To Monsieur Théodore de Banville

To the Poet on the Subject of Flowers.


Thus continually towards the dark azure,
Where the sea of topazes shimmers,
Will function in your evening
The Lilies, those pessaries of ectasy!

In our own age sago,
When Plants work for their living,
The Lily will dring blue loathings
From you religious Proses!

- Monsieur de Kerdrel's fleur-de-lys,
The Sonnet of eighteen-thirty,
The Lily they bestow on the Bard
Together with the pink and the amaranth!

Lilies! lilies! None to be seen!
Yet in your Verse, like the sleeves
Of the soft-footed Women of Sin,
Always these white flowers shiver!

Always, Dear Man, when you bathe,
Your shirt with yellow oxters
Swells in the morning breezes
Above the muddy forget-menots!

Love get through your customs
Only Lilacs, - o eye-wash!
And the Wild Violets,
Sugary spittle of the dark Nymphs!...


O Poets, if you had
Roses, blown Roses,
Red upon laurel stems,
And swollen with a thousand octaves!

If Banville would make them snow down,
Blood-tinged, whirling,
Blacking the wild eye of the stranger
With his ill-disposed interpretations!

In your forests and in your meadows,
O very peaceful photographers!
The Flora is more or less diverse
Like the stoppers on decanters!

Always those French vegetables,
Cross-gained, phthisical, absurd,
Navigated by the peaceful bellies
Of basset-hounds in twilight;

Always, after frightful drawings
Of blue Lotuses or Sunflowers,
Pink prints, holy pictures
For young girls making their communion!

The Asoka Ode agrees with the
Loretto window stanza form;
And heavy vivid butterflies
Are dunging on the Daisy.

Old greenery, and old galloons!
O vegetable fancy biscuits!
fancy-flowers of old Drawing-rooms!
- For cockchafers, not rattlesnakes,

The pulling vegetable baby dolls
Which Grandville would have put round the margins,
And which sucked in their colours
From ill-natured stars with eyeshades!

Yes, the drooling from your shepherd's pipes
Make some priceless glucoses!
- Pile of fried eggs in hold hats,
Lilies, Asokas, Lilacs and Roses!...


O white Hunter, running sockingless
Across the panic Pastures,
Can you not, ought you not
To know your botany a little?

I'm afraid you'd make succeed,
To russet Crickets, Cantharides,
And Rio golds to blues of Rhine, -
In short, to Norways, Floridas:

But, My dear Chap, Art does not consist now,
- it's the truth, - in allowing
To the astonishing Eucalyptus
boa-constrictors a hexameter long;

There now!... As if Mahogany
Served only, even in our Guianas,
As helter-skelters for monkeys,
Among the heavy vertigo of the lianas!

- In short, is a Flower, Rosemary
Or Lily, dead or alive, worth
The excrement of one sea-bird?
Is it worth a solitary candle-drip?

- And I mean what I say!
You, even sitting over there, in a
Bamboo hut, - with the shutters
Closed, and brown Persian rugs for hangings, -

You would scrawl blossoms
Worthy of extravagant Oise!...
- Poet ! these are reasonnings
No less absurd than arrogant!...


Speak, not of pampas in the spring
Black with terrible revolts,
But of tobacco and cotton trees!
Speak of exotic harvests!

Say, white face which Phoebus has tanned,
How many dollars
Pedro Velasquez of Habana ;
Cover with excrement the sea of Sorrento

Where the Swans go in thousands;
Let your lines campaign
For the clearing of the mangrove swamps
Riddled with pools and water-snakes!

Your quatrain plunges into the bloody thickets
And come back to offer to Humanity
Various subjects: white sugar,
Bronchial lozenges, and rubbers!

Let us know though You wheter the yellownesses
Of snow Peaks, near the Tropics,
Are insects which lay many eggs
Or microscopic lichens!

Find, o Hunter, we desire it,
One or two scented madder plants
Which Nature in trousers
May cause to bloom! - fr our Armies!

Find, on the outskirts of the Sleeping Wood,
Flowers, whick look like snouts,
Out of which drip golden pomades
On to the dark hair of buffaloes!

Find, in wild meadows, where on the Blue Grass
Shivers the silver of downy gowths,
Calyxex full of fiery Eggs
Cooking among the essential oils!

Find downy Thistles
Whose wool ten asses with glaring eyes
Labour to spin!
Find Flowers which are chairs!

Yes, find in the heart of coal-black seams
Flowers that are almost stones, - marvellous ones! -
Which, close to their hard pale ovaries
Bear gemlike tonsils!

Serve us, o Stuffer, this you can do,
On a splendid vermilion plate
Stews of syrupy Lilies
To corrode our German-silver spoons!


Someone will speak about great Love,
The thief of black Indulgences:
But neither Renan, nor Murr the cat
Have seen the immense Blue Thyrsuses!

You, quicken in our sluggishness,
By means of scents, hysteria;
Exalt us towards purities
Whiter than the Marys...

Tradesman! colonial! Medium!
Your Rhyme will well up, pink or white,
Like a blaze of sodium,
Like a bleeding rubber-tree!

But from your dark Poems, - Juggler!
dioptric white and green and red,
Let strange flowers burst out
And electric butterflies!

See! it's the Century of hell!
And the telegraph poles
Are going to adorn, - the iron-voiced lyre,
Your magnificent shoulder blades!

Above all, give us a rhymed account
Of the potato blight!
- And, in order to compose
Poems full of mystery

Intended to be read from Tréguier
To Paramaribo, go and buy
A few volumes by Monsieur Figuier,
- Illustrated! - at Hachette's !

Alcide Bava

A. R.

14 July 1871

- Text of the letter to Théodore de Banville, August 15, 1871
- As translated by Oliver Bernard: Arthur Rimbaud, Collected Poems (1962).

French version