Charleville, 13th May 1871.
So you are teacher again. We owe a duty to Society, you told me; you belong to the
teaching profession: you are running along the right track. - I too, follow the principle: I am cynically getting myself kept;
I dig up old imbeciles from school: All the stupid, dirty, nasty things that I can invent, in deed and words, I give it to them: I am paid in beer and women. Stat mater dolorosa, dum pendet filius. - I must devoted myself to Society, that's true, - and I'm right.
- You too, are right, for the present. Basically, you only see subjective poetry in your principle: your obstinacy to go back to the
university rack, - forgive me! - proves it! But you will always end up like a self-satisfied who did nothing, having never wanted
to do anything.
Not to mention that your subjective poetry will always be terribly insipid. One day, I hope, - many other people hope the same thing, - that I shall see the objective poetry in your principle, I shall see it more sincerely than you would! - I shall be a worker: that is the idea that holds me back, when mad rage drives me towards the battle of Paris - where so many workers are still dying as I write to you! Work now, never, never; I'm on strike.
Now, I louse up myself as much as possible. Why? I want to be a poet, and I'm working to make myself a Seer: you will not understand at all, and I hardly know how to explain it to you. The point is to arrive at the unknown by the dissoluteness of all the senses. The suffering are enormous, but one has to be strong, to be born poet, and I have recognized myself to be a poet. It is not my fault at all. It is wrong to say: I think. One ought to say: I am thought. - Pardon the pun. -
I is someone else. No matter for the wood that finds itself a violin, and scoff at the thoughtless, who argue about something they completely ignore!
You are not a Teacher for me. I give you this: is it satire, as you would say? Is it poetry? It is fantasy, always. - But, I beg of you not to underscore with your pencil, nor - too much - with your thought:
My poor heart dribbles at the stern....
Ithypallic, erkish, lewd,
When they have finished chewing their quids
That does not mean nothing. - Answer me:
M. Deverrière, for A. R.
Charleville, 15th May 1871.
I've decided to give you an hour of new literature. I begin now with a topical psalm:
Spring is evidently here, for...
Here is some prose about the future of poetry:
- all ancient poetry leads to the Greek one; Harmonious Life. - From Greece down to the romantic movement- Middle Ages - there are men of letters and versifiers. From Ennius to Theroldus, from Theroldus to Casimir Delavigne, all is rhymed prose, a game, the sloppiness and glory of innumerable idiotic generations: Racine is the pure, the strong, the great. If his rhymes had been breathed upon, his hemstitches got mixed up, the Divine Fool would have been as unknown today as the first author of Origins to come along. - After Racine the game went mouldy. It has lasted two thousand years.
Neither joke, nor paradox. The reason inspires me more certitude on this subject than a Young-France would ever have had with rage. Besides, freedom to the new! to execrate their ancestors: we are at home, and we have time.
Romanticism has never been properly judged. Who would have judged it? The critics!! The romantics, who prove so well that the song is so rarely the work, that is to say, the sung and understood thought of the singer?
For I is someone else. If brass wakes up a bugle, it is not his fault.
That is obvious to me: I witness the unfolding of my thought: I watch it, I listen to it: I
make a stoke of the bow: the symphony makes movement into the depths, or comes in one leap upon the stage.
If the old fools had not found only the false significance of the Ego, we should not now be having to sweep away these millions of skeletons which, since an infinite time,! have been piling up the fruits of their one-eyed intellects, proclaiming themselves to be the authors!
In Greece, I said, verse and lyres give rhythm to the Action. After, music and rhymes are a game, a pastime. The study of this past charmed the curious: many of them delight in reviving these antiquities: - it is for them. Universal intelligence has always thrown out its ideas, naturally; men picked up part of these fruits of the mind: they acted according to, they wrote books about them: so was the way things went on, the man not working upon himself, not being yet awakened, or not in the fullness of the great dream. Civil servants, writers: author, creator, poet, this man has never existed!
The first study of a man who wants to be a poet is his self-knowledge, complete; he looks for his own soul, he inspects it, he tests it, learns it. As soon as he knows it, he must cultivate it. That seems simple: in every mind a natural development takes place; so many egoists proclaim themselves authors; there are many others who attribute their intellectual progress to themselves! - But the soul has to be made monstrous: after the fashion of the comprachicos*, if you like! Imagine a man planting and cultivating warts on his face.
I say that one must be a seer, make oneself a seer.
The Poet makes himself a seer by a long, immense, and rational dissoluteness of all the senses. All the forms of love, of suffering, of madness; he searches himself, he consumes all the poisons in him, to only keep their quintessences. Inexpressible torture where he needs all the faith, all the superhuman strength, where be becomes, above all others, the great patient, the great criminal, the great accursed, - and the supreme Savant! - For he arrives at the unknown! Because he has cultivated his soul, already rich, more than anyone else! He reaches the unknown, and when, terrified, he ends up by losing the meaning of his visions, at least he has seen them! Let him die of his bound through the unheard-of and countless things: other horrible workers will come; they will begin from the horizons where the other has succumbed!
