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A Season in Hell

by

Arthur Rimbaud

The Sorcerers Apprentice (April 2010) simonelmer@hotmail.com

A new translation
by

Simon Elmer & Eliot Albers

Long ago, if I remember well, my life was a feast where all hearts were open, where all wines flowed. One evening, I sat beauty on my knees. She tasted bitter. And I spat her out. I took up arms against justice. I took to my heels. O witches, O poverty, O hate, I have entrusted my treasure to you! I purged all human hope from my mind. On every joy I pounced silently, like a wild beast, and strangled it. I called on my executioners, as I lay dying, to let me bite the butts of their rifles. I called on plagues to smother me with sand and blood. Unhappiness was my god. I stretched myself out in the mud. I dried myself in the air of crime. And I played sly tricks on madness. Spring brought me the terrifying laughter of an idiot. But recently, finding myself on the point of uttering my last croak, I dreamed of searching for the key to the ancient feast where I might, perhaps, recover my appetite. Charity is the key. This inspiration proves I dreamt it! You will always be a hyena, etc. . . . cries the demon who crowned me with such fragrant poppies. Seek your death with all your lusts, your selfishness, and all the cardinal sins. Ah! Ive taken too much. But, dear Satan, I implore you, show a less glaring eye! And while waiting for the few small acts of cowardice still to come, you who love in a writer the absence of descriptive or discursive faculties, for you I tear out these few hideous pages from my notebook of the damned.

Bad Blood
From my Gaulish ancestors I have inherited blue-white eyes, a narrow skull, and clumsiness in battle. I find that my dress is as barbaric as theirs. But I dont butter my hair. The Gauls were flayers of beasts, and the most inept grass scorchers of their time. From them I inherit: idolatry and the love of sacrilege oh! all the vices: anger, lust a magnificent lust and above all deceit and idleness. I have a horror of all trades. Masters and labourers, all are base peasants. The hand that holds the pen is no different from the hand that holds the plough. What a century of hands! I will never have my hand. Domesticity, moreover, leads me too far astray. The dignity of begging irritates me. Criminals digust me as if they were castrated: Im intact, so its all the same to me. And yet! who made my tongue so false that it has guided and safeguarded my idleness until now? Without employing even my body in order to live, and as lazy as a toad, I have still manged to live everywhere. I know all the families of Europe. I mean families like my own, who owe everything to the Declaration of the Rights of Man. I have known the sons of every family! If only I had ancestors at some point in the history of France!

But no, nothing. It is very clear to me that I have always belonged to an inferior race. I cannot understand revolt. My race never rose up except to pillage: like wolves fighting over the beast they did not kill. I recall the history of France, eldest daughter of the Church. As a serf, I would have made the journey to the Holy Land; I hold, in my head, the routes through the Swabian plains, images of Byzantium, the ramparts of Jerusalem. The cult of the Virgin Mary and tenderness for the Crucified well up inside me among a thousand profane visions. I am seated, leprous, on broken pots and nettles, at the foot of a sun-scoured wall. Later, as a mercenary, I would have bivouacked under German nights. Ah! once more I dance the witches sabbath in a red clearing, with old women and children. I dont remember further back than this land and the coming of Christianity. I shall never tire of picturing myself in that past. But always alone, without family; and what language did I speak then? I never see myself at the councils of Christ, nor at the councils of Lords those representatives of Christ. What was I in the last century? I only recognise myself as I am today. No more vagabonds, no more wars with obscure origins. Everything has been taken over by the inferior race the so-called people: reason, the nation and science. Oh! science! It has reconsidered everything. For the body and the soul the viaticum we now have medicine and philosophy, old wives remedies and rearranged popular songs. And the diversions of princes and games

they

forbade!

Geography,

cosmography,

mechanics,

chemistry . . . Science, the new nobility! Progress. The world marches on! Why would it cease to turn? It is the vision of numbers. We are moving towards Spirit. What I say is certain, oracular. I understand, but not knowing how to explain myself without using pagan words, I prefer to hold my tongue. The pagan blood returns! Spirit is near, so why doesnt Christ help me by granting my soul nobility and freedom? Alas! the Gospel has passed. The Gospel! The Gospel . . . I wait for God, greedily. I am of an inferior race for all eternity. Here I am on the beach at Brittany. Let the cities light up in the evening. My day is done, and I am leaving Europe. The sea air will burn my lungs, lost climates will tan my skin. Swimming, trampling the grass, hunting and above all smoking; drinking alcohol as strong as boiling metal just as my dear ancestors did around their fires. I will return with limbs of iron, dark skin and a furious eye: by this mask Ill be judged to be the member of a powerful race. Ill have gold. Ill be idle and brutal. Women, take care of these ferocious invalids returned from hot countries. Ill become involved in political affairs. Saved! But now I am accursed. I loathe my country. The best thing in life is a really pissed sleep on the beach.

