Arthur Rimbaud - A Season in Hell



The Foolish Virgin


The Infernal Bridgegroom


Let us hear the confession of an old friend in Hell:

"O Lord, O Celestial Bridegroom, do not turn thy face from the confession of the most pitiful of thy handmaidens. I am lost. I'm drunk. I'm impure. What a life!

"Pardon, Lord in Heaven, pardon! Ah! pardon! All these tears! And all the tears to come later on, I hope!

"Later on, I will meet the Celestial Bridegroom! I was born to be His slave. - That other one can beat me now!

"Right now, it's the end of the world! Oh, girls... my friends!... no, not my friends... I've never gone through anything like this, delerium, torments, anything... It's so silly.

"Oh! I cry, I'm suffering. I really am suffering. And still I've got a right to do whatever I want, now that I am covered with contempt by the most contemptible hearts.

"Well, let me make my confession anyway, though I may have to repeat it twenty times again, - so dull, and so insignificant!

"I am a slave of the Infernal Bridegroom, the one who seduced the foolish virgins. That's exactly the devil he is. He's no phantom, he's no ghost. But I, who have lost my wits, damned and dead to the world, - no one will be able to kill me! - How can I describe him to you! I can't even talk anymore. I'm all dressed in mourning, I'm crying, I'm afraid. Please, dear Lord, a little fresh air, if you don't mind, please!

"I am a widow... - I used to be a widow... - oh, yes, I used to be very serious in those days, I wasn't born to become a skeleton!... He was a child or almost... His delicate, mysterious ways enchanted me. I forgot all my duties in order to follow him. What a life we lead! True life is lacking. We are exiles from this world, really - I go where he goes, I have to. And lots of times he gets mad at me, at me, poor sinner. That Devil! He really is a Devil, you know, and not a man.

"He says: "I don't love women. Love has to be reinvented, we know that. The only thing women can ultimately imagine is security. Once they get that, love, beauty, everything else goes out the window: all they have left is cold disdain, that's what marriages live on nowadays. Sometimes I see women who ought to be happy, with whom I could have found companionship, already swallowed up by brutes with as much feeling as an old log..."

"I listen to him turn infamy into glory, cruelty into charm. "I belong to an ancient race: my ancestors were Norsemen: they slashed their own bodies, drank their own blood. - I'll slash my body all over, I'll tattoo myself, I want to be as ugly as a Mongol: you'll see, I'll scream in the streets. I want to get really mad with anger. Don't show me jewels; I'll get down on all fours and writhe on the carpet. I want my wealth stained all over with blood. I will never do any work... "Several times, at night, his demon seized me, and we rolled about wrestling! - Sometimes at night when he's drunk he hangs around street corners or behind doors, to scare me to death. - I'll get my throat cut for sure; won't that be disgusting." And, oh! those days when he wants to go around pretending he's a criminal!

"Sometimes he talks, in his backcountry words, full of emotion, about death, and how it makes us repent, and how surely there are miserable people in the world, about exhausting work, and about saying goodbye and how it tears your heart. In the dives where we used to get drunk, he would cry when he looked at the people around us - cattle of the slums. He used to pick up drunks in the dark streets. He had the pity of a brutal mother for little children. - He went around with all the sweetness of a little girl on her way to Sunday school. He pretended to know all about everything, business, art, medicine. - And I always went along with him, I had to!

"I used to see clearly all the trappings that he hung up in his imagination; costumes, fabric, furniture... It was I who lent him weapons, and a change of face. I could visualize everything that affected him, exactly as he would have imagined it for himself. Whenever he seemed depressed, I would follow him into strange, complicated adventures, on and on, into good and evil: but I always knew I could never be a part of his world. Beside his dear body, as he slept, I lay awake hour after hour, night after night, trying to imagine why he wanted so much to escape from reality. No man before ever had such a desire. I was aware - without being afraid for him - that he could become a serious menace to society. Did he, perhaps, have secrets that would remake life? No, I told myself, he was only looking for them. But of course, his charity is under a spell, and I am its prisoner. No one else could have the strength - the strength of despair! - to stand it, to stand being cared for and loved by him. Besides, I could never imagine him with anybody else: we all have eyes for our own Dark Angel, never other people's Angels, - at least I think so. I lived in his soul as if it were a palace that had been cleared out so that the most unworthy person in it would be you: that's all. Ah! really I used to depend on him terribly. But what did he want with my dull, my cowardly existence? He couldn't improve me, though he never managed to kill me! I get so sad and disappointed; sometimes I say to him: "I understand you." He just shrugs his shoulders.

"And so my heartaches kept growing and growing, and I saw myself going more and more to pieces - and everyone else would have seen it, too, if I hadn't been so miserable that no one even looked at me anymore! and still more and more I craved his affection... His kisses and his friendly arms around me were just like heaven-- a dark heaven, that I could go into, and where I wanted only to be left - poor, deaf, dumb, and blind. Already, I was getting to depend on it. And I used to imagine that we were two happy children free to wander in a Paradise of sadness. We were in absolute harmony. Deeply moved, we labored side by side. But then, after a piercing embrace, he would say : "How funny it will all seem, all you've gone through, when I'm not here anymore. When you no longer feel my arms around your shoulders, nor my heart beneath you, nor this mouth on your eyes. Because I will have to go away someday, far away. Besides, I've got to help out others too: that's what I'm here for. although I won't really like it... dear heart..." And in that instant I could feel myself, with him gone, dizzy with fear, sinking down into the most horrible blackness: into death. I made him promise that he would never leave me. And he promised, twenty times; promised like a lover. It was as meaningless as my saying to him: "I understand you."

"Oh, I've never been jealous of him. He'll never leave me, I'm sure of it. What will he do? He doesn't know a soul; he'll never work. He wants to live like a sleepwalker. Can his kindness and his charity by themselves give him his place in the real world? There are moments when I forget the wretched mess I've fallen into: he will give me strength, we'll travel, we'll go hunting in the desert, we'll sleep on the sidewalks of unknown cities, carefree and happy. Or else some day I'll wake up and - his magic power will have changed all laws and morals, - but the world will still be the same and leave me my desires and my joys and my lack of concern. Oh! that wonderful world of adventures that we found in children's books, - won't you give me that world? I've suffered so much, I deserve a reward. He can't. I don't know what he really wants. He says he has hopes and regrets: but they have nothing to do with me. Does he talk to God? Maybe I should talk to God myself. I am in the depths of an abyss, and I have forgotten how to pray.

"Suppose he did explain his sadness to me, would I understand it any better than his jokes and insults? He attacks me, he spends hours making me ashamed of everything in the world that has ever meant anything to me, and then he gets mad if I cry.

"- Do you see that lovely young man going into that beautiful, peaceful house? His name is Duval, Dufour, Armand, Maurice, whatever you please. There is a woman who has spent her life loving that evil creature: she died. I'm sure she's a saint in heaven right now. You are going to kill me the way he killed that woman. That's what's in store for all of us who have unselfish hearts..." Oh, dear! There were days when all men of action seemed to him like the toys of some grotesque raving: he would laugh, horribly, on and on. - Then he would go back to acting like a young mother, or an older sister. If he were not such a wild thing, we would be saved! But even his sweetness is mortal. I am his slave. - Oh, I've lost my mind!

"Some day maybe he'll just disappear miraculously, but I absolutely must be told about it, I mean if he's going to go back up into heaven or someplace, so that I can go and watch for just a minute the Assumption of my darling boy!"

One hell of a household!

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

French version