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Rimbaud I

Le Dormeur du val | Chanson de la plus haute tour | Veillées I

An excellent depiction of the realities of Rimbaud’s life once he turned his back on poetry

Wyatt Mason’s translations of Rimbaud are, in my view, by far the best in English

An early biography, and still, arguably, the best

FROM ‘MARA, MARIETTA’
Part Five Chapter 7

And from London too she brought back music: Not the radio fare of ‘Nights in White Satinand ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’, but ‘John, I’m Only Dancing’ and ‘Virginia Plain’. One rainy day she played you The Doors, casting Chinese shadows on the wall to ‘Riders on the Storm’; you quickly got the knack of it, and together to ‘Hyacinth House’ you improvised a shadow-play. Then she played you Sapho’s fiery version of Le Dormeur du val; not to be outdone by Sapho’s hairdo, you constructed a turban from twists of astrakhan and jersey, put it on your head and passionately declaimed Chanson de la plus haute tour.

LE DORMEUR DU VAL
Rimbaud

C’est un trou de verdure où chante une rivière,
Accrochant follement aux herbes des haillons
D’argent ; où le soleil, de la montagne fière,
Luit : c’est un petit val qui mousse de rayons.

Un soldat jeune, bouche ouverte, tête nue,
Et la nuque baignant dans le frais cresson bleu,
Dort ; il est étendu dans l’herbe, sous la nue,
Pâle dans son lit vert où la lumière pleut.

Les pieds dans les glaïeuls, il dort. Souriant comme
Sourirait un enfant malade, il fait un somme :
Nature, berce-le chaudement : il a froid.

Les parfums ne font pas frissonner sa narine ;
Il dort dans le soleil, la main sur sa poitrine,
Tranquille. Il a deux trous rouges au côté droit.

Vasily Polenov, The Dead Soldier, 1883 (detail)

A SLEEPER IN THE VALLEY
Rimbaud, tr. Wyatt Mason

A green hole where a river sings;
Silver tatters tangling in the grass;
Sun shining down from a proud mountain:
A little valley bubbling with light.

A young soldier sleeps, lips apart, head bare,
Neck bathing in cool blue watercress,
Reclined in the grass beneath the clouds,
Pale in his green bed showered with light.

He sleeps with his feet in the gladiolas.
Smiling like a sick child, he naps:
Nature, cradle him in warmth: he’s cold.

Sweet scents don’t tickle his nose;
He sleeps in the sun, a hand on his motionless chest,
Two red holes on his right side.

Arthur Rimbaud, Rimbaud Complete, trans. and ed. Wyatt Mason
(NY: Modern Library, 2003)

CHANSON DE LA PLUS HAUTE TOUR
Rimbaud

Oisive jeunesse
A tout asservie,
Par délicatesse
J’ai perdu ma vie.
Ah ! Que le temps vienne
Où les coeurs s’éprennent.

Je me suis dit : laisse,
Et qu’on ne te voie :
Et sans la promesse
De plus hautes joies.
Que rien ne t’arrête,
Auguste retraite.

J’ai tant fait patience
Qu’à jamais j’oublie ;
Craintes et souffrances
Aux cieux sont parties.
Et la soif malsaine
Obscurcit mes veines.

Ainsi la prairie
A l’oubli livrée,
Grandie, et fleurie
D’encens et d’ivraies
Au bourdon farouche
De cent sales mouches.

Ah ! Mille veuvages
De la si pauvre âme
Qui n’a que l’image
De la Notre-Dame !
Est-ce que l’on prie
La Vierge Marie ?

Oisive jeunesse
A tout asservie,
Par délicatesse
J’ai perdu ma vie.
Ah ! Que le temps vienne
Où les coeurs s’éprennent !

Théodore Géricault, Portrait Study of a Youth, 1820

SONG FROM THE TALLEST TOWER
Rimbaud, tr. Wyatt Mason

Idle youth,
Slave to all,
Sensitivity
Was my fall.
Let the moment come
When hearts will be one.

Just say: let go,
Disappear:
Without hope
Of greater joy.
Let nothing impede
August retreat.

I’ve been so patient
I nearly forgot;
Fear and suffering
Have taken wing.
Unwholesome thirst
Stains my veins.

So the meadow
Surrendered,
Lush and blossoming
With incense and weeds,
And the fierce buzzing
Of a hundred flies.

A thousand widowings
Of the indigent heart
Left with nothing
But our lady’s face—Nôtre Dame!
Can one really pray
To the Virgin Mary, today?

Idle youth,
Slave to all,
Sensitivity
Was my fall.
Let the moment come
When hearts will be one.

FROM ‘MARA, MARIETTA’
Intermezzo 13: Tasha

She then gave me a translation of her first novel, The Dream Grows Cool. I opened it on the epigram: ‘Neither fever nor languour, in a meadow or a bed. A friend neither ardent nor weak. A friend. The air and the world, unsought. A life’. Rimbaud, Vigils I. I took her in my arms and pressed her body to mine. She kissed me. Then, without a word on our breath, we said goodbye.

 

VEILLÉES I / VIGILS I
Rimbaud (tr. Wyatt Mason)

C’est le repos éclairé, ni fièvre ni langueur, sur le lit ou sur le pré.
C’est l’ami ni ardent ni faible. L’ami.
C’est l’aimée ni tourmentante ni tourmentée. L’aimée.
L’air et le monde point cherchés. La vie.
̶  Etait-ce donc ceci ?
̶  Et le rêve fraîchit.

 

Enlightened leisure, neither fever nor languor, in a meadow or a bed.
A friend neither ardent nor weak. A friend.
A love neither tormenting nor tormented. A love.
The air and the world, unsought. A life.
̶  Was this it?
̶  And the dream grows cool.

Axel Törneman, Youth, 1919