You cannot leave. Lets follow the roads here once again, burdened with my vice the vice that sunk its roots of suffering into me as soon as I reached the age of reason which ascends to the sky, batters me, throws me back again and drags me after it. The last innocence and the last shyness. Or so it is said. Ill not carry my betrayals and disgusts into the world. Lets go! The march, the burden, the desert, boredom and anger. To whom can I sell myself? What beast must I worship? What holy image are we attacking? Whose heart will I break? What lie must I tell? In whose blood will I march? Rather, save me from justice. The hard life, simple brutishness: to lift the coffins lid up with a withered fist, lie down and suffocate. No senility or danger for us. Terror is un-French. Ah! Im so alone that I offer my longings for perfection to any graven image. O my abnegation, O my marvellous charity! But here below! De profundis, Domine, what an idiot I am! While still a child I admired the unrepentant criminal on whom the prison door always closes. I visited the inns and furnished rooms he had sanctified with his presence. I saw with his eyes the blue sky and the labour of flowering fields. I followed the scent of his fate through cities. He was stronger than a saint, had more good sense than a traveller, and he he alone! was the witness to his glory and right.

On the road, through winter nights, without shelter, naked and hungry, a voice clenched my frozen heart: Weakness or strength: there you are, its strength. You dont know where you are going or why, so enter anywhere, answer everything. You cannot be killed, anymore than if you were a corpse. In the morning, my stare was so vacant, my expression so dead, that those I encountered perhaps did not see me. In cities the mud suddenly seemed to be red and black, like a mirror when the lamp moves about in the next room, like a treasure in the forest! Good luck! I cried, and saw a sea of flames and smoke in the sky; and on the left and on the right, every kind of richness flaming like a million thunderbolts. But orgies and the camaraderie of women were denied me. Not even a companion. I saw myself in front of a baying mob, facing the they firing-squad, wouldnt have weeping been over capable the of unhappiness

understanding, and forgiving them! like Joan of Arc! Priests, professors, masters, you are wrong to turn me over to Justice. I have never belonged to this people. I have never been Christian. I am of the race that sang under torture. I do not understand your laws. I have no moral sense, I am a brute. You are making a mistake . . . Yes, my eyes are closed to your light. I am a beast, a nigger. But I can be saved. You are false niggers, you maniacs, ferocious and greedy. Merchant, youre a nigger; magistrate, youre a nigger; general, youre a nigger; emperor, you old mange, youre a nigger too: you have drunk untaxed spirits from Satans still. These people are inspired by fever and cancer. Invalids and old men so respectable they asked to be boiled. The shrewdest thing

would be to leave this continent, where madness roams to provide hostages for these wretches. I am entering the true kingdom of the children of Ham. Do I know nature yet? Do I know me? No more words. I will bury the dead in my stomach. Cries, drums, dance, dance, dance, dance! I cant even see the hour when the white men will land and I will fall into nothingness. Hunger, thirst, cries, dance, dance, dance, dance!

earthly love, die of devotion. I have left behind me souls whose suffering will only increase at my going! You chose me from among the shipwrecked, but what about the friends I left behind? Save them! Reason is born in me. The world is good. I will bless life. I will love my brothers. These arent childish promises. Nor is it the hope of escaping old age and death. God gave me strength, and I praise God.

The white men are landing! The cannon! Theyll force us to be baptised, put on clothes and work. I have been shot in the heart by grace. Ah! I had not foreseen this! Ive done nothing wrong. My days will be light and I shall be spared repentance. Ill not have gone through the torments of the soul, almost dead to goodness, from which a flame as severe as funeral tapers rises. The fate of the familys son: a premature coffin covered with clear tears. No doubt debauchery is stupid, vice is stupid, and what is rotten must be thrown away. But the clock wont be able to strike anything but the hour of pure pain! Am I going to be carried off like a child, to play in paradise in ignorance of unhappiness? Quick! Arent there other ways of living? To sleep in the midst of wealth is impossible. Wealth has always been public property. Divine love alone offers the keys to science. I see that nature is only a spectacle of plenitude. Farewell chimeras, ideals, errors! The reasonable song of the angels rises up from the rescue ship: it is divine love. Two loves! I may die of Boredom is no longer my love. Rage, debauchery, madness: I know all ambitions and disasters all my burden is laid aside. Let us appreciate, without vertigo, the extent of my innocence. I am no longer capable of asking even for the comfort of a beating. I dont believe Ive embarked on a wedding with Jesus Christ as my father in law. Im not a hostage to my own reason. I have said: God. I want freedom in salvation: but how can I pursue it? Frivolous appetites have deserted me. No more need for devotion or divine love. Not that I regret the age of tender hearts. Each is right, contempt and charity. I maintain my place at the top of this angelic ladder of common sense. As for established happiness, domestic or otherwise . . . no, I cannot. Im too dissipated, too weak. Life blossoms through work, an old truth: but my life isnt heavy enough, it soars up and floats far above all action, that cherished centre of the turning world. What an old maid Im becoming, lacking the courage to love death!

