Those Who Sit

Nameless and Friendless

Dark with knobbed growths, peppered with pock-marks like hail, their eyes ringed with
Green, warty fingers clenched on their thigh-bones
Their skulls stained with indeterminate blotches
Like the leprous discolorations of ancient walls;

In amorous seizures they have grafted
Their weird bone structures to the great dark skeletons
Of their chairs; their feet are entwined
Morning and evening, on the rickety rails!

These old men have always been one flesh with their seats,
Feeling bright suns drying their skins to the texture of calico,
Or else, looking at the window-panes where the snow is turning grey,
Shivering with the painful shiver of the toad.

And their Seats are kind to them; coloured
Brown with age, the straw yields to the angularities of their buttocks;
The spirit of ancient suns glows, bound
In these braids of ears in which the corn fermented.

And the Seated Ones, knees drawn up to their teeth, green pianists
Whose ten fingers keep drumming under their seats,
Listen to the tapping of each other's melancholy barcarolles,
And their heads nod back and forth as in the act of love.

- Oh don't make them get up! It's a catastrophe ...
They rear up like growling tom-cats when struck,
Slowly spreading their shoulders... What rage!
Their trousers puff out at their swelling backsides.

And you listen to them as they bump their bald heads
Against the dark walls, stamping and stamping with their crooked feet,
And their coat-buttons are the eyes of wild beasts
Which fix yours from the end of the corridors!

And then they have an invisible weapon which can kill:
Returning, their eyes seep the black poison
With which the beaten bitch's eye is charged
And you sweat trapped in the horrible funnel.

Reseated, their fists retreating into soiled cuffs
They think about those who have made them get up
And, from dawn until dusk, their tonsils in bunches
Tremble under their meagre chins, fir to burst.

When austere slumbers have lowered their lids
They dream on their arms of seats become fertile,
Of perfect little loves of open-work chairs
Surrounding dignified desks.

Flowers of ink dropping pollen like commas
Lull them asleep, in their rows of squat flower-cups
Like dragonflies threading their flight along the flags
- And their membra virilia are aroused by barbed ears of wheat.

- As translated by Oliver Bernard: Arthur Rimbaud, Collected Poems (1962)

French version