As I said in my previous post on Rimbaud, I think some of Rimbaud’s most exquisite verse came when he was he writing about Childhood. Relatedly, he wrote some adorable poesy about young love (and by “young love,” I really mean the innocent and natural physical attraction felt between a boy and a girl). He was also, when he chose to be, a great poet of Nature.
Except for the poem, The Drunken Boat (which is tame enough to be anthologized in school books), I believe all these areas of Rimbaud’s work –odes to Childhood and to Young Love and to Nature– too often go under-appreciated; people are understandably more intrigued by Rimbaud the doomed young talented rebel artist hell-bent on exploration and rule-breaking and the “derangement of all the senses.” Actually, that does sound pretty exciting doesn’t it?
Nevertheless, I’d like to share today, without much comment or interpretation, some of my favorite charming verses of Rimbaud. As with everyone, the child is the father of the man, and as Rimbaud said himself, “Les tout petits enfants ont le coeur si sensible! [“Children have such sensitive hearts!”]
Concerning Rimbaud’s nostalgia for CHILDHOOD, there’s this from The Orphans’ Gift:
“A mother’s dream is the warm blanket, / the downy nest where children, huddled/ like beautiful birds rocked by the branches,/ sleep their sweet sleep full of white visions.” […] “You awoke in the morning, you got up in a joyous mood, / your mouth watering, rubbing your eyes… / you went, your hair tangled on your head, / your eyes shining as on holidays,/ and your little bare feet grazing the floor, / softly touching your parents’ doors… / you went in!… and then the good wishes… in your nightshirt, / the flood of kisses, and gaiety allowed!”
And from the end of The Drunken Boat:
“If I want a water of Europe, it is the black / cold puddle where in the sweet-smelling twilight / a squatting child full of sadness releases/ a boat as fragile as a May butterfly”
And there’s also:
“Cela commenca sous les rires des enfants, cela finira par eux.” [“It all began with the laughter of children, and will end there.”] from Illuminations.
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Verses on NATURE, include the following, also from The Orphans’ Gift:
“Nature awakens and is drunk with the rays of light… / the Earth, half-bare, happy to come alive again, / stirs with joy under the kisses of the sun.”
“In the blue summer evenings, I will go along the paths, / and walk over the short grass, as I am pricked by the wheat: / daydreaming I will feel the coolness on my feet. / I will let the wind bathe my bare head. // I will not speak, I will have no thoughts: / but infinite love will mount my soul; / and I will go far, far off, like a gypsy, / through the countryside– joyous as if with a woman.”
Rimbaud was a sun worshipper (at least in his poetry) referring to it in Sun And Flesh (excerpted below), “le foyer de tendresse et de vie”:
“The sun, hearth of tenderness and life, / pours burning love over the delighted earth, / and , when one lies down in the valley, one smells/ how the earth is nubile and rich in blood; / how its huge breast, raised by a soul, / is made of love, like god, and of flesh, like woman,/ and how it contains, big with sap and rays of light, / the vast swarming of all embryos! // And everything grows, and everything rises!”
By the way, some of favorite verses in all of Rimbaud occur in Sun And Flesh. The above reminds me of sentiments that would moisten the eyes of dear old Walt Whitman. From the same poem:
“I miss the time when the world’s sap, / the river’s water, and the rose blood of green trees/ put a universe into the veins of Pan!”
Sometime just a phrase from Rimbaud will linger in my consciousness all day, like this one from Nina’s Replies: “The good blue morning that bathes you with the wine of the day” [“Bon matin bleu, qui vous baigne du vin de jour”].
The following section from Illuminations puts me in mind of Yeats’ rough beast slouching toward Bethlehem:
“Graceful son of Pan! Under your brow crowned with flowers and berries, your eyes, precious balls, move. Spotted with dark streaks, your cheeks look hollow. Your fangs glisten. Your chest is like a lyre and tinkling move up and down your white arms. Your heart beats in that abdomen where your double sex sleeps. Walk at night and move gently this thigh, then this other thigh and this left leg.”
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And then there’s the sweet Rimbaud rhapsodizing about idealized YOUNG LOVE. Here are a few captured phrases…
“Laughing at me, who, brutish with drink, / would catch you/ like this– your beautiful hair, / oh! — who would drink // your taste of raspberry and strawberry, / oh flesh of a flower! / laughing at the crisp wind kissing you / like a thief.” [from Nina’s Replies]
“Night in June! Seventeen years old! — We are overcome by it all. / The sap is champagne and goes to our head… / We talked a lot and feel a kiss on our lips / trembling there like a small insect.” [from Novel] [the last line actually ends “comme une petite bete”]
And this playful verse from A Dream From Winter:
“Then you will feel your cheek scratched… / A little kiss, like a mad spider, / will run around your neck… // and you will say to me: “Get it!,” as you bend your neck; / –and we will take a long time to find that creature / –which travels a great deal…” [I especially like the phrase about the kiss like a mad spider: “un petit baiser, comme une folle araignee”
As much as I enjoy Rimbaud’s writing, I rarely find an entire poem I like from beginning to end. But The Sly Girl, I appreciated in its entirety:
“In the brown dining room, perfumed/ with an odor of varnish and fruit, leisurely / I gathered up some Belgian dish / or other, and spread out in my huge chair. // While I ate, I listed to the clock– happy and quiet. / The kitchen door opened with a gust / –and a servant girl came, I don’t know why, / her neckerchief loose, her hair coyly dressed// and she passed her small trembling finger / over her cheek, a pink and white peach velvet skin, / and pouted with her childish mouth. // She arranged the plates, near me, to put me at ease; / –then, just like that– to get a kiss, naturally– / said softly: “Feel there: I’ve caught a cold on my cheek…”
From To Music:
“Dressed as badly as a student, I follow, / under the green chestnut trees, the lively girls: / they know it, and turn to me, laughing, / their eyes full of indiscreet things. // I do not say a word: I keep looking/ at the flash of their white necks embroidered with stray locks: / I follow, under the bodice and the scanty clothes, / the divine back below the curve of the shoulders.”
And this gem…
“L’infini roule blanc de ta nuque a tes reins” [“the Infinite rolled white from your neck to your loins”] (from The Star Wept Rose-Colored”)
And finally, the following complete prose-poem, appearing as a section in Illuminations, is called Dawn. It is one of my favorite poems-as-a-whole from Rimbaud. There is something of Keats within:
“I have held the summer dawn in my arms. Nothing moved as yet on the front of the palaces. The water was dead. Swarms of shadows refused to leave the road to the wood. I walked along, awakening the warm, alive air. Stones looked up, and wing rose up silently. The first occurrence, in the path already filled with cool white shimmerings, was a flower which told me its name. I laughed at the blond waterfall which tumbled down through the pine trees. At its silver top I recognized the goddess.
Then I took off her veils one by one. In the path, where I waved my arms. In the field, where I gave away her name to the cock. In the city she fled between steeples and domes; and running like a thief along the marble wharves, I chased her. Where the road mounts, near a laurel wood, I wrapped her in all her veils and felt something of the immensity of her body. Dawn and the child collapsed at the edge of the wood. On waking, it was midday.”
I hope you took your time reading the above, or will some soon day again read these under-appreciated works from Rimbaud. If you have anyone you love who is a couple of years into studying French as a second language, I’d highly recommend purchasing for him or her a Wallace Fowlie translated dual-language book of Rimbaud’s verses. His language, as I hope you can see, is very readable and enjoyable.
“Cela finit par une debandade de parfums.”
more posts by Hammering Shield on Rimbaud…