Allen is in the middle of discussing Rimbaud’s “Parade”
AG: ….interzone teacher gypsy sadist, well, there’s little elements of modernity in it, you could say, if it were called “Hell’s Angels”, it would be immediately apparent what the subject is – (a) Sideshow, (a) Parade (and romanticizing maybe, the traveling-circus). That’s a great line – “J’ai seul le clef de cette parade sauvage” – I alone have the key to the circus, parade. I alone have the key to the savage mental sideshow – “J’ai seul le clef de cette parade sauvage” [in the John Ashbery translation – “I alone know the plan of this savage sideshow”]. [Allen continues reading from “Illuminations” (Vies, section 3)] – …”In a loft, where I was shut in..” [Ashbery renders this “In an attic where I was shut up..”] – “Dans un grenier où je fus enfermé..”…”I’m really from beyond the tomb and I’m not taking commission” (“Je suis réellement d’outre-tombe, et pas de commissions” – Ashbery translates this as “I’m really beyond the grave, and no more assignments, please”) – “Je suis réellement d’outre-tombe, et pas de commissions”.
Then a sense of fatigue, à la Whitman, set in -Départ – departure – Assez vu – seen enough. La vision s’est rencontrée à tous les airs. The vision was met within every air [Ashbery has “The vision has been encountered in all skies”] – Assez eu – had enough. Rumeurs des villes, le soir, et au soleil.. – Sounds of the city and in the evening and in the sun. [Allen gives line-by-line translation of this short poem] – And a nice one called “Drunken Morning” (Matinee d’Ivresse) – O my good, o my beautiful.. O my good, o my beautiful – O mon Bien! O mon Beau!..” – “Cela commença sous les rires des enfants…” – It began in the midst of children’s laughter – Rire des enfants… – laughter of children… – We pronounce you method! – Nous t’affirmons, méthode– Voici le temps des Assassins – Now is the time of the Hashashin – Now is the time of the Assassins – Voici le temps des Assassins – Now is the time of the Assassins (which is such a great line, (it) killed everybody in the 20th Century, (that) a kid like that could say something so heart-stabbing. I think Henry Miller wrote a book on Rimbaud, (The) Time of the Assassins – and of course (William) Burroughs too draws a great deal from that – Time of the Assassins. Well, there’s this whole book called Illuminations, the last of which I’ll read is called “City” (“Ville”) – It’s very odd, it’s like getting high and seeing city, the megalopolis, the movement of the city.
Wordsworth did it in his Sonnet rhymes overlooking London..“…On Westminster Bridge..”, but there’s, like, a dislocation from time in Rimbaud, as there probably is.. He wrote a lot of this on grass, or hashish, and – it’s a model for hashish writing by the way. If any of you are involved with that kind of experiment with writing – and everyone’s tried a little – but the dissociation of thought you’re familiar with (while writing with hashish or not), the dissociation you’re all familiar with, (instructive) to see how someone fresh and virginal, a master of his own mind, sort of almost naively eager, watching his mind, handles it, and keeps it all solid. I’ll give you the beginning in the French – “Je suis un éphémère et point trop mécontent citoyen d’une métropole crue moderne..” – I am an ephemeral and not too discontented citizen of a metropolis considered modern – [Allen continues reading “Ville” – in English translation] – Petty crime howling in the mud of the street (“un joli Crime piaulant dans la boue de la rue”) – I’ve always liked that line – “Petty crime howling in the mud of the streets”. Well, there’s others called “Cities II” (Villes II). I’ll just begin it. “What cities! this is a people for whom these.. “Ce sont des villes! C’est un peuple pour qui se sont montés ces Alleghanys et ces Libans de rêve!” – there’s a kind of nice thing he did there..
Actually, Illuminations is one of his last works according to some biographies. (A) great biography of Rimbaud by Enid Starkie – Enid Starkie – Rimbaud. It is one of the most interesting literary biographies of any figure that has been written, in that Starkie was a scholar at Oxford, a lady (dyke, I think), who wrote a book on Petrus Borel, the “wolfman” (who was a great literary figure), a biography of Baudelaire (which is [was] out-of-print) and a (this) great biography of Rimbaud (and a follow-up book called Rimbaud in Abyssinia, ’cause Rimbaud ran off to Africa at the end (when he was 20 or something), he went to Borneo!, he quit poetry and went to Borneo, joined the circus and went all over Transylvania! He did everything that every kid I imagine wanted to do, he went “on the road”, actually.. finally wound up in Harrar, in Abyssinia, died of cancer in a hospital in Marseilles.. of syphilis
nursed by his sweet “square” sister.. apparently reading great poetry in his last… (so she said – she was a Catholic, and so sweet, heart-rending a way as…
Student: How old was he when he died?
