Rimbaud Completeby Arthur Rimbaud
Enduring icon of creativity, authenticity, and rebellion, and the subject of numerous new biographies, Arthur Rimbaud is one of the most repeatedly scrutinized literary figures of the last half-century. Yet almost thirty years have elapsed without a major new translation of his writings. Remedying this state of affairs is Rimbaud Complete, the first and only truly complete edition of Rimbaud’s work in English, translated, edited, and introduced by Wyatt Mason.
Mason draws on a century of Rimbaud scholarship to choreograph a superbly clear-eyed presentation of the poet’s works. He arranges Rimbaud’s writing chronologically, based on the latest manuscript evidence, so readers can experience the famously teenaged poet’s rapid evolution, from the lyricism of “Sensation” to the groundbreaking early modernism of A Season in Hell.
In fifty pages of previously untranslated material, including award-winning early verses, all the fragmentary poems, a fascinating early draft of A Season in Hell, a school notebook, and multiple manuscript versions of the important poem “O saisons, ô chateaux,” Rimbaud Complete displays facets of the poet unknown to American readers. And in his Introduction, Mason revisits the Rimbaud myth, addresses the state of disarray in which the poet left his work, and illuminates the intricacies of the translator’s art.
Mason has harnessed the precision and power of the poet’s rapidly changing voice: from the delicate music of a poem such as “Crows” to the mature dissonance of the Illuminations, Rimbaud Complete unveils this essential poet for a new generation of readers.
“Wyatt Mason has located and tapped into Rimbaud’s voice as it swings from gnarled to straight-ahead to mystic to raucous.” —Roger Shattuck
“An important introduction of Rimbaud to another generation of readers.” —Booklist
“The best opportunity thus far to experience Rimbaud as fully as possible in English. Here is Rimbaud uncensored: the savage maker, the scathing satirist, the rigorous Alchemist of the Word, the master of metrics and innovator of the prose poem, the figure who made himself absolutely modern, the poetic visionary whose work systematically disorders the senses and resonates with a strange beauty, an exultant splendor.” —Edward Hirsch
“A welcome addition to the shelf of Rimbaud in English. Mason’s tireless zeal and endless inventiveness compel unfailing admiration.” —Arthur Goldhammer
Read an Excerpt
Fame is, after all, only the sum
of all the misunderstandings
that gather around a new name.
-rainer maria rilke
We know the face: the delicate features, the pale eyes, the uninflected expression. We know the slight turn of the head, the shadow clouding one cheek. We know the stare, forever directed past us, above us, focusing on some unknown something out of frame. It is an attractive face, but the more we examine it, the more it eludes us. And although it seems somehow benevolent, or at the very least unimposing, it tells us very little. It could belong to a matinee idol, a prince, or the boy next door. It could even belong to Arthur Rimbaud.
The face which comes down to us in a photograph snapped by Etienne Carjat in December 1871 was not the Paris photographer's only stab at Rimbaud. Two months earlier, the poet had visited Carjat's studio a first time. A very different face emerged from that session, one we rarely see.
In this photo, Rimbaud is dressed just as he would be in the second: the neat, dark coat; the pale vest, buttoned all the way up; the haphazardly knotted tie. But delicate features are not in evidence. The poet's cheeks are chubby. His nose looks twice as wide. His mouth, an inarticulate line later on, is full, its corners downturned. It looks like a bruise. Then there are his eyes. While still notably pale, this time they stare directly at us. Open, but like a wound. The expression seems to say: look at me, come on, I dare you. Were we not assured that this is Arthur Rimbaud, we would be hard-pressed to recognize him. As it happens, this is the photo Rimbaud's contemporaries said resembled him most.
Yet in the century since his death, the December photo has become Rimbaud, reproduced in nearly every book devoted to him or his work. The October photo has fallen away. Our preference for the later image is not, therefore, a reflection of how Rimbaud looked in his time, rather how we have come to prefer him to look in ours. Jean Cocteau, describing the appeal of the December portrait, wrote: "He looks like an angel . . . His eyes are stars." Enid Starkie, an early biographer, found a "look of extraordinary purity . . . an astonishing and spiritual beauty." Thus a beautiful face, like how many others before it, helped launch a thousand myths.
For in the short span of the century since his death, Rimbaud has been memorialized in song and story as few in history: a half-dozen biographies in English; fictional accounts in celluloid and print; documentaries; popular songs in many languages; numerous settings of his poems to music; even an opera. The thumbnail of his legend has proved irresistible: the boy genius who abandoned writing at twenty; the rapscallion who seduced a married Paul Verlaine; the thug who bullied everyone, even stabbed Carjat; the visionary who took drugs to expand his creative consciousness; the scoundrel who sold slaves in Africa; the martyr who died young.
Some of these tantalizing elements may even be true. But while the critical and biographical debate continues, readers are faced with an ancillary difficulty. So accustomed have we become to these variations on the Myth of Rimbaud, that when we turn to the poems themselves it is difficult to keep our preconceptions at bay. We find ourselves looking for the Adolescent Poet here, the Hallucinogenic Poet there, the Gay Poet everywhere. The problem with all of these adjectives is that they put too plain a face on the poems. And the poems vessels of indeterminacy, ambiguity and frequently strange beauty are easily disfigured by a blunt critical blade.
But: if we can manage to ignore what we know about Rimbaud or believe we know, if we can focus briefly on what he made rather than what he may have done, the opportunity to explore one of the most varied troves of individual expression in literature awaits us.
Meet the Author
The poetic genius of Arthur Rimbaud (1854–1891) blossomed early and burned briefly. Nearly all of his work was composed when he was in his teens, before all trace of his literary life disappeared with him into the African desert of his later years. During the century following his death at thirty-seven, Rimbaud’s work and life have influenced generations of readers and writers. Radical in its day, Rimbaud’s writing took some of the first and most fundamental steps toward the liberation of poetry from the formal constraints of its history, and now represents one of the most powerful and enduring bodies of poetic expression in human history.
Wyatt Mason studied literature at the University of Pennsylvania, Columbia University, and the University of Paris. His first translation, Pierre Michon’s Masters and Servants, was a finalist for the French-American Foundation Translation Prize. He has translated five books by Michon, including the forthcoming The Origin of the World. His current projects include a translation of Arthur Rimbaud's complete correspondence, and a new edition of Dante’s La Vita Nuova, also for the Modern Library. His writing has appeared in The Nation, the Los Angeles Times, and many other publications.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews
Thinks of dove and waits for her