Classic and Contemporary Poetry
A SEASON IN HELL: THE ALCHEMY OF WORDS, by ARTHUR RIMBAUD Poet's Biography
First Line: Listen. The tale of one of my follies
Last Line: That is over. Now I know how to greet beauty.
Subject(s): Dreams; Language; Nightmares; Words; Vocabulary
Listen. The tale of one of my follies.
For a long time I had boasted my mastery of all possible landscapes, and I
found ridiculous the celebrities of modern painting and poetry.
I loved absurd paintings, overdoors, decors, side-show backdrops, signboards,
popular prints; outmoded literature, church Latin, misspelled erotic books,
romances of the days of our grandmothers, fairy tales, little books for
children, old operas, childish ditties, naive rhythms.
I dreamed of crusades, voyages of discovery of which there are no accounts,
republics without histories, hushed-up religious wars, revolutions in customs,
displacements of races and of continents: I believed in all enchantments.
I invented the colors of the vowels! A black, E white, I red, O blue, U
green. I settled the form and the movement of each consonant and, with
instinctive rhythms, I flattered myself that I was inventing a poetic language
accessible, one day or another, to all of the senses. I kept back the
In the beginning it was an experiment. I wrote silences, nights, I noted down
the inexpressible. I crystallized vertigo.
. . . The bric-a-brac of poetry played a considerable part in my alchemy of
I got used to plain hallucination: I saw quite clearly a mosque in place of a
factory, a school of drums made by angels, tilburies on the highways of the sky;
a parlor at the bottom of a lake; monsters; mysteries; the title of a musichall
comedy raised up horrors before me.
Then I explained the magic of my sophistries by means of the hallucination of
I ended by deeming sacred the disorder of my spirit. I was idle, prey to high
fever! I envied the beasts their happiness-caterpillars, which symbolize the
innocence of limbo; moles, the sleep of virginity!
I became embittered. I bade farewell to society in something like ballads.
I became a fabulous opera: I saw that all creatures are destined to a certain
contentment: action is not life, but a means of wasting strength, an
enervation. Morality is the softening of the brain. It seemed to me that to
each creature several other lives belonged. This gentleman does not know
what he is doing-he is an angel. That family is a litter of pups. With several
men I have conversed with a moment from one of their other lives.
"And so . . . I have loved a pig."
None of the sophistries of madness-the madness locked within-have I forgot; I
could recite them all, I know the system.
My health was endangered. Terror came. I fell asleep for several days at a
stretch and, risen, continued the most depressing dreams. I was ripe for death,
and along a highway of danger my weakness led me to the ends of the earth and of
Chimmeria, the land of shadow and whirlwinds.
I had to travel, and seek distraction from the spells gathered in my brain.
At sea, which I loved as though it should cleanse me of a stain, I watched the
rise of the consoling cross. I had been damned by the rainbow. Happiness was
my doom, my remorse, my worm: my life would always be too vast to be given up
to strength and beauty.
Happiness! Her tooth, sweet unto death, would warn me at cockcrow-ad
matutinum, at the Christus venit-in the most dismal cities:
Oh seasons, oh castles!
What soul is flawless?
I have made the magic study
Of happiness, that none evades.
Hail to it, each time
The gallic rooster crows.
Ah! I'll have no cares:
It manages my life.
This spell, now flesh and soul
Has put an end to toil.
Oh seasons, oh castles!
Its hour of flight, alas!
Will be the hour of death.
That is over. Now I know how to greet beauty.
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