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Arthur Rimbaud: Complete Works (Perennial Classics)

by Arthur Rimbaud

Other authors: Paul Schmidt (Translator)

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767922,314 (4.08)None
One of the world's most influential poets, Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891) is remembered as much for his volatile personality and tumultuous life as he is for his writings, almost all of which he produced before the age of twenty. Paul Schmidt's acclaimed collection brings together his complete poetry, prose, and letters, including "The Drunken Boat," "The Orphans' New Year," "After the Flood," and "A Season in Hell." Complete Works is divided into eight "seasons"--Childhood, the Open Road, War, the Tormented Heart, the Visionary, the Damned Soul, a Few Belated Cowardices, and the Man with the Wind at His Heels--that reflect the facets of Rimbaud's life. Insightful commentary by Schmidt reveals the courage, vision, and imagination of Rimbaud's poetry and sheds light on one of the most enigmatic figures in letters.… (more)
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All I can think about this is that Rimbaud's work must really sing in French. Because this ... this is not good. It is not remotely great. This is the ranting of a teenage boy who did not want to grow up, did not want to be responsible. He insults his mother, but he always runs home to her. It seems to me that his reputation mostly rests on his shocking biography and his letters. (Of course, I recognize that timing is everything in literature; when he wrote, much of this must have seemed new and startling as well.)

Mind you, the makings of greatness are here, but at the time he was writing (from the age of 15 to the age of 20) he did not have the experience to fill it out. And he knew that. His famous "I am depraving myself as much as I can," his ars poetica is based on gathering the experience he knew he needed. His drinking and drugging, his wild affair with Verlaine, his travels, all to explore his own otherness, his unknown, to become aware of and to cultivate himself with the express goal of knowing and writing so that others may then build on that work. But then:

Science, the new nobility! Progress! The world moves!...And why shouldn't it?
We have visions of numbers. We are moving toward the Spirit. What I say is oracular and absolutely right. I understand...and since I cannot express myself except in pagan terms, I would rather keep quiet.

-from "Bad Blood" in A Season in Hell, 1873

And just two years after that, he quit writing. On October 14, 1875, six days shy of his 21st birthday, he writes his friend Ernest Delahaye "the hell with 'my craft and art,'" requesting information on pursuing a degree in science. The letter contains his last known poem, on soldiers farting. He then goes to travel, then a life as a trader in Africa. (And ooh, hello colonialism.)

Truly, I regret that he did not continue. Maybe he could not. Maybe the wild living was part and parcel with the poetry for him and he could not write without it. I would have liked to see his poetry when he grew up. When he had had to live by the sweat of his brow and toil with the thorns and thistles as we all do, I would have liked to see what a man of his impressive craftsmanship could do with that wisdom. But I certainly don't begrudge him his turning to other things. I only wonder what might have been.

I don't have any French with which to judge Paul Schmidt's translation, or I would be reading the originals of course, but his translations make perfectly good English verse. I appreciated his arrangement of the body of work into seasons bracketed by a brief biographical note and letters; it helped to place the poetry within Rimbaud's life. I did think it was incredibly petty of Mr. Schmidt to suggest that it would have been better for the poet to disappear or die young than suffer the banal life of business he turned to. There is more to life than just poetry, and Rimbaud died young enough at 37. Of what he left behind, this is probably my favorite (and it is an early work):

Crows

Lord, when the open field is cold,
When in battered villages
The endless angelus dies-
Above the dark and drooping world
Let the empty skies disclose
Your dear, delightful crows.

Armada dark with harsh cries,
Your nests are tossed by icy winds!
Along the banks of yellowed ponds,
On roads where crumbling crosses rise,
In cold and gray and mournful weather
Scatter, hover, dive together!

In flocks above the fields of France
Where yesterday's dead men lie,
Wheel across the winter sky;
Recall our black inheritance!
Let duty in your cry be heard,
Mournful, black, uneasy bird.

Yet in that oak, you saints of God,
Swaying in the dying day,
Leave the whistling birds of May
For those who found, within that wood
From which they will not come again,
That every victory is vain.


