Le Bateau Ivre The Drunken Boat Arthur Rimbaud an extract Sweeter than the flesh of sour apples to children, the green water penetrated my pinewood hull and washed me clean of the bluish wine-stains and the splashes of vomit, carrying away both rudder and anchor. At that time I was feeling pretty bad about the fact that I was drunk. My knowledge of Rimbaud prior to that evening was limited to: he was a dead French poet, that Bob Dylan liked him, and that he wrote all his major works very young, wild and drunk. With no expectations, other than hoping to find something drunken yet brilliant to alleviate my guilt, I delved in. This poem inspired and disturbed me in equal measures in the way it manages to create beauty in the most grotesque of images, even when mentioning I think symbolically winey vomit.
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As I was going down impassive Rivers, I no longer felt myself guided by haulers: Yelping redskins had taken them as targets And had nailed them naked to colored stakes. I was indifferent to all crews, The bearer of Flemish wheat or English cottons When with my haulers this uproar stopped The Rivers let me go where I wanted.
And loosened Peninsulas Have not undergone a more triumphant hubbub The storm blessed my sea vigils Lighter than a cork I danced on the waves That are called eternal rollers of victims, Ten nights, without missing the stupid eye of the lighthouses!
Sweeter than the flesh of hard apples is to children The green water penetrated my hull of fir And washed me of spots of blue wine And vomit, scattering rudder and grappling-hook And from then on I bathed in the Poem Of the Sea, infused with stars and lactescent, Devouring the azure verses; where, like a pale elated Piece of flotsam, a pensive drowned figure sometimes sinks; Where, suddenly dyeing the blueness, delirium And slow rhythms under the streaking of daylight, Stronger than alcohol, vaster than our lyres, The bitter redness of love ferments!
I know the skies bursting with lightning, and the waterspouts And the surf and the currents; I know the evening, And dawn as exalted as a flock of doves And at times I have seen what man thought he saw! I have seen the low sun spotted with mystic horrors, Lighting up, with long violet clots, Resembling actors of very ancient dramas, The waves rolling far off their quivering of shutters!
I have dreamed of the green night with dazzled snows A kiss slowly rising to the eyes of the sea, The circulation of unknown saps, And the yellow and blue awakening of singing phosphorous! I followed during pregnant months the swell, Like hysterical cows, in its assault on the reefs, Without dreaming that the luminous feet of the Marys Could constrain the snout of the wheezing Oceans!
Rainbows stretched like bridal reins Under the horizon of the seas to greenish herds! I have seen enormous swamps ferment, fish-traps Where a whole Leviathan rots in the rushes! Avalanches of water in the midst of a calm, And the distances cataracting toward the abyss! Glaciers, suns of silver, nacreous waves, skies of embers! Hideous strands at the end of brown gulfs Where giant serpents devoured by bedbugs Fall down from gnarled trees with black scent!
I should have liked to show children those sunfish Of the blue wave, the fish of gold, the singing fish. At times a martyr weary of poles and zones, The sea, whose sob created my gentle roll, Brought up to me her dark flowers with yellow suckers And I remained, like a woman on her knees Resembling an island tossing on my sides the quarrels And droppings of noisy birds with yellow eyes And I sailed on, when through my fragile ropes Drowned men sank backward to sleep!
Now I, a boat lost in the foliage of caves, Thrown by the storm into the birdless air I whose water-drunk carcass would not have been rescued By the Monitors and the Hanseatic sailboats; Free, smoking, topped with violet fog, I who pierced the reddening sky like a wall, Bearing, delicious jam for good poets Lichens of sunlight and mucus of azure, Who ran, spotted with small electric moons, A wild plank, escorted by black seahorses, When Julys beat down with blows of cudgels The ultramarine skies with burning funnels; I, who trembled, hearing at fifty leagues off The moaning of the Behemoths in heat and the thick Maelstroms, Eternal spinner of the blue immobility I miss Europe with its ancient parapets!
I have seen sidereal archipelagos! Dawns are heartbreaking. Every moon is atrocious and every sun bitter. Acrid love has swollen me with intoxicating torpor O let my keel burst!
O let me go into the sea! If I want a water of Europe, it is the black Cold puddle where in the sweet-smelling twilight A squatting child full of sadness releases A boat as fragile as a May butterfly. No longer can I, bathed in your languor, o waves, Follow in the wake of the cotton boats, Nor cross through the pride of flags and flames, Nor swim under the terrible eyes of prison ships.
Reprinted by permission of The University of Chicago Press.
The Drunken Boat
As I was floating down unconcerned Rivers I no longer felt myself steered by the haulers: Gaudy Redskins had taken them for targets Nailing them naked to coloured stakes. I cared nothing for all my crews, Carrying Flemish wheat or English cottons. When, along with my haulers those uproars were done with The Rivers let me sail downstream where I pleased. Into the ferocious tide-rips Last winter, more absorbed than the minds of children, I ran! And the unmoored Peninsulas Never endured more triumphant clamourings The storm made bliss of my sea-borne awakenings.
Le Bateau Ivre (The Drunken Boat)