If only God would grant me a heavenly and aerial calm and prayer like ancient saints. Saints! they are the strong ones! Anchorites are like artists who are no longer wanted! An endless farce! My innocence would make me weep. Life is a farce we all must play. Enough! Here is the punishment. Forward march! Ah! my lungs are burning, my temples are pounding! Night descends on my eyes, even in this sunlight! My aching heart . . . my limbs . . . Where are we going? Into battle? Im too weak! The others are advancing! Tools, weapons . . . time! Fire! Shoot me! Now! Or Ill surrender. Cowards! Ill kill myself! Ill throw myself under the horses hooves! Ah! . . . Ill get used to it. This would be the French way, the path of honour!

Night of Hell
I swallowed a monstrous mouthful of poison. Thrice blessed be the counsel that came to me! My entrails are burning. The violence of the poison contorts my limbs, deforms me and hurls me to the ground. I am dying of thirst, Im choking, but I cant cry out. This is hell, eternal punishment! See how the fire rises up again! Im burning, as I deserve to. Come on, demon! I caught a glimpse of my conversion to goodness and happiness, my salvation. How can I describe this vision, when the air of hell will not carry the sound of hymns! There were millions of charming creatures, a sweet spiritual concert, strength and peace, noble ambitions what do I know! Noble ambitions! And this is what we call life! If damnation truly is eternal! Isnt the man who tries to mutilate himself damned then? I think I am in hell, therefore I am. Its the fault of the catechism. Im a slave to my baptism. Parents, you are the cause of both my unhappiness and your own. Poor innocents! Hell has no power over pagans. And still this is life! Later, the delights of damnation will be all the greater. A crime, quick, so I can fall into nothingness, condemned by human laws. Shut up, will you shut up! . . . Shame and Reproach are here: Satan says the fire is contemptible, my anger ridiculous. Enough! . . . Errors are whispered on their breath, spells, sickly perfumes, insipid music. And to think that I hold truth in my hands, that I see justice:

my judgement is sound and certain, I am ready for perfection . . . Pride. The skin of my scalp is dry. Have pity! Lord, I am afraid. I am thirsty, so thirsty! Oh! childhood, the smell of grass, the sound of rain, water from the lake lapping on pebbles, the moonlight when the clock strikes twelve . . . thats when the devil is in the tower. Mary! Holy Virgin! . . . The horror of my stupidity. Arent there any honest souls who wish me well down there? . . . Come on . . . A pillow covers my mouth and they cant hear me, they are ghosts. Besides, no one ever thinks of others. Stay away from me. Im sure Im scorched. The hallucinations are without number. In truth, this is what Ive always had: no more faith in history, and a forgetfulness of principles. Ill keep silent: or poets and visionairies would be jealous. Im a thousand times richer than they, being as greedy as the ocean. Ah! the clock of life just stopped. I am no longer in the world. Theology is right: hell is definitely down below and heaven up above. Ecstasy, nightmares, sleep in a nest of flames. What malice there is in the attention one attracts in the countryside . . . Satan, old Beelzebub, runs around with the wild grain . . . Jesus walks over the crimson brambles without breaking them . . . Jesus walked on troubled waters. The lantern showed him standing before us, pale, with long brown tresses, beside an emerald wave . . . Im going to reveal all mysteries, religious and natural: death, birth, the future, the past, cosmogony nothingness. I am master of the phantasmagoria.

Listen! . . . My talents are limitless! There is no-one here and there is someone: I wouldnt want to spend my treasure. Do you want nigger songs, houri dances? Do you want me to disappear, to dive in and search for the ring? Do you? I will fashion gold and remedies. Then trust in me, faith provides relief, guides us, heals. Come all even small children that I may console you, pour out my heart my marvellous heart! to you. Poor men, workers! I am not asking for your prayers: your trust alone will suffice. And think of me. This hardly makes me miss the world. Fortunately, I no longer suffer. My life was nothing more than sweet extravagancies, its too bad. Screw it! Lets pull every face imaginable. No doubt about it, we are outside this world. No more sounds. And my touch has gone. Ah! my castle, my Saxon lands, my willow grove. The evenings, mornings, nights, days . . . How tired I am! I should have a hell for my anger, a hell for my pride and a hell of caresses; a concert of hells. I am dying of weariness. Its the grave, Im going to the worms, horror of horrors! Satan, old joker, you want to dissolve me with your charms. But I object. I object! Give me a prod with your pitchfork, or a drop of fire. Ah! to come back to life again! To stare at our deformities. And that poison, that kiss a thousand times accursed! My weakness, the worlds cruelty! My God, have pity on me, hide me, I live so badly! I am hidden and I am not. The fire rises up again with its damned.

