My Little Mistresses

The Young Ladies of Avignon

A tincture of tears washes
The cabbage-green skies:
Beneath the dripping tree with tender shoots,
Your waterproofs

Whitened by peculiar moons
With round staring eyes,
Knock your kneecaps together,
My ugly ones!

We loved each other in those days,
Blue ugly one!
We used to eat boiled eggs
And chickweed!

One evening you anointed me poet,
Blond ugly one:
Come down here, let me smack you
Across my knees;

I have puked up your brillantine,
Black ugly one;
You would stop the sound of my mandolin
Before it was out of my head.

Ugh! My dried spittle,
Red-headed ugly one,
Still infects the wrinckles
Of your round breast!

O my little Mistresses,
How I hate you!
Plaster with painful blisters
Your ugly bosoms!

Trample upon my little pots
Of feelings;
Now then jump! Be ballerinas for me
Just for a moment!

Your shoulder-blades are out of joint,
O my loves!
With a star on your hobbling backs
Turn in your turns!

And yet after all, it's for these shoulders of mutton
That I've made rhymes!
I'd like to break your hips
For having loved!

Insipid heap of fallen stars,
Pile up in the corners!
- You'll be extinguished in God, saddled
With ignoble cares!

Whitened by peculiar moons,
With round staring eyes,
Knock your kneecaps together,
My ugly ones!


- As translated by Oliver Bernard: Arthur Rimbaud, Collected Poems (1962).
- Text of the letter to Paul Demeny, May 15, 1871.

French version