AG: 34, I think. Quite young. ..he had a boyfriend.. (he had a real funny career) – he ran off.. he came to Paris, lived with (Paul) Verlaine.. first he came to Paris and Verlaine put him up in the house of some poet in the Latin Quarter and (he created) some great scandal by throwing bed bugs out the window! ((he was) just a kid, like a mad kid coming to Paris), and (so he) moved in with Verlaine for a while, but Madame Verlaine really got bugged, and then they ran off together to London, and taught English for their living, (and) then Mrs Verlaine said come back, so Verlaine came back. I think Rimbaud went back to his home and then they got together again – then Rimbaud wanted to leave Verlaine (because Verlaine was basically like a creepy old fag trying (to make a) 17-year-old beautiful boy, with the most beautiful face in Europe, actually angelic face). There’s a photograph of.. oh, maybe you can see it from here – (when this) was done he was maybe 15 or so.. a really mean eye! –
Student: That’s his catechism..
AG: I was going to say.. Is it..? catechism? He’s all dressed up with that funny bow-tie. This face has launched a thousand books! – I was in love with Rimbaud. I was, in fact, physically, erotically, in love with Rimbaud when I was 18. It was my first.. “Voici le temps des Assassins” – that turned me on completely – and I went downtown to Times Square to meet a local criminal world with their “petty crime howling in the mud of the streets”. So this is “Vagabonds“, him and Verlaine wandering around – Pitiable brother!..
So Illuminations is worth reading. It’s a handbook of purest imagery, mind poetry, a little bit seductive because you can start writing these imaginary poems – “Mystique”-like – Angels whirl their woolen robes in emerald and steel pastures (“les anges tournent leurs robes de laine dans les herbages d’acier et d’émeraude”) – Well now amateurs trying that can’t get that “emerald and steel” – and “woollen” robes, angels in “woollen” robes. So there’s this mixture of a real practical concrete observation. (Ezra) Pound translated one very famous rhymed poem called “Vagabond” [actually “Au Cabaret-Vert”] and pointed it out as a great moment in French poetry, European poetry, when Rimbaud compared the arm of the waitress in a country tavern, serving him beer, blonde.. beer over-flowing.. plate of ham.. I forget the precise wording, but (he) compares the color of the ham to the color of her thick fat right arm – with a sprig of green parsley! . .so, it’s this idyllic wandering in the countryside, going to country inns, sitting down, foaming beers, plate of ham, like the waitress’ fat arm (color of the waitress’s fat arm.. (“Pink ham, white fat and a sprig/ Of garlic, and a great chope of foamy beer/ Gilt by the sun in that atmosphere.”)Student: Could you read it?
AG: It’s too good to read really (right now) and (but) there are many great lines in it, [in “Illuminations”] – like “J’ai embrassé l’aube d’été – beginning of the poem, Dawn (“Aube”) – I embrace the summer dawn – and ends.. a little visionary thing, like Spring, seen, as a little girl describing it – Above the road, near the laurel wood, I wrapped her up.. (“En haut de la route, près d’un bois de lauriers, je l’ai entourée..”) – “Au réveil il était midi.” (“Waking, it was noon”).
So, these Illuminations are like prose-poems and a long consecutive prose-poem called “Un Saison d’Enfer“ (A Season in Hell) is like a tiny novel written in prose-poetry, with a central chapter describing his relationship to Verlaine.
Student: Didn’t one of them try to shoot the other one?
AG: Yeah, they were in Belgium, in Brussels or some place like that.
Rimbaud was trying to get away from the old creep and shot him in the hand! So Rimbaud turned him in to the police! and got sent out for two years, got very religious, Verlaine got very religious in jail. But then Rimbaud wrote a letter to.. a letter of Rimbaud to a friend, when they met again, in which Rimbaud says, we met again and within 20 minutes he’d abandoned all the Stations of the Cross and cursed the rosary and was all over my pants again! – something like that. So here’s Rimbaud’s version of Verlaine’s.. It’s called “Délires“, it’s from the beginning of “A Season in Hell”, it’s too classic not to enter your brain – the phrasing is so.. sweet-and-sour like. It’s an autobiography, a spiritual autobiography, in which, in a sense, he renounces the world and goes off on his wanderings, beginning with a recollection of childhood enthusiasm and open-ness (“Jadis, si je me souviens bien...”) – “Jadis” – What’s “Jadis”? – in French, you can’t get it in English. “Jadis” is like a old.. like someone would sing an old blues “Jadis” – “In old times”, “in old days”, “formerly”, “once”, “early”, “when I was young”, “Jadis“, so you get all these old French diseurs, old French art-sceners, who sing songs about “Jadis“, you know, with flowers and violins and springtime and I-got-wrinkles-all-over-my-brow. But he’s now 17, saying, “Jadis, si je me souviens bien”, Jadis – “formerly”, “if I remember well”, – if, je (I), me (me), souviens (remember) bien (well) – “Jadis, – if I me remember well – if I remember myself well, what (would be) the implication in the French grammar. “A long while ago”, “If I remember my history well”, “si je me souviens bien” – ma vie était un festin – my life was a festival -où s’ouvraient tous les coeurs – where opened all hearts.. where all the hearts were open “où tous les vins coulaient” “where all wines flowed. So here – “once if I remember well, my heart was a feast where all hearts opened and all wines flowed..”