Delirium
I THE FOOLISH VIRGIN THE INFERNAL BRIDEGROOM Lets listen to the confession of a companion in hell: O heavenly Bridegroom, my Lord, do not refuse the confession of this, the most unhappy of your servants. I am lost. Im pissed. I am impure. What a life! Forgive me, heavenly Father, forgive me! Oh, forgive me! What tears! And more still to come, I hope! Later, I will come to know the heavenly Bridegroom! I was born to be his slave. But the other one can beat me now! At this moment, Im at the nadir of this world! O my friends! . . . no, not my friends . . . Never such delirium or torture as this . . . How ridiculous. Oh! I suffer and cry. I truly suffer. And yet, burdened as I am with the contempt of the most contemptible hearts, everything is permitted me. Finally, let me admit this, even if I have to repeat it twenty times over itll sound just as dead, just as insignificant. I am a slave to the infernal Bridegroom, he who led foolish virgins astray. He really is a demon. Hes not a ghost, not a phantom. But I, who have lost all reason, who am damned and dead to the world I cannot be killed! how can I describe him to you? I no longer even know how to speak. I am in mourning, weeping and afraid. Soothe my brow, O Lord, if you will, if you only would!

I am a widow . . . I used to be a widow . . . Yes, once upon a time I was very serious, and I was not born to become a skeleton! . . . He was almost a child . . . I was seduced by his mysterious delicacy. I forgot all my human duty in order to follow him. But what a life! The real life is absent. We are not of this world. I trail after him, I have to. And often he rages at me, at me, a poor sinner. The demon! He is a demon, you know, he is not a man. He said: I do not like women. Love as we know it has to be reinvented. All women want these days is security. Once they get it, their hearts grow cold and their beauty is neglected: only cold disdain remains, the food of marriage today. Or else I see women, showing signs of happiness, who could have been close friends, being devoured by brutes as sensitive as logs . . . I listen to him turning infamy into glory, cruelty into charm. I belong to an ancient race: my ancestors were Norsemen; they used to pierce their sides and drink their own blood. Ill slice gashes over my entire body and cover it with tattoos. I want to be as hideous as a Mongol: youll see, Ill howl in the streets. I want to grow mad with rage. Never show me jewels, for Id grovel and writhe on the floor. I want my wealth to be spattered with blood. Never shall I work . . . On several nights, when his demon seized me, I wrestled with him and we rolled together on the ground! Often, at night, drunk, he lay in wait for me in the street or hidden in houses, to scare me half to death. They really will cut my throat one day; itll be disgusting. Oh! those days when he tried to walk about with the air of a criminal! At times he speaks, in a kind of tender dialect, of the death that brings repentance, of the wretches who have to

live, of backbreaking labours and heartbreaking farewells. In the dives where we used to get drunk, he would weep as he watched those around us, reduced to animals by their poverty. He used to pick up drunks in the dark streets. He felt for them the pity of a bad mother for her children. He would walk off with the gentleness of a little girl going to her catechism class. He feigned knowledge of everything: commerce, art, medicine. And I went along with him, I had to! I saw the entire setting with which he surrounded himself in his imagination clothes, curtains, furniture: I provided him with weapons and another face. I saw everything that touched him as he would have wanted to create it for himself. When his mind seemed sluggish I followed him into strange and complex adventures for too long, whether good or evil: I was sure I could never enter into his world. How many nights have I lain awake beside his dear sleeping body wondering why he wanted to escape from reality so badly. Never has a man had such a desire. I recognised without fearing for him that he could be a serious threat to society. Does he, perhaps, possess the secrets for changing life? No, I told myself, he is only searching for them. In the end, his charity is bewitched, and I am its prisoner. No-one else would have enough strength strength and despair! to endure it, to be cared for and loved by him. Besides, I couldnt imagine anyone else being his soulmate. I believe each of us sees his own angel, never the angel of another. I lived in his soul as in a palace that had been emptied so somebody as lacking in nobility as myself would not be seen that is all. Alas! I put my trust in him. But what could he do with my despicable and cowardly existence? He made me no better, if he didnt

