
Waterspouts, undertows; I know the dusk,
And dawn, exalted like a host of doves –
And then I’ve seen what men believe they’ve seen.
I’ve seen low suns smeared with mystic horrors
Set fire to monster fires of violet;
Like actors in the very oldest plays
Slatted light shimmered, away on the waves.
Green nights I dreamed bedazzlements of snow,
A kiss rising to sea’s eyes slowly,
Circulation of undiscovered saps,
Blue-yellow wakefulness of phosphorsongs.
For whole months on end I followed the swell
Charging the reefs like hysterical beasts,
Not thinking that luminous Maryfeet
Could force a muzzle onto breathy seas.
I struck, you know, amazing Floridas
Where flowers twine with panther eyes inside
Men’s skins! Rainbows flung like bridles under
Sea horizons harnessed the glaucous herds.
I saw great swamps seethe like nets laid in reeds
Where a whole Leviathan lay rotting,
Collapse of water in the midst of calm
And distances tumbling into nothing.
Glaciers, silver suns, pearl seas, firecoal skies!
Hideous wreckages down in brown depths
Where enormous insect-tormented snakes
Crash from twisted trees, reeking with blackness.
I’d have liked to show children blue-water
Dorados, golden fish and fish that sing.
Foam-sprays of flowers cradled my drifting;
At times I flew on ineffable winds.
Sometimes, martyr tired of poles and wastelands,
My pitching was stilled by the sobbing sea
Which raised to me its yellow-sucker
Shadow-flowers – and I, like a woman, knelt.
Floating islands where the brawls and the guano
Of fierce albino birds bounced off my sides,
I sailed, while down among my fraying ropes
Drowned men descended backwards into sleep.
Now, I, boat tangled in the hair of bights,
Hurled high by hurricanes through birdless space,
Whom no protection-vessel in the world
Would fish up from the drink, half-drowned, half-crazed;
Free, smoking, got up in violet spume,
I, who holed the sky like a wall in flames
Which bears, good poet’s exquisite preserve,
Lichen of sun and cerulean snot;
Mad plank streaked with electric crescents, flanked
By dark formations of speeding sea-horse,
When Julys bludgeoned ultramarine skies
And pulverized them into scorching winds;
Trembling as I heard the faraway groans
Of rutting Behemoths and swirling storms;
Eternal spinner of blue stillnesses,
I long for Europe’s ancient parapets.
I’ve seen star-sown islands cluster; others
Whose delirious skies summon sailors.
Do you sleep banished in the pit of night,
You myriad golden birds, the Strength to come?
I’ve wept too much, it’s true. Dawn breaks my heart.
All moons are atrocious, all suns bitter.
Acrid love has pumped me with drugged torpor.
Let my keel burst, let me go to sea!
If I want Europe, it’s a dark cold pond
Where a small child plunged in sadness crouches
One fragrant evening at dusk, and launches
A boat, frail as a butterfly in May.
Steeped in your slow wine, waves, no more can I
Cadge rides in the cotton-freighters’ slipstream,
Nor brave proud lines of ensigns and streamers,
Nor face the prison-ship’s terrible eyes.

- Arthur Rimbaud

(trans. Martin Sorrell)


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