Illuminations (Ashbery Translation)

Illuminations (Ashbery Translation)

by Arthur Rimbaud

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"If we are absolutely modern—and we are—it's because Rimbaud commanded us to be."—John Ashbery, from the preface


"If we are absolutely modern—and we are—it's because Rimbaud commanded us to be."—John Ashbery, from the preface

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The prose poems of Illuminations include Rimbaud's most exotic ecstasies and most insistent contradictions, as well as (most likely) his last completed works: "crystal boulevards rise up and intersect, immediately populated by poor families who shop for groceries at the fruit seller's," while "the inevitable descent of the sky and visiting memories and the séance of rhythms occupy the home, the head and the world of the mind." Some may wonder whether we need yet another version of this much-translated book. But anything Ashbery does deserves attention, given his own towering reputation. Ashbery also lived in France for much of the 1960s and has translated several French moderns before. His versions of Rimbaud can be playful, even flirtatious, with an undercurrent of malice wholly true to the original ("Very robust rascals" for "Des drôles très solides"), and they pay attention to the ear: the poem "Bottom," for example, begins with a tussle of long "e" and short "i" sounds: "Since reality was too prickly for my lavish personality." Ashbery's Rimbaud (perhaps paired with Donald Revell's) should spark fresh discussion of the mercurial and evasive original, given often to dreamy reverie, yet just as likely to turn and spit in the unsuspecting reader's face. Presented with the original French en face. (Apr.)
Patti Smith
“John Ashbery has gifted us with an exquisite, untainted translation of Rimbaud; a transmission as pure as a winged dove driven by snow.”
Harold Bloom
“More than a century after Arthur Rimbaud composed his Illuminations, they are reborn in John Ashbery's magnificent translation. It is fitting that the major American poet since Hart Crane and Wallace Stevens should give us this noble version of the precursor of all three.”
J. D. McClatchy
“This is the book that made poetry modern, and John Ashbery's sizzling new translation lets Rimbaud's eerie grandeur burst into English. Finally we have the key to open the door onto these magic Illuminations, and all their 'elegance, knowledge, violence!' This is an essential volume, a true classic.”
Joy Williams
“A marriage divine.”
Paula Fox
“To translate from one language into another is to risk losing the force, the soul, of the original. But not in this instance of John Ashberry's splendid version of Rimbaud's Illuminations. "Wise music is missing from our desire," he writes in his English version of the last line of "Conte" ("Tale"), losing neither the substance nor the truth of Rimbaud's great poetry.”
Lydia Davis
…a meticulously faithful yet nimbly inventive translation…It takes one sort of linguistic sensitivity to stay close to the original in a pleasing way; another to bring a certain inventiveness to one's choices without being unfaithful. Ashbery's ingenuity is evident at many moments in the book…We are fortunate that [he] has turned his attention to a text he knows so well, and brought to it such care and imaginative resourcefulness.
—The New York Times
John Timpane - Philadelphia Inquirer
“Rimbaud’s epoch-making poems come through in all their bizarre originality, their brusque, unsettling freshness.”
Charles Rosen - New York Review of Books
“This is a landscape not only of the imagination, but of an imagination that is still affecting us profoundly.”
Lydia Davis - New York Times Book Review
“Meticulously faithful yet nimbly inventive. . . . We are fortunate that John Ashbery has . . .
brought to it such care and imaginative resourcefulness.”

Product Details

Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
5.70(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.90(d)

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Meet the Author

Unknown beyond the avant-garde at the time of his death in 1891, Arthur Rimbaud has become one of the most liberating influences on twentieth-century culture. Born Jean Nicolas Arthur Rimbaud in Charleville, France, in 1854, Rimbaud’s family moved to Cours d’Orléans, when he was eight, where he began studying both Latin and Greek at the Pension Rossat. While he disliked school, Rimbaud excelled in his studies and, encouraged by a private tutor, tried his hand at poetry. Shortly thereafter, Rimbaud sent his work to the renowned symbolist poet Paul Verlaine and received in response a one-way ticket to Paris. By late September 1871, at the age of sixteen, Rimbaud had ignited with Verlaine one of the most notoriously turbulent affairs in the history of literature. Their relationship reached a boiling point in the summer of 1873, when Verlaine, frustrated by an increasingly distant Rimbaud, attacked his lover with a revolver in a drunken rage. The act sent Verlaine to prison and Rimbaud back to Charleville to finish his work on A Season in Hell. The following year, Rimbaud traveled to London with the poet Germain Nouveau, to compile and publish his transcendent Illuminations. It was to be Rimbaud’s final publication. By 1880, he would give up writing altogether for a more stable life as merchant in Yemen, where he stayed until a painful condition in his knee forced him back to France for treatment. In 1891, Rimbaud was misdiagnosed with a case of tuberculosis synovitis and advised to have his leg removed. Only after the amputation did doctors determine Rimbaud was, in fact, suffering from cancer. Rimbaud died in Marseille in November of 1891, at the age of 37. He is now considered a saint to symbolists and surrealists, and his body of works, which include Le bateau ivre (1871), Une Saison en Enfer (1873), and Les Illuminations (1873), have been widely recognized as a major influence on artists stretching from Pablo Picasso to Bob Dylan.

Pulitzer Prize–winning poet John Ashbery has translated many French writers, including Alfred Jarry, Pierre Reverdy, and Raymond Roussel. In 2011 he was awarded the National Book Foundation’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

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