Saturday, December 12, 2009

Saturday Culture Infusion: Translating Rimbaud for Emily

My littlest sister and I were talking about poetry, and I mentioned Arthur Rimbaud.  Rimbaud is my favorite figure in French modernist poetry-- an enfant terrible of equal parts genius, badass, and douchebag. Some background: Rimbaud was a decadent, a libertine, a blazing talent who burned himself out and died young. Even at fifteen he was writing brilliant poetry. He ran away from home, drank like a fish, lived in a commune, and had a torrid relationship with Paul Verlaine, another poet. Rimbaud and Verlaine lived in poverty and fought like dogs, and the relationship ended when Verlaine, in a fit of suicidal despair, shot Rimbaud twice in the arm and was sent to prison.

He stopped writing at the height of his career, giving it up completely at twenty-one. He enlisted in the army, deserted, and wandered across Europe on foot. He lived in Java and in Africa, holding jobs here and there and taking mistresses, eventually ending up as a coffee and weapons merchant in Ethiopia. At thirty-six he developed an excruciatingly painful cancer and was carried back to France in a special wagon. He died at thirty-seven.

Here are two of my favorite poems of his, in my own translation (with some phrases cribbed from other translators):


Black A, white E, red I, green U, blue O: vowels,
I will tell one day of your secret births
A, black hairy corset of brilliant flies
Which buzz around cruel stenches,

Gulfs of shadow; E, blankness of vapors and of tents
Lances of proud glaciers, white kings, shivers of cowslips;
I, crimsons, spit blood, laugh of beautiful lips
In anger or in ecstasies of penitence;

U, cycles, divine vibrations of viridian seas,
The peace of pastures scattered with animals, the peace of wrinkles
That alchemy imprints upon broad studious brows;

O, supreme Clarion full of strange stridencies,
Silences traversed by worlds and angels,
O, Omega! Violet ray of Her Eyes!


The Star Has Wept Rose-Color

The star has wept rose-color into the heart of your ears
Infinity rolled white from the nape of your neck to the small of your back
The sea broke russet at your ruby nipples
And Man bled black at your sovereign side.

Posted by Silent Five @ 12:28 PM

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As far as Rimbaud, well, I have trouble with him. I know that it partially can be the language barrier, as the poems do sound quite a bit better in French than English. But, I never have been able to get much meaning or depth of feeling out of his poetry. He's on my short list of "important" poets (Yeats, Eliot) I go back to every once in a while to see if I can warm to, but no luck yet. He just ends up feeling shockingly banal to me, as if I were watching someone swallow fire but wondering what the point of it all is.

Ice Cream Emperor Steve (by way of scilla)

Posted by Anonymous Steve @ 11:58 AM #
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Word of the Week

gymnosophy [jim-NAH-so-fee]

n. Philosophical, amusing, or nonsensical insights realized when naked, as in the shower or in bed. (recent coinage: att. S. Galasso, 2010)

Victoria and Albert enjoyed a spot of postprandial concupiscence culminating in a night of gymnosophy and coffee and crumpets at dawn.

The Silent Top Five: Bacon-Flavored Desserts

1) Bacon cheesecake.
2) Bacon gumballs.
3) Bacon ice cream.
4) Bacon-orange bars.
5) Bacon apple pie.

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