Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud are two French poets who have made a huge contribution to the world literature. Their relationship is called passionate, disastrous, “wrong.” Paul Verlaine was a man of subtle spiritual organization, easily succumbed to someone else’s influence, and Rimbaud was called a young genius scoundrel. Continue reading The passion of Arthur Rimbaud and Paul Verlaine
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.
Here is my translation:
It is a green hollow where a river sings,
Its silver tatters clinging madly to the grass;
Where the sun, of the proud mountain,
Shines: it is a little valley frothing with sunbeams.
A young soldier, mouth open, head bare,
And his neck bathing in the cool blue cuckooflower,
Is sleeping; he is stretched out upon the grass, under the sky,
Pale in his green bed where the light rains upon him.
His feet among the flags, he is sleeping. Smiling as
A sick child would smile, he is dozing:
Nature, hold him close and rock him: he is cold.
Scents do not make his nostrils quiver.
He is sleeping in the sun, his hand on his calm
Chest. In his right side, he has two red holes.
I love this poem. As always, it is so hard to translate something as language-specific as a poem, but I wanted to have a go.
Images of nature seem to be very important in this poem. In the first verse in particular, for example, the river and the mountain are given human qualities; the river is “madly” clinging to the grass, and the mountain is “proud”. To me, these descriptions bring to mind the idea of a proud nation (the mountain) and the young soldiers of that nation (the river) clinging madly to the grass just as young men flung into war cling madly to their lives as they struggle to survive the war imposed upon them by the politicians.
It is so beautiful the way that we can almost believe the soldier is simply sleeping until the end of the poem, when we learn that he has “two red holes” in his side, and that he is dead. The description of the soldier until that final sentence is so peaceful: the valley is “frothing with sunbeams”, he is “sleeping” with his head in the “cool blue cuckooflower”, in a “green bed”. The image of the light raining upon him evokes, for me, an image of nature mourning the dead boy. For this is certainly a boy; the innocence of the soldier is very much made evident in this poem, as he smiles as “a sick child would smile”, and with his hand on his chest. Also, the mentioning of his feet being among the flags, brings with it the idea of patriotism and sacrifice.
My final thought is this: I feel that the image of the two red holes in the soldier’s right side are reminiscent of Christ’s wounds upon the cross. Rimbaud did not have to say that the soldier had two bullet holes in his side; he could easily have said one, or three… but two holes reminds me of Christ’s wounds in his hands when he was nailed to the cross. And this image reinforces that of an innocent victim, sacrificed for the pride of a nation (that proud mountain.)
Reviewed by Emily Ardagh
Je m’en allais, les poings dans mes poches crevées ;
Mon paletot aussi devenait idéal ;
J’allais sous le ciel, Muse ! et j’étais ton féal ;
Oh ! là là ! que d’amours splendides j’ai rêvées !
Mon unique culotte avait un large trou.
– Petit-Poucet rêveur, j’égrenais dans ma course
Des rimes. Mon auberge était à la Grande Ourse.
– Mes étoiles au ciel avaient un doux frou-frou
Et je les écoutais, assis au bord des routes,
Ces bons soirs de septembre où je sentais des gouttes
De rosée à mon front, comme un vin de vigueur ;
Où, rimant au milieu des ombres fantastiques,
Comme des lyres, je tirais les élastiques
De mes souliers blessés, un pied près de mon coeur !
I went off, my fists in my torn pockets,
Even my coat was becoming ideal:
I went beneath the sky, Muse! I was yours;
Oh! What splendid loves I dreamed of!
My only trousers had a large hole in them.
– Tom Thumb the dreamer, sowing the roads
With rhymes. My shelter was under the Great Bear.
My stars in the sky were rustling softly.
And I listened to them, sitting on the wayside,
Those good September nights, when I felt the drops
Of dew on my forehead like a fierce wine.
Where, rhyming amidst fantastical shadows,
Like lyre-strings, I plucked the elastics
Of my wounded shoes, a foot close to my heart.
I have tried to do a translation of one of my favourite Rimbaud poems. It was the first Rimbaud poem I ever read and was in the first book of French poetry I ever bought. It’s a tricky thing, translating poetry, but I enjoy doing it. I think doing this translation helped me to understand the original text a bit more, maybe.
Anyway, as you can probably tell from the title, Ma Boheme, this poem is about a bohemian lifestyle. It is a fantasy of bohemian life, and very much romanticised. Some big Romantic ideals are in this poem: the virtues of the natural world, the innocence of a life unfettered by artificiality, the Muse, the poet as the servant of the Muse…
I love the opening, as the poet starts by saying “je m’en allais” — “I went off”. I’m not sure if I was right in my translation here. Because the French is in the imperfect tense, and so it’s more of a continuous action in the past… perhaps I should have written “I was wandering off”, but that made the first line too long. Anyway. There is no object to the speaker’s wanderings here; he is simply walking, with no fixed destination. I remember reading that first line over and over to myself when I first encountered the poem; I loved the familiarity of the language, and was amazed and thrilled at how accessible it was. His pockets are “crevées”, which means “torn” or “exhausted”. But Rimbaud also describes his tattered coat as “ideal”. It is ideal because it means his purity is not being tainted by vanity or money.
He is walking beneath the sky, subject to the whims of his Muse. This is a very Romantic idea: that poets are almost vessels, blessed with inspiration from the Muse when it should please her to bless them. I like this idea sometimes — it kind of takes the pressure off the poet — but then I sometimes don’t like it, because it also means that when one does write something good, it’s really down to the Muse rather than your own hard work… But whatever.
In the second stanza, the material poverty of the poet is evident again, because of the large hole in his only pair of trousers. I love the image of his auberge being a constellation of stars. They are his stars, he says, and they have voices. Obviously his stars are symbolic of his destiny. The speaker listens to his stars as his sits of the roadside. This all gives me a feeling of the poet being in touch with nature, with God(s), and with what his destiny might be. Nature seemingly provides him with everything he needs: the Great Bear constellation gives him shelter, he sows his rhymes along the roadside, as though his poetry could feed him, and he also talks about the dew on his forehead being like “wine”. He has no money, no possessions, but nature provides for him.
The poem ends with the image of the poet plucking the elastics of his old shoes as thought they were “lyre strings”. I love this image because it’s like the poet can create music (or poetry) without wealth or status or connections or anything else you might think you would need… He’s a pure poet, “sowing the roads/ With rhymes”, just for the pleasure of it.
Reviewed by Emily Ardagh