Studies in Modern Poetry: Arthur Rimbaud, Page 2|
by Federico Olivero (1921).
Le Bateau ivre, with its magnificence of diction, its keen sense-perceptions and intense feeling, remains his finest work. Here he is master of a style that preserves its delicacy without losing its vigour. The boat is an emblem of his heart, driven by blind passions, yielding to all impulses. This symbol was suggested by the trite allegory of the storm-tossed ship, but his genius enabled him to endow it with a striking originality. His artistic faculties appear fully developed when he is barely seventeen, revealing a genius that has cleared at a bound the preliminary stage. He finds at once the adequate form; he is able, at the outset of his poetical career, to do his utmost in the handling of metre. There is no faltering or stumbling in the headlong rush of his lines; he strikes the chords of rhymes, uses the colours of his palette, with a sure hand. We admire the technical beauty of his work, as he, aiming at exceptional effects, creates vivid impressions with swift, broad strokes, avoiding explanatory details, dwelling only upon the essential, his object being to concentrate the attention upon the characteristic features of the image. Le Bateau ivre is a brilliant series of seascapes, each of them answering to a special mood; here, sacrificing reality to a higher poetical truth, the artist shows us his inward world of beauty, a world known only to the fantasy, born of an ecstatic contemplation of coruscating visions.
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'As I was gliding down impassive rivers, I did not feel myself dragged by the men, who had me in tow; certain boisterous Redskins had taken them as targets, having nailed them to variegated stakes. —I cared not for crews; when, with the death of these men, all the racket came to an end, the rivers let me drift wherever I pleased. —The storm has blessed my awaking on the sea; lighter than a cork, for ten nights I danced on the billows, with no regret for the silly eyes of the lamps. Sweeter than to children the pulp of sour apples, the green water soaked through my firwood hull. —And thenceforth I have bathed in the poem of the milky, star-infused ocean, darting through the greenish azure, where a drowned man, pensive, livid, entranced, sometimes descends. —I know the skies bursting into lightnings, the waterspouts, the surf, the currents; I know the evening, and the dawn soaring high as a flight of numberless white doves,—and I have sometimes viewed what man has only fancied to have descried. —I have spied the sun low on the horizon, spotted with mystic horrors, illuming long, violet coagulations; for whole months I have followed the surges, charging the reefs like hysterical herds;—I have dashed against incredible Floridas where panthers' eyes glared through the flowers; I have seen marshes in fermentation, vast nets in which the bulk of a leviathan lies rotting amid the rushes; I have beheld glaciers, silver suns, waves of mother-of-pearl, skies of glowing embers, and dusky bays where gigantic serpents, gnawed by bugs, drop from twisted trees exhaling black perfumes. —I have been hailed by ineffable breezes; at times the sea, whose sobbing eased my violent roll, raised towards me, a martyr weary of poles and zones, its shadowy blossoms crowned with yellow suckers. —And now I, a boat that has been lost under the weedy hair of lonely creeks, thrown by the hurricane up into the ether where no bird can live,—I, whose swamped carcass no gunboat, no Hansa sailer would pick up,—free, reeking as I came out of purple mists,—I, who pierced the flushing sky, the sky like a wall covered with lichens of sunlight and dribblings of blue,—I, who ran, speckled with tiny electric moons, a crazy plank escorted by black hippocamps,—I regret the ancient parapets of Europe. —I have gazed at sidereal archipelagoes, islands, delirious skies that expand before the rower; but, indeed, I have too much. Dawns are harrowing, moonlight is always appalling, and sunlight bitter. —If I feel a longing for Europe, it is for a dark, cold pool, on which, in the balmy nightfall, a child, crouching, full of sadness, sets afloat a boat as frail as a May butterfly. —O surging seas, I cannot any more cross the wake of cotton-laden argosies, or dance in the pride of standards and flames, or swim under the horrid eyes of pontoons!'
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