Arthur Rimbaud - ILLUMINATIONS: A Bilingual Edition
Rimbaud thought of and described himself as a “Voyant.” Not as a “voyeur,” although there was surely something of that in him as well. The word he used was “Seer,” as in the word “Prophet,” as one who looks beyond the obvious, the apparent, the exterior appearances of peoples, places, and things. The AMERICAN HERITAGE DICTIONARY (1969-70-71) relates a “seer” to a “clairvoyant,” or to “someone who has the supposed power to perceive things that are out of the natural range of human senses.” The irony of this statement in regard to Rimbaud is that anyone who is in the least way acquainted with his work or with him, the boy genius who wrote most of his entire oeuvre between the ages of seventeen and twenty-three, went about his oxymoronic poetic career with a project, that of deliberately “deregulating his senses,” so as to become a Poet-Seer. To see – or not to see: that was his option. “To See” became his will. In his poetic career, Rimbaud chose “to see” by confounding the very instruments of vision: his eyes and his intellect. He dreamed about and “saw” the Crusades, he “saw” enchantments, magical dream-flowers, a flower that says its name, a digitalis that “opens up over a tapestry of silver filigree, of eyes, and tresses,” flowers that were like crystal disks, or made of agate and rubies. He “saw” giant candelabras, grasses made of emeralds and steel, theatrical stages that could accommodate horrors or masterpieces, circus horses and children. He “heard” rare music, the sounds of waves and of water, or “the rare rumor of pearls, conchs, and seashells” hidden deep in the ocean. He saw russet robes, objects made of opal, sapphires, or metals. He “saw” objects made of steel studded with golden stars, angels of fire and of ice, carriages made with diamonds. He also described what one might call “nothingness” as opposed to “being,” in these days of ours. And there was great diversity in his “visual” geography: he “saw” Epirus, the Peloponnese, Japan, Arabia, Carthage, Italy, America; he envisioned tacky embankments in Venice, and he juxtaposed human ugliness to the surreal beauty of nature. But frequently, after “seeing” gorgeous visions, as in “Bridges,” a sheaf of light, falling straight down from the sky, “[would annihilate] that comedy.” In the Rimbaud poem that some have translated as “The Word’s Alchemy,” he invented colors for vowels: A was black, E white, I red, O blue, and U green. And he went on to say: “I adjusted each consonant’s shape and movement, and with instinctive rhythms, I complimented myself on inventing a poetics that, one day or other, would become accessible to all.” His visionary “poetics,” he clearly believed, would become universal. As one reads through ILLUMINATIONS, a title given to Rimbaud’s posthumously printed collection of poems written late in his youthful literary career (some scholars believe it should be considered as one long poem, divided into parts), the reader’s “eyes” begin to envisage certain thematics that are not only visually “distracting,” in the sense of disturbing or diverting from the original meaning of an object or word, but as consonant in the variety of meanings the words contain. One notices the sensual, the visual and the auditory power of water, flowers, geography, the elements, the exotic, the country, the city, the theatrical, in all senses of the word (a space for both masterpieces and failures), the sounds of rarefied music and underwater shells, the opposition of terror to beauty and vice-versa, the desire for being, for unity, for fulfillment, as opposed to the knowledge of nothingness, emptiness, cruelty, and loneliness. One senses the contrasts of colors and the taste for grandeur and immensity as opposed to that which is boring, vicious, and dull. The tensions that exist in Rimbaud’s poetry between a taste, a desire, a dream of grandeur and magnificence – that he wished he could fulfill not only for himself but for the world – are strik
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