Rimbaud's Soft Parade
I went to the Proms last night, and saw a wonderful performance of Les Illuminations, Britten's musical rendition of Rimbaud's poems, by the singer Ian Bostridge. It was the first time I've come across Rimbaud's verse, I'm embarrassed to say, and I loved it.
His verse reminded me of TS Eliot's early poetry, which of course is (like Rimbaud) very influenced by Baudelaire - all three poets achieve this sort of flaneurish stroll through the infernal streets of modernity.'Only I have the key to this savage parade', Rimbaud snarls with Luciferian pride, as he shows us the pagan sights of London (he wrote the poems while teaching here). He, it should be said, seems more enthralled by modernity than Eliot. His poems reminded me also of the later poetry of avant-garde rock and roll, by the likes of Lou Reed, David Bowie and Jim Morrison, who had a similar take on the 'soft parade' of modern life.
Anyway, here's one of the poems, Les Villes, with the English translation below:
Cities indeed! This is a people for whom those Alleghanies and Lebanons of dream were staged! Chalets of crystal and wood that move on invisible rails and pulleys. Old craters circled by colossi, and palm-trees of copper roaring melodiously in flames. Feasts of love resound, on canals that hang there behind the chalets. The hunt of chimes cries in the gorges. Guilds of gigantic singers flock among robes and oriflammes dazzling as the light on the summits.
On platforms in the midst of the gulfs, Rolands trumpet their valour. On bridges across the abyss, and the roofs of inns, the sky’s heat covers the masts with flags. Crumbling apotheoses overtake the high meadows where seraphic centauresses step among avalanches. Above the line of highest crests, a sea troubled by Venus’ eternal birth, charged with orphic fleets and the murmur of precious pearls and conches – that sea darkens at times with mortal lightning. On the slopes, harvests of flowers, vast as our swords and cups, bellow. Processions of Mabs in russet, opaline robes ascend the ravines. Their feet in the waterfalls and briars, the deer up there suckle at Diana’s breast. The suburban Bacchantes sob, and the moon burns and howls. Venus enters caves of smiths and hermits. Clusters of bell-towers sing the ideas of peoples. From castles built of bone an unknown music issues. All the legends evolve and elks move through the towns. The paradise of storms subsides. Savages ceaselessly dance the nocturnal feast. And, once, I descended into the stir of a Baghdad street, where crowds sang the joy of fresh labours, in the dull breeze, circling without power to elude the fabulous phantoms of the hills where they must have gathered.
What kind arms, what sweet hour will recover that region from which my slumbers and slightest movements come?