actually drive me to despair! Sometimes, sad and angry, I would tell him: I understand you. Hed just shrug his shoulders. And so, my sadness increasing daily, and finding myself gone astray in my own eyes as in the eyes of all those who would have liked to watch me, if I had not been condemned forever to be forgotten by everyone! more and more did I hunger for his kindness. With his kisses and his friendly embrace, it was indeed a heaven, a sombre heaven, that I entered into, and where I would have liked to have been left, poor, deaf, dumb and blind. Id already grown used to it. I pictured us as two good children, free to walk in the Paradise of Sorrow. We got on with each other. Amused by each other, we worked together. But, after a passionate caress, he would say: This will seem strange to you, after what has happened, when Im gone. When you no longer have my arms around your neck, my heart to lay your head on, or these lips pressed to your eyes. Because therell come a time when Ill have to leave, go far away. Then Ill have to help others: its my duty. No matter how unattractive that will be . . . dear heart . . . Immediately I saw myself as I would become when he was gone, overcome with dizziness, hurled into that most terrifying of shadows: death. I made him promise that he would never leave me. Over and over he repeated it, that lovers promise. And it was as meaningless as when I told him: I understand you. Oh! I was never jealous of him. He will not leave me, I thought. What would he do? He knows nothing, and hell never work. He wants to live his life like a sleepwalker. But once hes on his own in the real world, will his kindness and charity give him the right to do so? At times I forget the

pitiful state into which Ive fallen: hell give me strength, well travel, hunt together in the desert, sleep on the pavements of unknown cities, without cares or worries. Or else Ill wake up and our laws and customs will have changed all thanks to his magical powers; or else the world, although remaining the same, will leave me to my desires, my joys and my casual ways. Oh! the life of adventure that exists in childrens books will you offer it to me in recompense, to one who has suffered so much? He cannot. I do not know what his ideal is. He has spoken of his regrets, his hopes: but what are they to me? Does he speak to God? Perhaps I should appeal to God. Im in the lowest depths of the abyss, and I no longer know how to pray. If he explained his sorrow to me, would I understand it any more than his mockery? He belittles me, spending hours making me feel ashamed of everything in this world that has ever meant anything to me, and then he grows indignant if I cry! You see this elegant young man entering that beautiful, peaceful house over there? His name is Duval, Dufour, Armand, Maurice whatever. Some woman has devoted her life to loving this miserable idiot: she is dead, and is certainly a saint in heaven by now. One day you will kill me, just as he has killed this women. Thats whats in store for us, what awaits all charitable hearts. Alas! there are days when all active men appeared to him as the playthings of grotesque delirums, and hed laugh long and hideously. But then he would recover his manners of a young mother, a beloved sister. If only he were not so wild, we would be saved! But even his

tenderness is mortal. Ive made myself a slave to him. I must be mad! One day, perhaps, he will miraculously disappear; but I must know whether he is to ascend some heaven again, so I might be present at the assumption of my little friend! Strange couple!

Delirium
II ALCHEMY OF THE WORD My turn. The story of one of my lunacies. For a long time I boasted of possessing every possible landscape, and found the celebrated names of painting and modern poetry laughable. I liked stupid paintings, door panels, stage sets, the back-drops for acrobats, signs, popular engravings, oldfashioned literature, church Latin, erotic books with bad spelling, the novels read by our grandmothers, fairy tales, little books from childhood, old operas, ridiculous refrains, nave rhythms. I dreamed of crusades, of unrecorded voyages of discovery, of republics with no history, of hushed-up religious wars, of revolutions in customs, the movements of races and continents: I enchantment. I invented the colours of the vowels! A black, E white, I red, O blue, U green. I regulated the form and movement of each consonant, and, with instinctive rhythms, I flattered myself with having invented a poetic language accessible, one day, to all the senses. I reserved translation rights. At first it was a study. I wrote silences, nights, I recorded the inexpressible. I captured moments of vertigo. believed in every kind of

Far from birds, from flocks and village girls, What did I drink, on my knees in the heather Surrounded by a sweet wood of hazel trees, In the warm and green mist of the afternoon? What could I drink from that young Oise, Voiceless elms, flowerless grass, an overcast sky! Drinking from these yellow gourds, far from the hut I loved? Some golden spirit that made me sweat. I would have made a dubious sign for an inn. A storm came to chase the sky away. In the evening Water from the woods sank into the virgin sand, And Gods wind threw ice across the ponds. Weeping, I saw gold but could not drink. At four in the morning, in the summer, The sleep of love still continues. Beneath the trees the wind disperses The smells of the evening feast. Over there, in their vast woodyard, Under the sun of the Hesperides, Already hard at work in shirtsleeves Are the Carpenters. In their Deserts of moss, quietly, They raise precious panelling

Where the city Will paint fake skies. O for these Workers, charming Subjects of a Babylonian king, Venus! leave for a moment the Lovers Whose souls are crowned with wreaths. O Queen of Shepherds, Carry the water of life to these labourers, So their strength may be appeased As they wait to bathe in the noon-day sea. Old-fashioned poetry played a large part in my alchemy of the word. I grew accustomed to pure hallucination: I saw, quite clearly, a mosque in place of a factory, a school of drummers composed of angels, carriages on roads in the sky, a drawing room at the bottom of a lake, monsters and mysteries; the title of a vaudeville conjured up horrors before my eyes! Then I explained my magic sophisms with the hallucination of words! I ended up holding the disorder of my mind sacred. I was idle, the victim of a heavy fever: I envied the happiness of animals caterpillars, representing the innocence of limbo, and moles, the sleep of virginity! My character turned sour. I said my farewells to the world in the form of poetic stories:

