Classic and Contemporary Poetry
THE DRUNKEN BOAT, by ARTHUR RIMBAUD Poet's Biography
First Line: As I descended black, impassive rivers
Last Line: Nor swim beneath the horrible eyes of prison ships.
As I descended black, impassive Rivers,
I sensed that haulers were no longer guiding me:
Screaming Redskins took them for their targets,
Nailed nude to colored stakes: barbaric trees.
I was indifferent to all my crews;
I carried English cottons, Flemish wheat.
When the disturbing din of haulers ceased,
The Rivers let me ramble where I willed.
Through the furious ripping of the sea's mad tides,
Last winter, deafer than an infant's mind,
I ran! And drifting, green Peninsulas
Did not know roar more gleefully unkind.
A tempest blessed my vigils on the sea.
Lighter than a cork I danced on the waves,
Those endless rollers, as they say, of graves:
Ten nights beyond a lantern's silly eye!
Sweeter than sourest apple-flesh to children,
Green water seeped into my pine-wood hull
And washed away blue wine stains, vomitings,
Scattering rudder, anchor, man's lost rule.
And then I, trembling, plunged into the Poem
Of the Sea, infused with stars, milk-white,
Devouring azure greens; where remnants, pale
And gnawed, of pensive corpses fell from light;
Where, staining suddenly the blueness, delirium,
The slow rhythms of the pulsing glow of day,
Stronger than alcohol and vaster than our lyres,
The bitter reds of love ferment the way!
I know skies splitting into light, whirled spouts
Of water, surfs, and currents: I know the night,
The dawn exalted like a flock of doves, pure wing,
And I have seen what men imagine they have seen.
I saw the low sun stained with mystic horrors,
Lighting long, curdled clouds of violet,
Like actors in a very ancient play,
Waves rolling distant thrills like lattice light!
I dreamed of green night, stirred by dazzling snows,
Of kisses rising to the sea's eyes, slowly,
The sap-like coursing of surprising currents,
And singing phosphors, flaring blue and gold!
I followed, for whole months, a surge like herds
Of insane cattle in assault on the reefs,
Unhopeful that three Marys, come on luminous feet,
Could force a muzzle on the panting seas!
Yes, I struck incredible Floridas
That mingled flowers and the eyes of panthers
In skins of men! And rainbows bridled green
Herds beneath the horizon of the seas.
I saw the ferment of enormous marshes, weirs
Where a whole Leviathan lies rotting in the weeds!
Collapse of waters within calms at sea,
And distances in cataract toward chasms!
Glaciers, silver suns, pearl waves, and skies like coals,
Hideous wrecks at the bottom of brown gulfs
Where giant serpents eaten by red bugs
Drop from twisted trees and shed a black perfume!
I should have liked to show the young those dolphins
In blue waves, those golden fish, those fish that sing.
-Foam like flowers rocked my sleepy drifting,
And, now and then, fine winds supplied me wings.
When, feeling like a martyr, I tired of poles and zones,
The sea, whose sobbing made my tossing sweet,
Raised me its dark flowers, deep and yellow whirled,
And, like a woman, I fell on my knees . . .
Peninsula, I tossed upon my shores
The quarrels and droppings of clamorous, blond-eyed birds.
I sailed until, across my rotting cords,
Drowned men, spinning backwards, fell asleep! . . .
Now I, a lost boat in the hair of coves,
Hurled by tempest into a birdless air,
I, whose drunken carcass neither Monitors
Nor Hansa ships would fish back for men's care;
Free, smoking, rigged with violet fogs,
I, who pierced the red sky like a wall
That carries exquisite mixtures for good poets,
Lichens of sun and azure mucus veils;
Who, spotted with electric crescents, ran
Like a mad plank, escorted by seahorses,
When cudgel blows of hot Julys struck down
The sea-blue skies upon wild water spouts;
I, who trembled, feeling the moan at fifty leagues
Of rutting Behemoths and thick Maelstroms, I,
Eternal weaver of blue immobilities,
I long for Europe with its ancient quays!
I saw sidereal archipelagoes! and isles
Whose delirious skies are open to the voyager:
-Is it in depthless nights you sleep your exile,
A million golden birds, O future Vigor?-
But, truly, I have wept too much! The dawns disturb.
All moons are painful, and all suns break bitterly:
Love has swollen me with drunken torpors.
Oh, that my keel might break and spend me in the sea!
Of European waters I desire
Only the black, cold puddle in a scented twilight
Where a child of sorrows squats and sets the sails
Of a boat as frail as a butterfly in May.
I can no longer, bathed in languors, O waves,
Cross the wake of cotton-bearers on long trips,
Nor ramble in a pride of flags and flares,
Nor swim beneath the horrible eyes of prison ships.
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