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Studies in Modern Poetry: Arthur Rimbaud, Page 1
by Federico Olivero (1921).

The aesthetic theory of Arthur Rimbaud is a kind of idealism. His poetic world appears to us as the product of a fervid, and often morbid, imagination. Far from copying outward things, he selects as subjects his visions. His work is the offspring of a fantasy, whose aim is to deform real objects, thus fashioning shapes widely different from the material entities. His scenery is only a modification of reality; yet the combination of forms and colours is so very quaint, the variation of hue and alteration of line go so far that at last the metaphors seem to develop independently of the objects which gave them birth. He constantly transforms sounds and perfumes into colours and music, dreams into solid objects, material bodies into ethereal beings.

This method of composition leads to strange results; his pictures appear underived from nature, as the sensations that gave them rise remain undetected, each figure being associated but by a remote analogy with its source. The images, breaking out into new aspects, build other figures, until the visible world is covered over with a veil of shifting hallucinations.

Therefore his 'poèmes en prose' look at first as if composed of disconnected metaphors, set beside each other against all laws of coordination and association of ideas. The queer combination of images seems to transcend the limits of logic. Then at least in his best works—just as in a kaleidoscope the bits of coloured glass arrange themselves into definite patterns, the clouds of words are pierced by brilliant rays of thought and the meaningless sequence of phrases acquires a signification.

The reader must be initiated to this method; then he becomes aware of the sincerity of the poet, and recognises that his form is no mere play of words or mannerism, but a kind of expression faithfully rendering his psychological state. His style is in perfect accord with his condition of mind, the phrase keeping pace with his quick, sudden changes of mood. As it is always the case with genuine inspiration, with the spontaneity of an art springing irresistibly from the soul, every trope, every epithet appears inevitable. —'Their language', says Shelley, of the true poets, 'is vitally metaphorical; that is, it marks the before unapprehended relations of things and perpetuates their apprehension;—these relations are said by Bacon to be 'the same footsteps of nature impressed upon the various objects of the world' [ A defense of poetry, ch. 3. ]. On the other hand, this method leads to absurd caprices, to hideous, brutal pictures, the product of a perverse, diseased mind, of the mental disorder following the excess. Besides, several of these poems are mere sketches or formless experiments. The poet seems to be writing merely for himself; his creations appear unsubstantial, their contours uncertain, blurred as by the quivering heat exhaled by a marsh or burning sand.


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AUTHOR: Federico Olivero (1921).
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