SONG OF THE HIGHEST TOWER Let it come, let it come The time that we will love.

the burning powder of rubies . . . Oh! the drunken fly in the urinal of an inn, in love with weeds and dissolved by a sunbeam! HUNGER

So patient have I been That Ive forgetten everything: Fear and suffering Have departed for the heavens, And an unholy thirst Darkens my veins. Hunger, be gone. Feed, hunger, Let it come, let it come The time that we will love. Like the field Left to forgetfulness, Growing and flowering With incense and weeds, And the fierce buzzing Of dirty flies. Let it come, let it come The time that we will love. I loved the desert, burnt orchards, musty shops, tepid drinks. I dragged myself through stinking alleys, and with eyes closed I offered myself to the sun, the god of fire. General, if there is still an old canon left on the ruined ramparts, bombard us with clumps of dried earth. Aim at the mirrors of fancy shops and parlours! Make the city eat its own dust. Oxidize the gargoyles. Fill the bedrooms with Lettuce and fruit Wait only to be picked; But the spider in the hedge Eats only violets. The wolf howled under the leaves As he spat out the bright feathers Of his feast of fowl: Like him, I devour myself. Eat the pebbles you break, The ancient stones of churches, The gravel of old floods, Bread scattered in grey valleys. On the field of bran. Suck the gay venom Of the bindweed. If I have a taste, it is only For earth and stones. I always dine on air, On rock, on coal, on iron.

Let me sleep! Let me boil On the altars of Solomon. The broth runs over the rust, And flows into the Kidron. At last O happiness, O reason I removed from the sky the blue that is black, and I lived, a glitter of gold in the light of nature. From joy I took an expression as clownish and distracted as possible:

No more tomorrow, Embers of satin, Your ardour Is your duty. It is found again! What? Eternity. It is the sea merged With the sun. I became a fabulous opera. I saw that all beings have a

It is found again! What? Eternity. It is the sea merged With the sun. My eternal soul, Observe your vow In spite of the night And the day on fire. So you free yourself From human approbation, From common aspirations! You fly with . . . Never any hope. Nul orietur. Science and patience, The torment is certain.

fatality for happiness: action is not life, but a way of spending your strength, an irritation. Morality is a weakness of the brain. To each being, it seemed to me, several other lives were due. This gentleman doesnt know what hes doing: he is an angel. This family is a litter of dogs. Standing before several men, I spoke aloud with one moment of one of their other lives. In this way, I even loved a pig. Not one sophistry of madness the madness that is locked up have I forgotten: I could recite them all again, I know the system by heart. My health was threatened. Terror overcame me. I would fall into a sleep of several days, and on awakening I continued with the saddest of dreams. I was ripe for death, and on a road of perils my weakness led me to the edge of the world and Chimmeria, a land of shadows and whirlwinds. I had to travel, to dispel the enchantments that crowded my brain. Over the sea, which I loved as if it would

wash me clean of a stain, I watched the consoling cross rise. I had been damned by the rainbow. Happiness was my fate, my remorse, my worm: my life would always be too vast to be devoted to strength and beauty. Happiness! Its tooth, sweet to death, warned me at the crowing of the cock ad matutinum, at the Christus venit in the darkest cities: O seasons, O castles! What soul is without faults? I have made the magic study Of happiness, which no one escapes. Say hello to it, each time The Gaulish cock crows. Ah! Ill have no more desires: It has taken hold of my life. This charm has taken body and soul And dispelled all my efforts. O seasons, O castles! The hour of its flight, alas! Shall be the hour of my death. O seasons, O castles!

All that has passed. Today I know how to greet beauty.

The Impossible
Ah! the life of my childhood, the open road in all weather, supernaturally sober, more disinterested than the best of beggars, proud of having neither country nor friends: what madness this was. And only now do I see it! I was right to despise those nice men who never lost the chance for a grope, parasites of the cleanliness and health of our women today today, when they are so distant from us. I was right about everything I rejected: since Im escaping myself! Im escaping myself! Im explaining myself. Yesterday, once again, I was sighing: God in heaven! arent there enough of us damned down here already? I have been in their ranks for so long! I know them all. We always recognise one another; we disgust each other. Charity is unknown to us. But we are polite, and our relations with the world are very correct. Does this surprise you? The world! Merchants, fools! We are not without honour. But the elect, how would they receive us? For there are surly and joyful people, the false elect, since we must be bold or humble to approach them. But these are the true elect. They are not the purveyors of blessings! Having rediscovered my two-pence worth of reason how quickly it is spent! I see that my difficulties come from not having realised soon enough that we are in the

