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Terrible Eyes: On a Newly Discovered Photograph of Arthur Rimbaud
Posted By Adam Fitzgerald On April 18, 2010 @ 12:10 am In The Other | 7 Comments
Seen above, for the first time, is a newly-discovered photograph of Arthur Rimbaud from the 1880s. I quote from the Associated Foreign Press:
Unseen photo of French poet Rimbaud unveiled
PARIS — A previously unseen photo of French poet Arthur Rimbaud was unveiled in Paris on Thursday, bringing the total number of known images of the writer to eight.
The photograph, which shows Rimbaud on the porch of a hotel in Yemen around 1880, was showcased at the International Antiquarian Book Fair at Paris’s Grand Palais exhibition venue.
The black and white image is only the fourth to portray the poet as an adult and is “the only one in which Rimbaud’s adult facial characterisics are distinguishable”, according to the poet’s biographer, Jean-Jacques Lefrere.
Rimbaud, who was once described by Victor Hugo as “an infant Shakespeare”, produced his best-known works in his late teens. At 20 he gave up poetry and left France to travel. He died from cancer in 1891 aged 37.
Below, Rimbaud’s most famous poem, in the best translation the poetry has yet received into English, by Martin Sorrell (Oxford World’s Classics, 2001). He is the poet most important to understanding the crucial line of 20th century American-English symbolism: the inaugurator of Hart Crane, as well as of John Ashbery. He liberated words to music, and embodied the sovereignty of the imagination as an aesthetic principle foremost. For his sensualism, his precocity, and his recondite combinations of unexpected words, phrases—he is simply unrivaled. Rimbaud’s use of color in poetry anticipates Munch, as well as Georg Trakl. Far from being a reckless raving beatnik, Rimbaud was systematic—advancing the discoveries Baudelaire had made in revolutionizing and modernizing poetic form and style. He could parrot any style; yet he remains inimitable, unique, and resembles no one else. His prose poems are arguably still the best of their kind, in any language. The complexities of his life, which only dealt with poetry very briefly, between the age of 17 to 20, is inexplicable. There are other mysterious poets in history, but there is no other mystery like Rimbaud’s. Crane’s first book of poems, White Buildings, featured an epigraph of the French poet’s. (When he was drunk, he was taken to yelling, “I am Rimbaud come again!”) His letters are incredible. His insights have been adopted by no less an orthodox spirit than T.S. Eliot—whose own innovations, accredited to Jules LaForgue, owed much to Rimbaud’s. When W.H. Auden selected John Ashbery’s Some Trees he was quite reticent about the overall strategy and tendency in style of JA’s work, and saw Rimbaud as the precedent for such a subjective, surrealistic manner (one that might lead poets astray). Yet no style has meant more to poetry since.
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, from Poems 1869 – 1871, translated by Martin Sorrell
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