Editor’s note: This is the latest installment in the series “Poetry in a Time of Dislocation.” Fine art photographer Fern Nesson asserts that the place for art is critical during this time of pandemic, and she has immersed herself in the French poets, translating important works and sharing them as photo essays. This week, Fern features the famous poet Arthur Rimbaud, whose remarkable literary oeuvre was written before the age of 20.
(Check out previous installments here:
Christine de Pizan,
Alphonse de Lamartine,
Anna de Noailles
I have trouble with Arthur Rimbaud. A fabulous, over-the-top surrealist poet, he delighted in mixing images. In almost every poem, a beautiful image is joined with a revolting one. Just to read “Le Bateau Ivre”, his most famous poem, is to encounter deep blue oceans streaked with blood red, rainbows pointing to rotten carcasses of whales, silver stars illumining giant snakes eaten by vermin. You get the idea.
And then there’s Rimbaud’s vocabulary and syntax. Nothing is easy for the translator. There are enigmas everywhere and stumbles are inevitable.
But Rimbaud cannot be ignored. Some say he is France’s greatest poet. (John Ashberry, for example.) Some say his work is ” wildly overrated, flashy but not deep.” (Rob Woodard.) Flashy is apt, but overrated? No. Rimbaud was (and is) a force to reckoned with.
Despite the obstacles, I found a section from Rimbaud’s long prose poem “Illuminations,” that begged for notice and translation. I love it and I hope you do too!
“Phrases ” (1874)
Quand le monde sera réduit en un seul bois noir pour nos quatre yeux étonnés, – en une plage pour deux enfants fidèles, – en une maison musicale pour notre claire sympathie, – je vous trouverai.
Qu’il n’y ait ici-bas qu’un vieillard seul, calme et beau, entouré d’un “luxe inoui”, – et je suis à vos genoux.
Que j’aie réalisé tous vos souvenirs, – que je sois celle qui sait vous garrotter, – je vous étoufferai.
Quand nous sommes très forts, – qui recule ? très gais, qui tombe de ridicule ? Quand nous sommes très méchants, que ferait-on de nous.Parez-vous, dansez, riez,
– Je ne pourrai jamais envoyer l’Amour par la fenêtre.
Phrases (My Translation)
When the world is reduced to a single charred branch before our astonished eyes— to a beach for two young friends—to a music hall purely for our pleasure — then I shall find you.
When there is no one left except a single old man, serene and handsome, living amid unimaginable luxury, I will kneel before you
I will fulfill all of your fantasies — I will bind your hands— I will strangle you.
When we are very strong who can resist us? very gay, who can scorn us? When we are naughty, who harm us?
Dress up! Dance! Laugh! I will never toss love out the window.
Lead photo credit : Photo credit: Fern Nesson
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