West. The Western marshes! Not that I believe the light is faded, that form is exhausted, or movement has gone astray . . . Good! See how my spirit insists on taking upon itself all the cruel developments that spirit has undergone since the downfall of the East . . . My spirit demands it! . . . My two-pence worth of reason is over! Spirit is authority, and it wants me in the West. It would have to be silenced, if things were to conclude as I would like them to. The devil take the palms of martyrs, the beacons of art, the pride of inventors, the ardour of plunderers; I returned to the East and to the original, eternal wisdom. But it seems this was a grossly idle dream! Nevertheless, I hardly dare dream of the joy of escaping from modern suffering. I wasnt thinking of the bastard wisdom of the Koran. But isnt there real torture in the fact that, since that declaration of science we call Christianity, man has been fooling himself, proving the obvious, puffing himself up with pleasure at repeating these proofs, and living only in this way! A subtle, simple torture, and the source of my spiritual wanderings. Perhaps nature is bored! Monsieur Pompous was born with Christ. Isnt it because we insist on cultivating fogs? We swallow fever with our watery vegetables. And drunkenness! And tobacco! And ignorance! And blind devotion! Isnt all this a long way from the home of thought, from the wisdom of the Orient, our original fatherland? Why have a modern world at all, if these poisons are its invention?

Men of the Church will say: we agree! But you are speaking of Eden. Theres nothing for you in the history of Oriental peoples. Its true: I did mean Eden! This purity of ancient races what has it got to do with my dream! Philosophers will say: the world has no age. Humanity shuffles about, thats all. You live in the West, but are free to inhabit your East, as ancient as you wish it to be and to live there happily. Do not be one of the conquered. Philosophers, you are of your Western world. My spirit: take care. No violent departures for salvation. Stir yourself! Ah! science never moves fast enough for us! But I see that my spirit is sleeping. Were it always wide awake from this moment on, we would soon reach truth, who perhaps surrounds us with her weeping angels! . . . Had it been awake until this moment, I would not have given in to my weaker instincts at a forgotten time! . . . If it had always been awake, I would be sailing in full wisdom! . . . O purity! Purity! This moment of awakening has brought me the vision of purity! Through spirit one comes to God! Worst luck!

Lightning
The labour of man! Thats the explosion that

illuminates my abyss from time to time. Nothing is vanity; science and onward!, cries the modern Ecclesiast, which is to say, Everyone. And yet, the corpses of the wicked and the idle fall on the hearts of others . . . Ah! quick, come quickly, over there, beyond the night: these future rewards for all eternity . . . will they escape us? . . . What can I do? I know what labour is; and science moves too slowly. Prayers gallop upwards and light thunders . . . I see it well. This is too simple, and its too hot; people will pass me by. I have my duty; but Ill be proud to set it aside, as others have before me. My life is used up. But come on, lets pretend, be idle. O how pitiful! And well exist by amusing ourselves, by dreaming of monstrous loves and fantastic universes, by complaining and quarrelling with the appearance of this world, clown, beggar, artist, bandit priest! On my hospital bed the smell of incense came back to me so powerfully; guardian of sacred herbs, confessor, martyr ... I recognised my filthy childhood education there. But what of it? . . . Ill do my twenty years, if the others do theirs . . . No! no! now I rebel against death! Labour seems too slight for my pride: my betrayal to the world would be too brief a torture. At the last moment Id lash out, right and left . . .

Then oh! poor dear soul, wouldnt eternity be lost to us!

Morning
Didnt I once have a happy youth, heroic and fabulous, to be written on leaves of gold? Too much luck! By what crime, through what error, have I deserved my present weakness? You who maintain that animals sob with grief, that the sick depair, that the dead have bad dreams, try and give an account of my downfall and present slumber. I can no more explain myself than the beggar with his endless Paters and Ave Marias. I no longer know how to speak! Today, nevertheless, I believe I have finished the story of my hell. It really was hell: the old one, whose gates were opened by the Son of man. From the same wilderness, in the same night, my tired eyes always awaken to the same silver star; always, though the Kings of life, the three magi the heart, the soul, the spirit are not stirred. Where shall we go, beyond the shorelines and the mountains, to hail the birth of the new work, the new wisdom, the flight of tyrants and demons, the end of superstition, to worship the first to do so! Christmas on Earth? The song of heaven, the march of peoples! Slaves, let us not curse life!

