Sunday, May 08, 2011

A Season in Hell and Illuminations

Hi everyone,

Rimbaud at 17
I finally finished Arthur Rimbaud's slim volume of poetry, A Season in Hell and Illuminations. I should have known this wasn't a happy book, considering the first title, but I was hopeful of what the Illuminations might bring when I bought it. Completed in 1873, A Season in Hell is a series of poems in 9 parts that depicts a man's journey through life and into Hell. Illuminations--a collection of 42 poems written sometime between 1871 and 1874--isn't quite as angry, covering several topics, including modernity, nature, travel, and change.

I admit much of this symbolist poetry went over my head, and I didn't bother investigating it as I should have. Because these weeks have been really busy, I instead read this book with several long, unintentional breaks--not giving it the attention it deserves. Because I dragged out reading these 79 pages, I got tired of returning to its dark content.

Having said that, I'm glad to have this book in my library and might return to it someday to study it further. I don't quite agree with Johnny Depp, who said Rimbaud's writing is "the most divine in the history of the world"--maybe because I didn't always understand it. But this work is pretty amazing, only made more so when you discover that Rimbaud was only 19 when he finished it and gave up poetry completely by age 21. The writing is modern and timeless. As I read it, I found I could apply phrases to some events and attitudes of today.

Honestly, though, I found Rimbaud's rebellious life more interesting than his poetry--jailed by 15, adulterer by 17, shot at 18, world traveller as a young man, and dead of cancer at 37. I realized last night that I had already seen a movie about Rimbaud years ago before I knew who he was. The film, called Total Eclipse, stars Leonardo Dicaprio and--from what I remember--made me very uncomfortable.

Still, if you're a Rimbaud fan, this is the book for you. This edition--translated, edited, and introduced by Wyatt Mason--includes not only the English version of these works, but the original French versions, edited drafts, a biography, chronology, maps, and some of Rimbaud's own drawings and original papers.    It's complete!

Here's some French poetry for your Sunday morning. From Illuminations, I admired this poem's bold simplicity:

Seen enough. Visions confronted in every weather.
Had enough. Urban tumult, by night and day, forever.
Known enough. Life's still-points. --O tumult and Visions!
Departure for fresh affection and noise!

In A Season from Hell and Illuminations, I was struck by the vivid imagery and wording that invoked the senses rather than literal translation. Also from Illuminations, this one transported me to the moors of Wuthering Heights--or maybe just a day at the beach:

Chariots of silver and copper--
Prows of silver and steel--
Beat foam--
Stirring stumps of bramble--
Currents from the moor,
And the vast ruts of the tidal ebb
Flow eastward, circularly,
Towards the pillars of the forest--
Towards the pilings of the pier,
Whose corner is struck
By whirlwinds of light.

Happy Sunday, everyone! Don't worry, my next book selection will be more uplifting.



4mastjack said...

Did you read any of it out loud? That helps a lot of times with poetry, actually hearing it rather than just your eyes scanning letters on a page.

Melissa Connolly said...

That was always my intention, but I didn't read much of it aloud because of wherever/whenever I happened to be at the time. It does make a difference, though. I think poetry is always better to hear than to read in your head.