(c. 1870? During the Franco-Prussian War)
( )
  amyotheramy | May 11, 2021 |
The influence of Bob Dylan, Patti Smith and many others. This I a keeper book and one that will be re-read many times over. Another great French writer that left this world way too soon. ( )
  evil_cyclist | Mar 16, 2020 |
(This review refers to the Paul Schmidt translation published first in 1976. I read the 18th printing of the 2008 Harper Perennial Modern Classics edition, which contains additional material at the end.)

I have spent the better part of the last two days reading this book, my first foray into the works of Arthur Rimbaud. I was drawn to read this after reading the marvelous oral history of punk rock, Please Kill Me, and being reminded of what an influence Rimbaud was on people like Patti Smith (and before her, Bob Dylan). The meaning of Dylan’s line from Blood on the Tracks about his relationships having been like Verlaine’s and Rimbaud’s is much clearer now.

But I also feel inadequate to even read this work in so many ways. There are so many allusions lost—Rimbaud had a classical education that few intelligent folks of our time have, so despite being pretty smart myself, if qualifying for Mensa means anything—which it probably doesn’t—much just flies by me. There is also what I call “The Jimi Hendrix Effect.” By this I mean my experience in discovering the guitar playing of Jimi Hendrix, long after his death. After hearing how revolutionary it was, it was difficult to bear that out in the actual listening, since so many guitarists I was familiar with already had been so influenced by Hendrix. Hendrix had some great songs, but it took a lot of listens to begin to really appreciate his style. Perhaps the same will be true with Rimbaud. But with Hendrix, there was no translation to deal with.

On first reading, Rimbaud’s work is certainly striking, especially given how young he was when he wrote it. At 16, he is already an old man in many ways. But the words and images, though often vivid, usually fail to leave a “whole” impression with me. Though not difficult to read, these are difficult works to understand. Rimbaud’s letters are much clearer and they provide much needed insight into his life and thoughts, much more than the brief biographical sketches that the translator opens each section with. Most modern readers would certainly benefit from a more critical edition that at least offers some background and theories about each work. But, I suppose, an edition laden with footnotes would have spoiled the experience of reading Rimbaud in as unadorned manner as possible. What emerges after I read him are feelings rather than coherent thoughts and conclusions. But I was constantly engaged when reading, and the more or less chronological ordering of the book is helpful. By the time we get to “A Season in Hell” we can appreciate it based on our at least partial understanding of what has gone before.

The story of Rimbaud’s life is a sad one. But he spent much of it doing what he chose to do, and even his last years toiling in Africa have a kind of fatalistic heroism about them. He would be pleased with the legacy he has left and the influence he still provides to those who would be his kindred spirits. ( )
  datrappert | Mar 3, 2019 |
Incredibly emotional and beautiful stuff. ( )
  HadriantheBlind | Mar 30, 2013 |
Every young man should read this, at least those serious about life, love, literature, and art. I was in my early twenties and was told about it by a friend in college. I was in the process of deranging my own senses at the time and it was a wonderful roadmap. ( )
  apc251 | May 10, 2012 |
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introd., chronologie, éd., notes, notices et bibliogr. par Pierre Brunel
Translation: Paul Schmidt. Brings together Arthur Rimbaud's poetry, prose, and letters, including "The Drunken Boat," "The Orphans' New Year", "After the Flood", and "A Season in Hell". This book is divided into eight 'seasons' including - Childhood, The Open Road, War, The Tormented Heart, The Visionary, and The Damned Soul - that reflect the facets of Rimbaud's life.
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One of the world's most influential poets, Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891) is remembered as much for his volatile personality and tumultuous life as he is for his writings, almost all of which he produced before the age of twenty. Paul Schmidt's acclaimed collection brings together his complete poetry, prose, and letters, including "The Drunken Boat," "The Orphans' New Year," "After the Flood," and "A Season in Hell." Complete Works is divided into eight "seasons"--Childhood, the Open Road, War, the Tormented Heart, the Visionary, the Damned Soul, a Few Belated Cowardices, and the Man with the Wind at His Heels--that reflect the facets of Rimbaud's life. Insightful commentary by Schmidt reveals the courage, vision, and imagination of Rimbaud's poetry and sheds light on one of the most enigmatic figures in letters.

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