Farewell
Autumn already! But why regret an eternal sun, if were committed to the discovery of the divine light far from all those who die with the seasons. Autumn. Our boat, floating in the still mist, turns toward the harbour of misery, the enormous city under a sky stained with fire and mud. Ah! the rotten rags, the rain-soaked bread, the drunkenness, the thousand loves on which I was crucified! Shell never be done with me, then, that ghoulish queen of a million souls and dead bodies, all of which will be judged! I see myself again, my skin eaten away by mud and plague, worms in my hair and armpits, and still bigger worms in my heart, lying among ageless, unfeeling strangers . . . I could have died there . . . An unbearable memory! I despise poverty. And I dread winter, because it is the season of comfort! Sometimes I see endless beaches in the sky covered with white, rejoicing nations. A huge golden ship passes over me, its many-coloured pennants fluttering in the morning breeze. I have created all festivals, all triumphs, all tragedies. I have tried to invent new flowers, new stars, new flesh, new tongues. I thought I had acquired supernatural powers. Oh well! I must bury my imagination and my memories! What fame, for an artist and storyteller who was easily carried away! And I who called myself magus or angel, free from all morality I am flung back to earth, with a duty to find and crude reality to embrace! Peasant that I am!

Was I mistaken? Could charity be the sister of death for me? Finally, I will beg forgiveness for nurturing myself on lies. And now, lets go. But not a friendly hand in sight! Where will I find help? Yes, at least the new hour is severe. For I can say that victory is mine: the grinding of teeth, the hissing of flames and the reeking sighs begin to abate. Every squalid memory fades. My last regrets scuttle off: jealousy of beggars, bandits and the friends of death, backward types of every sort. All damned, if I avenged myself! One must be absolutely modern. No hymns: hold fast to the ground won. A hard night! The dried blood smokes on my face, and I have nothing behind me except this miserable tree! . . . A spiritual battle is as brutal as a battle of men; but the vision of justice is the pleasure of God alone. Nonetheless, this is the vigil. Let us welcome every influx of vigour and genuine tenderness. And at dawn, armed with an ardent patience, what splendid cities we shall enter. What was I saying about a friendly hand? One advantage is that I can laugh now at old false loves, and strike with shame those lying couples I saw the hell of women down there; and I shall be free to possess truth in one body and one soul.

April-August, 1873

NOTE Une saison en enfer is dated April-August 1873, but its writing was anything but continuous. Rimbaud had been living in London with Paul Verlaine since September 1872, surviving on the money sent by the latters mother, and frequenting the British Library to improve their English. They were also under investigation by the police, as much for the illegality of their relationship as for their links to the exiled Communards. When legal proceedings were brought against him by his wife, Verlaine left for France on the 4th of April. Rimbaud followed shortly afterwards, returning to his familys newly-inherited home in Roche, where he began work on his manuscript. That May Rimbaud wrote to his friend, Ernest Delahaye: I am writing little stories in prose, general title: Pagan Book, or Nigger Book. It is stupid and innocent. O innocence! Innocence, innocence, inno curse it! . . . My fate depends upon this book, for which half a dozen atrocious stories are still to be invented. I am not sending you any now, although I already have three, it costs too much! Rimbaud would remain faithful to this structure. Of the nine projected stories, the three he had already completed would include the short passages that make up the imaginary ancestry of Bad Blood, as well as the absinthe-induced Night of Hell. By the 25th of May the lovers were back in London, staying in Camden Town and giving English lessons to pay the rent and fund their recent conversion to opium. That June Rimbaud wrote the two long central sections, both titled Delirium, in which Verlaine is cast in the role of the Gospels Foolish Virgin, himself in the part of the

Infernal Bridegroom. But after a violent quarrel Verlaine left again, this time for Brussels, where he was joined by Rimbaud on the 4th of July. Three days later another quarrel ended with Verlaine shooting Rimbaud in the wrist with a revolver. When Rimbaud tried to leave the following evening Verlaine threatened to shoot himself, whereupon the police were called and Verlaine arrested and later imprisoned for eighteen months, despite Rimbaud withdrawing charges. Rimbaud spent most of July in hospital waiting to have the bullet removed. By August he was back in Roche, where he spent the next month completing the final four sections, The Impossible, Lightning, Morning and Farewell, as well as the preface: howling and stamping out their rhythms on the floor of his locked attic room as he took account of his past and thrashed out his future. The book was finally printed in Brussels in October 1873, the downpayment paid by his mother, who nevertheless declared she understood nothing of what her son had written (to which he responded: It is to be read literally and in every sense). On the 22nd of October, two days after his nineteenth birthday, Rimbaud picked up his twelve authors copies, leaving one to be forwarded to the imprisoned Verlaine. The following month Rimbaud was back in Paris, where he gave a handful of copies to his few remaining friends; but when it became clear that the literary world had no interest either in his book or his genius, Rimbaud returned to Roche, where the remaining copies, together with his rough drafts, were consigned to the flames. The bulk of the copies, however, remained at the printers, forgotten and undiscovered until 1901, ten years after Rimbauds death at the age of thirty-seven.

Back cover: The Sorcerer, c. 13,000 B.C. Rock painting and engraving. Caverne des Trois Frres, Montesquieu-Avants, Arige.