The meteoric and turbulent career of Arthur Rimbaud (1854–1891) was crammed into four teenage years, in which he wrote two masterpieces, The Illuminations and A Season in Hell, and some wonderful short poems. At nineteen he then turned his back on the literary life and left France, travelling to Aden where he lived for ten years, working as a trader.
Oliver Bernard’s Rimbaud was first published in the Penguin Poets series in 1962, then as a Penguin Classic in 1986. This newly revised edition of his superb presentation incorporates corrections and revisions and adds Rimbaud’s juvenile Latin verse written as school exercises. The poems are presented in bilingual form with Bernard’s lively and accurate prose versions below the originals. As well as an outline Life of Rimbaud, Bernard has written a useful and entertaining introduction, to which he has added a new Preface and some Additional Notes. A selection of Rimbaud’s letters is also included.
This is the best and most helpful presentation of the French genius’s work for English-language readers and students of French poetry. Oliver Bernard’s translations were described in a Times review by Robert Nye as ‘quite outstanding . . . so intrinsically poetic that it comes as no surprise to find that Bernard writes original verse himself.’ Anvil has published his poetry, Verse &c. (2001) and his Apollinaire: Selected Poems (new edition 2004). He has lived in Norfolk for over 30 years.
Cinq heures du soir
Depuis huit jours, j’avais déchiré mes bottines
Aux cailloux des chemins. J’entrais à Charleroi.
– Au Cabaret-Vert: je demandai des tartines
De beurre et du jambon qui fût à moitié froid.
Bienheureux, j’allongeai les jambes sous la table
Vert e: je contemplai les sujets très naïfs
De la tapisserie. – Et ce fut adorable,
Quand la fille aux tétons énormes, aux yeux vifs,
– Celle-là, ce n’est pas un baiser qui l’épeure! –
Rieuse, m’apporta des tartines de beurre,
Du jambon tiède, dans un plat colorié,
Du jambon rose et blanc parfumé d’une gousse
D’ail, – et m’emplit la chope immense, avec sa mousse
Que dorait un rayon de soleil arriéré.
At the Green Inn
Five in the evening
For a whole week I had ripped up my boots on the stones of the roads. I walked into Charleroi. – Into the Green Inn: I asked for some slices of bread and butter, and some half-cooled ham.
Happy, I stuck out my legs under the green table: I studied the artless patterns of the wallpaper – and it was charming when the girl with the huge breasts and lively eyes,
– a kiss wouldn’t scare that one! – smilingly brought me some bread and butter and lukewarm ham, on a coloured plate; –
pink and white ham, scented with a clove of garlic – and filled my huge beer mug, whose froth was turned into gold by a ray of late sunshine.