[Allen continues reading from this poem..] – (Un soir..) “One evening, I seated Beauty on my knee..” – (Rimbaud) goes on..”Charity is the key..” – the key to the way out of his fix – and he goes on to try to trace his ancestry back to the “tattooed narrow-skulled savages” of early Europe, saying that (that) was the reason he was so messed up, and then there’s, like, a history of Europe enslaved by the Machine Age and.. and then a little chapter on his relations with Verlaine, which I’ll begin to give you the tone of the, again, laconic, sardonic, funny sardonic kid, (and) such intelligent psychological perception. [Allen begins reading] – “The foolish virgin” – Vierge folie (presumably Verlaine) and the Infernal bridegroom – L’Epoux Infernal.
[Allen reads enthusiastically from Rimbaud’s Délires in English translation]
It’s like a great novel in about 12 pages. It ends “One day perhaps he will miraculously disappear” – “Un jour peut-être il disparaîtra merveilleusement” – (which Rimbaud did – he miraculously disappeared to his circus..)
– Drôle de ménage! – funny menage, funny household (queer couple, if you will, as it’s translated here) – Drôle de ménage – which is Rimbaud’s comment on the whole scene – Drôle de ménage – then that goes into “Delirium”, a section called “Delirium (The Alchemy of the Word), which is like the first Western assault on language to make it mantra. It’s so important, actually, in terms of later theory that I want to read that too. I think I have the tape-recorder here..
“À moi. L’histoire d’une de mes folies.” – Now for me the history of one of my..follies [Allen continues to read from “Delirium (The Alchemy of the Word)”] – For a long time.. (Depuis longtemps...) – “Ah, je souffre, je crie, je souffre vraiment..” – (I suffer, I scream.. – this is Rimbaud’s version of Verlaine complaining – “La vraie vie est absente” – real life is absent – “L’amour est à réinventer” (that line, “love must be reinvented”, also, was like a dominant theme in all later French poetry) – “L’amour est à réinventer”, love is to be reinvented – “refrains niais, rythmes naïfs” (naive refrains and artless rhythms) – “Je fixais des vertiges –
then he puts a little poem in here – Chanson de la Plus Haute Tour (Song of the Highest Tower), which sounds very pretty in French – “Qu’il vienne, qu’il vienne,/ Le temps dont on s’éprenne.” – Then let it come, let it come, time.. “O may it come the time of love/ the time we’ll be enamored of” (the time that will seize us, the time that will really take us) – “Qu’il vienne, qu’il vienne” – This is where he finally says “I love the desert..” ( “J’aimai le désert..”)- “Elle est retrouvée ! Quoi ? l’éternité. C’est la mer mêlée. Au soleil- It’s recovered? What? Eternity. It’s the sea mixed up with the sunlight (a little poem there).
Finally we get to..oh somewhere in here, I can’t find it – finally, Et le printemps m’a apporté l’affreux rire de l’idiot” “In Springtime brought me the idiot’s frightful laughter” – So he cut out there, actually went back home, stayed with his mother, wrote Illuminations and left Paris forever – and Verlaine gathered all his poems about ten years later, assuming that Rimbaud was dead, or gone beyond communication, and published them, and they just sensationalized everyone in Paris and turned everybody on.
Student: Wasn’t Rimbaud a smuggler?
AG: Yeah, he smuggled guns to Emperor Menelik.
[Allen turns abruptly next to a letter he’d recently received from an acolyte in New Jersey, reads sections from it]
I read that to show that the spirit of Rimbaud is not dead at all. It’s actually.. Rimbaud seems to be a complete turn-on catalyst to every poet in small town isolated, or big megapolis, staring at the city lights over the roof. It has been for decades in America.. since Louise Varèse translated “Season in Hell” and “Illuminations”, which came out in the.. I guess, in the ’40’s, early ’50’s – Louise Varèse, who translated these, was the wife of Edgard Varèse, the composer (a modern composer who worked with pure sound, also), so, it’s odd – the tradition of Rimbaud was continued in America by the highest of the avant-garde here. If you haven’t read Rimbaud.. (it’s sort of) the ABC, to begin with, I would say, for any kind of poetry, because it’ll turn you on, in the sense of inspire erotic ethics in your mind and give you a sense of the magic that you can do in total isolation (and also a sense of the companionship, the sangha of poets, you know), and the possibility of total direct communication or outrageous clarity and frankness – and selfishness! – So Rimbaud, aged 15 to 17, oddly, is “the poet’s poet” for the last hundred years.
(beginning at approx 45 minutes – and continuing until approx 81 minutes in)<