Making the Whirling World Stand Still

Arthur Rimbaud, Complete Works
Translated by Paul Schmidt

And so I come back to the boy-genius, enfant terrible whose Illuminations I bought while at Bellarmine (under the influence of a Kerouac whose words I enjoyed but whose life was not a practical model).  And true as well with Rimbaud — what a mess of adolescence, what dissolution, no wonder the Beats jumped on his bandwagon.  No thanks.  I’ve more sympathy for the adult, boring Rimbaud than the precious, self-conscious, self-centered Poet of the universe, even with his theory of illuminism and the consequent perverting of the senses.  Demais!  

Although I must  say, I like parts of A Season in Hell  for which selections see below (Schmidt:  A Season in Hell has literary precedents:  It is a set of philosophical meditations, a confessional handbook, a mystical vision of the Soul.  But it wakes new vibrations in its style:  a nervous, compacted, often vernacular use of poetic language in prose.  It is, as Rimbaud said, ‘absolutely modern.’”)  For I am impressed by the devotion & delirium & detachment it took to compose such a “confession.”  

I can’t say that there really are many poems herein worth memorizing. Sure, I could use some lines and maybe images, but other than the list of re-readables (principally Bateau Ivre and Saison), I can put this away till another day (maybe after I’ve read Baudelaire and Breton) and want to give him another try.  

I don’t get the fascination, although there were some lines in poetry and letters that did catch me.  But I wonder if I will ever be tempted to reread him, to sit down and spend 2 to 3 hours with this Seer.  It’s a coin-flip.


Poems Worth Rereading—-

The Blacksmith
The Hanged Men Dance
First Evening
The Sideboard
The Tease
Dream in Wintertime
What Nina Answered
The Hands of Jeanne-Marie
Poor People in Church
Venus Anadyomene
The Sisters  of Charity
“The Savior bumped upon his heavy butt”
The Stolen Heart
The Drunken Boat
Scatological Sonnets
The Triumph of Hunger
A Season in Hell [especially Second Delirium:  The Alchemy of the Word; Morning; Farewell]

Poems Worth Memorizing—
Asleep in the Valley
Vowels [en français si possible]
The Drunken Boat [en français seulement]



I am dying, rotting in platitudes, nastiness, and grayness.  Letter, 11.2.70 [48]

Right now, I’m depraving myself as much as I can.  Why?  I want to be a poet, and I am working at making myself a visionary:  you won’t understand at all, and I’m not even sure I can explain it to you.  The problem is to attain the unknown by disorganizing all the senses.  The suffering is immense, but you have to be strong, and to have been born a poet.  And I have realized that I am a poet.  It’s not my doing at all.  It’s wrong to say:  I think.  Better to say:  I am thought.  Pardon the pun.  I is an other.  So what if a piece of wood discovers it’s a violin, and the hell with those who can’t realize, who quibble over something they know nothing about!  Letter, 5.13.71 [100]

Unhappiness has been my god.  Saison I  [193]

And while waiting for a few belated cowardices, since you value in a writer all lack of descriptive or didactic flair, I pass you these few foul pages from the diary of a Damned Soul.  Saison I [193]

Pagan blood returns!  The Spirit is at hand… why does Christ not help me, and grant my soul nobility and freedom?  Ah, but the Gospel belongs to the past!  The Gospel.  The Gospel…  Saison II [195]

I ought to have a special hell for my anger, a hell for my pride — and a hell for sex; a whole symphony of hells!  Saison III [200]

One hell of a household!  Saison  III [203]

I invented the colors of the vowels!—A black, E white, I red, O blue, U green—I made rules for the form and movement of each consonant, and, and with instinctive rhythms, I flattered myself that I had created a poetic language accessible, some day, to all the senses. Une Saison en Enfer, “Délires II: Alchimie du Verbe” (1874; repr. in Collected Poems, ed. by Oliver Bernard, 1962).

I began it as an investigation.  I turned silences and nights into words.  What was unutterable, I wrote down.  I made the whirling world stand still.  Saison IV [204]

Finally, O reason, O happiness, I cleared from the sky the blue which is darkness, and I lived as a golden spark of this light, Nature.   Saison IV [207]

But I see that my mind is asleep.  — If it stays awake from this moment on, we would soon reach the truth, which may even now surround us with its weeping angels.  Saison IV [211]


—Journal, 1998


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *