Rimbaud (Allen’s 1975 Naropa Class) – 1

Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891) at the time of his First Communion (aged 12), 1866

At the same time (as Walt Whitman in America), in the provinces, in Charleville, in France, (Arthur) Rimbaud. How many people have ever read any Rimbaud here? First of all.. yeah, raise them. How many have not? Okay, now how many here were in Anne (Waldman)’s class? She read some Rimbaud. How many were in Anne’s class where Rimbaud’s Lettre du Voyant was read?. Okay, Rimbaud was, at that time, as most of you know, a 15-year-old kid in a French border-town, near Belgium. He’d had a good relation with a school-teacher who’d turned him on to Latin and various other classic strains. He had done a tremendous amount of reading and he had read Paul Verlaine, who was a very elegant bohemian lyric poet, married, with family in Paris. Famous, the editor of literary magazines, a big mucker and boulevardier. (He – Rimbaud) addressed a letter to Verlaine, enclosing a great thirty-stanza-ed epic poem called “(The) Drunken Boat”. He wrote that he wanted to come to Paris and turn on Verlaine and turn on Paris and change poetry entirely. And that one poem, actually, 1869 or ’70, did transform French poetry thereafter. In 1871 he was in Charleville and he wrote a letter to Paul Demeny, who was a friend and teacher, summarizing everything he thought about literature at the time. which I’ll read. It’s the best essay on poetics in the 19th century, Rimbaud’s letter to Paul Demeny in Douai. Charleville, May 15, 1871 – In 1871, I think he’s still 16, 15 or 16

“I have decided to give you an hour of new literature….” (“J’ai résolu de vous donner une heure de littérature nouvelle..”) [Poem enclosed – “Chant de Guerre Parisien (“Paris War Song”)] – And now follows a discourse on the future of poetry (“Voici de la prose sur l’avenir de la poésie“) – And now follows a discourse on the future of poetry – This is from a 15-year-old kid! – (“Toute poésie antique aboutit à la poésie grecque…” (All ancient poetry culminated in Greek poetry..”) [ Allen continues reading from ” “Lettre du Voyant” – “La raison m’inspire plus de certitudes sur le sujet que n’aurait jamais eu de colères un Jeune-Franc” (“Reason inspires me with more certainties on this subject than any Young France ever had” [Allen, following a mis-translation – “I suppose an angry newspaper of the day” – Allen reads on (in English) – “Du reste, libre aux nouveaux! d’exécrer les ancêtres: on est chez soi et l’on a le temps” (“Besides newcomers have a right to condemn their ancestors: one is at home and there’s plenty of time..”)] -“Car Je est un autre” (Allen reads the famous line in French and then in variants in English – “For the “I” is another”, “I is someone else” (as translated here), or “I is another”, or, in French, “Je est un autre”..” [He continues] – “Car Je est un autre. Si le cuivre s’éveille clairon, il n’y a rien de sa faute” (“For I is someone else. If brass wakes up a trumpet, it isn’t to blame”) – “En Grèce, ai-je dit, vers et lyres rhythment l’Action. Après, musique et rimes sont jeux, délassements.” (In Greece I have said, verses and lyres rhythms: Action. After that, music and rhymes are games, pastimes”) – Actually, that’s basically what I’ve been saying here, that “verses and lyres”, verses and lyres, verses with music, rhythms, action, after that music, are game, games. That is to say, as “ (Ezra) Pound pointed out, when poets stopped singing, the verse structure and the rhyming structure began to degenerate and become metronomic and automatic – “After that, music and rhymes are games, pastimes”.

[Allen continues reading from the letter] – “The study of this past charms the curious…” (“L’étude de ce passé charme les curieux..“) – “Mais il s’agit de faire l’âme monstrueuse: à l’instar des comprachicos” (“But the soul has to be made monstrous, that’s the point – like comprachicos” [Allen glosses – “bandit-friends (if you like)” – and continues] – “Imagine a man planting and cultivating the warts on his face” (“Imaginez un homme s’implantant et se cultivant des verrues sur la visage”). “Je dis qu’il faut être voyant, se faire voyant” (“One must, I say, be a visionary, make oneself a visionary) – “The poet makes himself a visionary through a long, prodigious and rational disordering of all the senses” (“Le Poète se fait voyant par un long, immense et raisonné dérèglement de tous les sens”) – In French that would be “dérèglement de tous les sens”, and that phrase, disordering or deranging of the senses (“dérèglement de tous les sens”) is, like, the greatest slogan in the last 200 years of French poetry. And every French poet has had to either derange his senses or get around it one way or another. It’s in-bred in the brain of every author in France from (Guillaume) Apollinaire on to the great Antonin Artaud, who took it to its limits and “springtime brought him the frightful laugh of the idiot” (a line of Rimbaud – later on, Rimbaud said ” Et le printemps m’a apporté l’affreux rire de l’idiot (from “Une Saison En Enfer” (A Season in Hell”) – “Springtime I heard the idiot’s frightful laughter (having deranged his senses, having succeeded) – “The poet makes himself a visionary through a long, prodigious (prodigious!) and rational (dérèglement) disordering of all the senses”.

[Allen goes on] – “Every form of love, of suffering, of madness…” (“Toutes les formes d’amour, de souffrance, de folie...”) – the letter includes Rimbaud’s second enclosed poem  “Mes Petites Amoureuses” (“My Little Sweethearts”) and Rimbaud’s self-description “Moi pauvre effare” (“I, poor waif”) – “Note Rimbaud’s poem, “Les Effares” (describing haggard street urchins gazing through a cellar vent at bread in a baker’s oven) – “n’ai pas tenu un seul rond de bronze!“(“without a red cent to my name!”) – Because he’s living with his mother in a big house in Charleville! A really heavy mother too! –

“je vous livrerais encore mes Amants de Paris, cent hexamètres, Monsieur, et ma Mort de Paris, deux cents hexamètres! ( ” I would offer you my Paris Lovers (Amants de Paris), one hundred hexameters, dear Sir, and my Death in Paris (Mort de Paris), two hundred hexameters. “Je reprends : Donc le poète est vraiment voleur de feu” (I continue: So then, the poet is, truly, a thief of fire”) – Let me see if there would be anything else of importance here. It’s a great letter. It’s in the Preface of “Illuminations”, which you have in the library, I think. In poetic criticism, it’s a great signal statement, so it’s worth reading, only don’t go crazy with it. It’s at the base really, or it’s the classic statement of what later became the ‘Sixties acid-head hippie culture, this letter of Rimbaud. It filtered through and was tremendously influential, directly or indirectly, like take anything, STP, total derangement of the senses, I’m sure some people here have gone through that.

There’s a few other interesting statements – “Humanity is his responsibility, even the animals, he must see to it that his inventions can be smelled..” (“Il est chargé de l’humanité, des animaux même ; il devra faire sentir, palper, écouter ses inventions”) – His poetry – he wants a poetry that you can smell! – felt!, heard! – “If what he brings back from beyond has form, he gives it form, if it is formless, he gives it formlessness. A language must be found. As a matter of fact, all speech being an idea, the time of a universal language shall come!” (“Si ce qu’il rapporte de là-bas a forme, il donne forme ; si c’est informe, il donne de l’informe. Trouver une langue; – Du reste, toute parole étant idée, le temps d’un langage universel viendra !”) – Actually, that will be accomplished, in James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake. – “Il faut être académicien, plus mort qu’un fossile..” (“One has to be an academician – deader than a fossil”) – “This harangue would be of the soul for the soul..” ) (“Cette langue sera de l’âme pour l’âme”) – “The poet would define the amount of unknown arising in his time in the universal soul…” (“La poète definirait la quantité d’inconnu s’éveillant dans son temps, dans l’âme universelle..”) – This is very Burroughs-ian – “The poet would define the amount of unknown arising in his time in the universal soul…” [Allen continues] – “Meantime ask the poet for the new” (“En attendant, demandons aux poètes du nouveau”) – “Les premiers romantiques” (“The first Romantics”) – Shelley, we have read, say – the French equivalent – “The first Romantics…were visionaries without quite realizing it..” (“Les premiers romantiques ont été voyants sans trop bien s’en rendre compte…”) – And that actually does apply to (William) Wordsworth, or in Rimbaud’s terms – “The first Romantics…were visionaries without quite realizing it..” – “la culture de leurs âmes..” (“the cultivation of their souls…”)..”Every grocer-boy can reel off a Rolla-esque apostrophe” (“Tout garçon épicier est en mesure de débobiner une apostrophe Rollaque“) – Every grocery-boy can reel of a Dylan-esque (sic) apostrophe [Allen continues to read and annotate] – These are all Romantic heroes of the 1850’s, ’60s, and ’70’s (that Rimbaud lists)

“Les seconds romantiques sont très voyants..” (“The second Romantics are really visionaries..”) – Theophile Gautier – Gautier of the Club de Hashishins, hashish smokers – “(Charles) Baudelaire is the first visionary, king of poets, a real God! Unfortunately he lived in too artistic a milieu, and his much vaunted style is trivial. Inventions of the unknown demand new forms” (“Baudelaire est le premier voyant, roi des poètes, un vrai Dieu. Encore a-t-il vécu dans un milieu trop artiste; et la forme si vantée en lui est mesquine: les inventions d’inconnu réclament des formes nouvelles.“) – This is quite true, actually, I think, quite perceptive on his part, at fifteen! – Actually, it’s so funny the way he comes on – “Trained in the old forms…” ( “Rompue aux formes vieilles..”) [Allen continues reading, in English] – These are just names – [concludes reading of Rimbaud’s “Lettre du Voyant”, including note on the third poem enclosed, Accroupissements (“Squattings’)]

So (next) a sample of Rimbaud’s prose-poetry, in this case – “Aussitot que l’idee de Deluge se fut rassise..” (from the “Illuminations” Sort of a tone like that – “Aussitôt que l’idée du Déluge se fut rassise..” – In English, “As soon as the idea of the Deluge had subsided..”[or, in John Ashbery’s recent translation – “No sooner had the notion of the Flood regained its composure”] A hare stopped in the clover and swaying flowerbells and said a prayer to the rainbow, through the spider’s web” [Than a hare paused amid the gorse and trembling bellflowers and said its prayer to the rainbow through the spider’s web] – “Un lièvre s’arrêta dans les sainfoins et les clochettes mouvantes et dit sa prière à l’arc-en-ciel à travers la toile de l’araignée – ” It’s all like perfect cinema – A completely hard imagery in which you can see every eye-movement in the field – “Oh! the precious stones that began to hide..” [“Oh the precious stones that were hiding..”] – “Les castors bâtirent. Les “mazagrans” fumèrent dans les estaminets” (“Beavers built. “Mazagrans” smoked in the little bars” – “The beavers built. Tumblers of coffee steamed in the public houses”) – “Mazagrans” are, I think, little cigarette stalls, cigarette and paper-seller stalls, I think – “”Mazagrans” smoked in the little bars” – “Madame X installed a piano in the Alps” (“Madame X established a piano in the Alps” – “Madame (it’s actually star,star,star) xxx etablit un piano dans les Alpes” – a “piano” is a little piano, it’s not a piano, it’s a house-let, a social house, in the Alps – “Madame xxx installed a piano in the Alps”, “Madame xxx etablit un piano dans les Alpes”. It’s a funny kind of sound that you get in French, which is very crisp, clear, laconic, in his writing. Completely visual and condensed – “Madame xxx etablit un piano dans les Alpes”. [Allen continues reading the poem “Après le Déluge” from “Illuminations” ] – I’m skipping, or just choosing out little lines to get the essence of Rimbaud –

“Au bois il y a un oiseau, son chant vous arrête et vous fait rougir.” (“In the woods, there is a bird, his song stops you and makes you blush”)

“Il y a une cathédrale qui descend et un lac qui monte” (“There is a cathedral that goes down and a lake that goes up”)

“Il y a une troupe de petits comédiens en costumes, aperçus sur la route à travers la lisière du bois” (“There is a troupe of little actors in costume, glimpsed on the road through the border of the woods’)

The title is “Illuminations” meaning “colored pictures”. Not the visions, although there is a pun on the visionary illumination, but illuminations“, I think, is a French word for colored illustrations in old books.

There is also a thing called “Side Show” – “Parade” – “Very sturdy rogues . Several have exploited your worlds.” (William) Burroughs gets a lot of his style out of Rimbaud (if you’re at all familiar with Burroughs’ later style) – “Very sturdy rogues . Several have exploited your worlds.” [Allen continues reading] – “With no needs, and in no hurry to make use of their brilliant faculties…”..”J’ai seul le clef de cette parade sauvage” (“I alone have the key to this savage parade”) – On hashish, obviously.

Audio for this class (continuing from yesterday) may be found at http://www.archive.org/details/Allen_Ginsberg_class_The_history_of_poetry_part_15_June_1975_75P016

(beginning approximately 21 minutes in and continuing through to approximately 44-and-a-half minutes in)

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