- To be continued in six minutes -
Here I insert a second psalm; out of the text: be so good as to lend a friendly ear to it, - and everybody will be delighted. - I have the bow in hand, I begin:
A tincture of tears washes
There. And please note that, if I were not afraid of making you pay out more than sixty centimes on postage, - I, poor pauper who, for seven months, haven't had a bronze cent! - I would also send you my Lovers of Paris, a hundred hexameters, Sir, and my Death of Paris, two hundred hexameters!
- I go on:
So the poet is truly the thief of fire.
He is responsible for humanity, even for the animals; he will have to make feel, touch, hear his inventions; if what he brings back from over there has a form, he gives form; if it is formless, he gives it formless. A language has to be found;
- Besides, every word being an idea, the time of a universal language will come. One has to be an Academician, - deader than a fossil -, to bring to perfection a dictionary of any language. Weak-minded people beginning to think about the first letter of the alphabet, would soon rush into madness!
This language will be from the soul for the soul, summing up everything, perfumes, sounds, colours, from the thought latching on to thought and pulling. The poet would define the quantity of unknown awakening in the universal soul in his own time; he would give more - than the formulation of his thought, than the notation of his walking toward Progress! Enormity becoming the norm, absorbed by everybody, he would really be a multiplier of progress!
This future will be materialist, as you see; - Always full of Number and Harmony, these poems will be made to stay. - in fact, it would be still Greek poetry, in a way.
Eternal art would have its function, since the poets are citizens. Poetry will no longer takes it rhythm from action; it will be ahead of it.
These poets will be! When the infinite servitude of woman is broken, when she lives for herself and by herself, the man, - hitherto abominable, - having given her her freedom, she too will be a poet! The woman will find some unknown! Will her worlds of ideas be different from ours? - She will find strange, unfathomable, repulsive, delicious things; we shall take them, we shall understand them.
Meanwhile, let us ask the poets for the new, - ideas and forms. All the clever ones would soon believe that they have satisfied this demand: - It is not so!
The first Romantics were seers without quite realising it: the cultivation of their souls began with accidents: abandoned locomotives, but burning, which the rails still carry along for a while. - Lamartine is sometimes a seer, but strangled by the old form. Hugo, too pigheaded, really has some Vision in his last works: Les Misérables is a real poem. I have Les Châtiments with me; Stella shows the limit of Hugo's vision. Too many Belmontet and Lamennais, Jehovahs and columns, old cracked enormities.
Musset is fourteen times execrable to us, suffering generations carried away by visions - to whom his angelic sloth is an insult! O! the insipid tales and proverbs! O the Nuits! O Rolla, O Namouna, O the Chalice! All is French, that is to say detestable to the highest degree; French, not Parisian ! One more work of the evil genius that inspired Rabelais, Voltaire, Jean La Fontaine,! with commentary given by M. Taine! Spring-like, Musset's wit! Charming, his love! There it is enamel painting, solid poetry! French poetry will be enjoyed for a long time, but in France. Every grocer's boy can reel off a Rollaesque speech, every seminarist has the five hundred rhymes hidden away in the secrecy of a notebook. At fifteen, these outbursts of passion make boys to be rutting, at sixteen they already content themselves with reciting with heart; at eighteen, even at seventeen, every schoolboy who has the ability, does a Rolla, writes a Rolla! Perhaps some still die of it. Musset was bot be able to do anything; there were visions behind the gauze of the curtains: he closed his eyes. French, sloppy, dragged from bar-room to schoolroom desk, the fine corpse is dead, and henceforth, let us not even bother to awaken it with our abomination!
The second Romantics are very seeing: Théophile Gautier, Lec. de Lisle, Th. de Banville. But because examining the invisible and hearing the unheard-of is quite different from recapturing the spirit of dead things, Baudelaire is the first seer, king of poets, a real God. But he lived in a too artistic circle; and the form which is so much praised in him is stingy: inventions of the unknown demand new forms.
Broken in the old forms, among the innocents, A. Renaud - has done his Rolla - L. Grandet - has done his Rolla; the Gauls and the Musset, G. Lafenestre, Coran, Cl. Popelin, Soulary, L. Salles; the scholars, Marc, Aicard, Theuriet; the dead and the imbeciles, Autran, Barbier, L. Pichat, Lemoyne, The Deschamps, the Desessarts; the journalists, L. Cladel, Robert Luzarches, X. de Ricard; the fantasists, C. Mendès; the bohemians; the women; the talents, Léon Dierx, Sully-Prudhomme, Coppée - the new school, called Parnassian, possesses two seers: Albert Mérat and Paul Verlaine, a real poet.
- There you are.- Thus I am working to make myself a seer. And let us finish with a pious song.
Very late, when he feels his stomach churn,
You would be execrable not to reply: quickly because in a week I shall be in Paris, perhaps.
Goodbye. A. Rimbaud.
- *comprachicos: word from "L'Homme qui rit" by Victor Hugo (1869).
Children kidnappers who mutilated their victims to change them in monsters and to win money with their exhibition.
- Rimbaud's letters written in London are kept in the Royal Library Albert I in Brussels. They are extracted from the book n° 4: Rimbaud les lettres manuscrites, commentaires, transcriptions et cheminements des manuscrits by Claude Jeancolas.
- Translation by Catherine, with the help of Angie, Dany, and Oliver Bernard's book: Arthur Rimbaud, Collected Poems.