Caricature of Rimbaud drawn by Verlaine in 1872
As I drifted on a river I could not control,
No longer guided by the bargemen’s ropes.
They were captured by howling Indians
Who nailed them naked to coloured posts.
I cared no more for other boats or cargoes:
Flemish wheat or English cottons, all were gone
When my bargemen could no longer haul me
I forgot about everything and drifted on.
Amid the fury of the loudly chopping tides
Last winter, deaf as a child’s dark night,
Ah, how I raced! And the drifting Peninsulas
Have never known such conquering delight.
Lighter than cork, I revolved upon waves
That roll the dead forever in the deep,
Ten days, beyond the blinking eyes of land!
Lulled by storms, I drifted seaward from sleep.
Sweeter than apples to a child its pungent edge;
The wash of green water on my shell of pine.
Anchor and rudder went drifting away,
Washed in vomit and stained with blue wine.
Now I drift through the poem of the sea;
This gruel of stars mirrors the milky sky,
Devours green azures; ecstatic flotsam,
Drowned men, pale and thoughtful, sometimes drift by.
Staining the sudden blueness, the slow sounds,
Deliriums that streak the glowing sky,
Stronger than drink and the songs we sing,
It is boiling, bitter, red; it is love!
I know how lightening split the sky apart,
I know the surf and waterspouts and evening’s fall,
I’ve seen the dawn arisen like a flock of doves;
I’ve seen what men have only dreamed they saw!
I saw the sun with mystic horrors darken
And shimmer through a violet haze;
With a shiver of shutters the waves fell
Like actors in ancient, forgotten plays!
I dreamed of green nights and glittering snow,
Slow kisses rising in the eyes of the sea,
Unknown liquids flowing, the blue and yellow
Stirring of phosphorescent melody!
For months I watched the surge of the sea,
Hysterical herds attacking the reefs;
I never thought the bright feet of Mary
Could muzzle up the heavy-breathing waves!
I have jostled – you know? – unbelievable Floridas
And seen among the flowers the wild eyes
Of panthers in the skins of men! Rainbows
Birdling blind flocks beneath the horizons!
In stinking swamps I have seen great hulks:
A Leviathan that rotted in the reeds!
Water crumbling in the midst of calm
And distances that shatter into foam.
Glaciers, silver suns, waves of pearl, fiery skies,
Giant serpents stranded where lice consume
Them, falling in the depths of dark gulfs
From contorted trees, bathed in black perfume!
I wanted to show children these fishes shining
In the blue wave, the golden fish that sing –
A froth of flowers cradled my wandering
And delicate winds tossed me on their wings.
Sometimes, a martyr of poles and latitudes,
The sea rocked me softly in sighing air,
And brought me dark blooms with yellow stems –
I remained there like a woman on her knees.
Almost an island, I balanced on my boat’s sides
Rapacious blond-eyed birds, their dung, their screams.
I drifted on through fragile tangled lines
Drowned men, still staring up, sank down to sleep.
Now I, a little lost boat, in swirling debris,
Tossed by the storm into the birdless upper air
– All the Hansa Merchants and Monitors
Could not fish up my body drunk with the sea;
Free, smoking, touched the violet haze above,
I, who the lurid heavens breached like some rare wall
Which boasts – confection that the poets love –
Lichens of sunlight, and snots of bright blue sky;
Lost branch spinning in a herd of hippocamps,
Covered over with electric animals,
An everlasting July battering
The glittering sky and its fiery funnels;
Shaking at the sound of monsters roaring,
Rutting Behemoths in thick whirlpools,
Eternal weaver of unmoving blues,
I thought of Europe and its ancient walls!
I have seen archipelagos in the stars,
Feverish skies where I was free to roam!
Are these bottomless nights your exiled nests,
Swarm of golden birds, O Strength to come?
True, I’ve cried too much; I am heartsick at dawn.
The moon is bitter and the sun is sour…
Love burns me; I am swollen and slow.
Let my keel break! Oh, let me sink in the sea!
If I long for a shore in Europe,
It’s a small pond, dark, cold, remote,
The odour of evening, and a child full of sorrow
Who stoops to launch a crumpled paper boat.
Washed in your languors, sea, I cannot trace
The wake of tankers foaming through the cold,
Nor assault the pride of pennants and flags,
Nor endure the slave ship’s stinking hold.