Translated by Donald Revell
French on facing pages
In this new translation of Arthur Rimbaud—illustrious among the 19th-century symbolists and one of the most influential poets upon the modern mind—Donald Revell captures the child-like wonder and tortured, revelatory despair of these poems, which changed, in so many ways, how we think of what a poem can say and mean. Revell’s choice of a most immediate vernacular gives the modern reader all the heady brilliance in Rimbaud’s rebelliousness. Yet, as Revell explains in his essay “Outrageous Innocence, Innocence Outraged,” which is offered as afterword in this translation of A Season in Hell, Rimbaud’s rebellious sensuality was redolent with the oracular. Revell’s essay offers the story of Rimbaud—his wildly creative youth, his years of breaking with all traditions of morality and decorum, his fame as the genius of French letters who is identified as one of the creators of free verse because of his rhythm experiments in prose poems. And Revell’s essay places these poems in the larger historical narrative of the literature of rebellious youth that has molded much of our contemporary culture. Published with the French on facing pages, this translation will open many readers to the pleasure of reading this wild child who was remembered after his death as one of the masters of French poetry.
Donald Revell’s bravura translation brings the modernity of Arthur Rimbaud’s A SEASON IN HELL into exquisite focus. Stimulating, crackling renderings, daring yet Rimbaudian—choice after choice rings true. Revell compliments his translation with a striking essay on translation and much else, carrying not only Rimbaud but also the passion of translating over to the reader.
Woe to those readers who are doomed to read Rimbaud only in French, for in addition to giving us a bracing translation of Une Saison en Enfer, Donald Revell has given birth to a great poem—a poem that forces us to take Rimbaud at his word: “I transcribed the inexpressible.’
How lucky we are that after his limber, resourceful translations of the twentieth century’s greatest pyrotechnician, Apollinaire, Donald Revell now gives us English for the culminating work of our greatest pyromaniac, Arthur Rimbaud, capturing A Season In Hell’s zealous flamboyance and its angelic/demonic purge.
A volatile and peripatetic poet, the prodigy Arthur Rimbaud wrote all of his poetry in a space of less than five years. His poem “Voyelles” invoked synesthesia, marking him as a founder of French symbolism, and his Une Saison en Enfer (A Season in Hell) is considered one of the first works of free verse. His poetry was subconsciously inspired and highly suggestive; his persona was caustic and unstable. Though brilliant, during his life his peers regarded him as perverse, unsophisticated, and youthfully arrogant, and he died virtually indifferent to his own work.
Donald Revell is Professor of English & Director of Creative Writing programs at UNLV. Thief of Strings is his tenth poetry collection, published by Alice James. Donald Revell’s previous translations include The Illumninations by Arthur Rimbaud, and A Season in Hell by Arthur Rimbaud, both of which were published by Omnidawn. A Season in Hell won the PSA translation award. His books of essays include Invisible Green: Selected Prose, published by Omnidawn. He serves as poetry editor of Colorado Review. Revell lives in the desert south of Las Vegas with his wife, poet Claudia Keelan, and their children Benjamin Brecht and Lucie Ming.
Human toil! That’s the explosion brightens my abyss from time to time.
“Nothing is vanity; hooray for science and forward march!” cries the modern Ecclesiastes, i.e. Everybody. And still the corpses of the wicked and the lazy pile up in people’s hearts…Hurry up, hurry up why don’t you! Over there, beyond the night, can you see them? Our eternal rewards…how shall we escape?
— What can I do? I understand only too well the meaning of work; and science is too slow. Let prayer gallop and lightning rumble…I see it clearly. It’s all too simple and the weather’s too hot; you’ll have to get along without me. I’ve got my duty; and I shall, as is the fashion nowadays, take pride in setting it aside.
My life’s worn out. Come on! Let’s be fakers, let’s be slobs! We’ll have a good time, we’ll get by, dreaming up monstrous loves and wonderful planets, bitching and moaning, denouncing everybody: bozos, beggars, bandits, big shots,—priests! On my hospital bed, an overpowering smell of incense wafted over me: guardians of the holy oil, confessors, martyrs…
Voilà! my lousy childhood and obscene education. So what?…shall I live to be twenty? Others have done it…
As of today, I rebel against death! Work seems frivolous; I’m a proud man, and a lifetime’s work would be too brief an agony for me. At the last moment, I’d attack…to the right…to the left…
And then—oh!—sweet old soul of mine, eternity would not have been wasted on us!