Arthur Rimbaud - A Season in Hell

The Impossible

Ah! My life as a child, the open road in every weather; I was unnaturally abstinent, more detached than the best of beggars, proud to have no country, no friends, what stupidity that was. - And only now I realize it!

- I was right to distrust old men who never lost a chance for a caress, parasites on the health and cleanliness of our women, today when women are so much a race apart from us.

I was right in everything I distrusted: because I am running away!

I am running away!

I'll explain.

Even yesterday, I kept sighing: "God! There are enough of us damned down here! I've done time enough already in their ranks! I know them all. We always recognize each other; we disgust each other. Charity is unheard of among us. Still, we're polite; our relations with the world are quite correct." Is that surprising? The world! Businessmen, and idiots! - there's no dishonor in being here. - But the company of the elect, how would they receive us? For there are surely people, happy people, the false elect, since we must be bold or humble to aproach them. These are the real elect. No saintly hypocrites, these!

Since I've got back two cents' worth of reason - how quickly it goes! - I can see that my troubles come from not realizing soon enough that this is the Western World. These Western swamps! Not that light has paled, form worn out, or movement been misguided... All right! Now my mind wants absolutely to take on itself all the cruel developments that mind had undergone since the Orient collapsed... My mind demands it!

... And that's the end of my two cents' worth of reason! The mind is in control, it insists that I remain in the West. It will have to be silenced if I expect it to end as I always wanted to.

I used to say, to hell with martyrs' palms, all beacons of art, the inventor's pride, the plunderer's frenzy; I expected to return to the Orient and to original, eternal wisdom. But this is evidently a dream of depraved laziness!

And yet I had no intention of trying to escape from modern suffering. I have no high regard for the bastard wisdom of the Koran. - But isn't there a very real torment in knowing that since the dawn of that scientific discovery, Christianity, Man has been making a fool of himself, proving what is obvious, puffing with pride as he repeats his proofs, and living on that alone! This is a subtle, stupid torment; and this is the source of my spiritual ramblings. Nature may well be bored with it all! Prudhomme was born with Christ.

Isn't it because we cultivate the fog! We swallow fever with our watery vegetables. And drunkenness! And tobacco! And ignorance! And blind faith! - Isn't this all a bit far from the thought, the wisdom of the Orient, the original fatherland? Why have a modern world, if such poisons are invented!

Priests and preachers will say: Of course. But you are really referring to Eden. There is nothing for you in the past hsitory of Oriental races.... True enough. It was Eden I meant! How can this purity of ancient races affect my dream?

Philosophers will say: the world has no ages. Humanity moves from place to place, that's all. You are a Western man, but quite free to live in your Orient, as old a one as you want, - and to live in it as you like. Don't be a defeatist. Philosophers, you are part and parcel of your Western world!

Careful, mind. Don't rush madly after salvation. Train yourself! - Ah! Science never goes fast enough for us!

- But I see that my mind is asleep.

If it stays wide awake from this moment on, we would soon reach the truth, which may even now surround us with its weeping angels!... - If it had been wide awake until this moment, I would have never given in to degenerate instincts, long ago!... - If it had always been wide awake, I would be floating in wisdom!...

O Purity! Purity!

In this moment of awakening, I had a vision of purity! Through the mind we go to God!

What a crippling misfortune!

- As translated by Paul Schmidt, and published in 1976 by Harper Colophon Books, Harper & Row.

French version