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Studies in Modern Poetry: Arthur Rimbaud, Page 6
by Federico Olivero (1921).

While imagination plays the main part in Illuminations, psychological analysis is the leading power in Une Saison en Enfer. In the tension of his soul, all his intellectual faculties are astir, concentrated in an effort to bring before us a synthesis of his whole life. An intense emotion smoulders under the sarcastic utterance; a nostalgic aspiration is present everywhere in this book; hence the vitality of it as a work of art.

A Season in Hell is a personal confession where he has laid aside—as it is his wont in all his utterances—all restraint in relating the bitter experiences of his soul. As in the presence of Eternity, he shows us his most intimate view of himself, his perplexities, anomalies, frailties, his sudden changes of mood; but he reveals at the same time a rare energy in struggling against inward foes, a sincere horror of sin, a yearning to wisdom and truth. 'I perceive that my spirit lies asleep. If it always were full awake from this moment, we might soon attain Truth, that perhaps surrounds us with its weeping Angels. If it had been awake to this moment, I should not have yielded to destructive instincts. —O purity, purity! It is this minute of awaking that has given me the vision of Purity; through the spirit one goes to God' [ œuvres, p. 251. ]. He is eager to cleanse his heart of the infection of vice; hence a clear tendency to conversion [ Ib., pp. 215, 223, 224. ]. 'O hags, poverty, hatred! It is to you that my treasure was given in trust! I succeeded to destroy in my soul all human hopes. I have stretched myself in the mud. I have bounded, silently, as a wild beast, on all joys, v to strangle them. —But I can be saved. Doubtless, debauch is beastly; all rottenness must be thrown far away. —I shall bless life; I shall love my brothers. God is my strength and I praise God'. These thoughts were born of sorrow in a mind whose wrong ideals failed utterly when put to the ordeal of action, a mind therefore embittered with disillusions. But he was not unconscious of pangs of conscience, of the pursuit of the 'hound of Heaven'. 'O happiness! in the most lurid towns, its tooth, sweet even to death, warned me at cockcrow, 'ad matutinum'. —I felt obliged to travel, to break the charms crowded in my brain. On the sea, that I loved as though it might have laved away all my foulness, I saw rise the Cross that consoles'. And the vision of salvation came often to his mind. 'Divine Love alone grants the keys of science. I perceive that nature is only a spectacle of goodness. The song of Angels rises from the ship that comes to save; it is the song of divine love' [ œuvres, pp. 247, 224. ].

The underlying idea of these pages is not unlike Baudelaire's conception in The Flowers of Evil; he finds in Christianity the basis for the ideal vision of life; he recognises sin and guilt; his leading thought is a piercing outcry out of the abyss of corruption, the cry of Baudelaire: 'Out of the depths of the dark gulf where my soul has fallen down, I invoke your mercy, o You, the only One I love'. It is a meditation on the conflict of Good and Evil, on the drama of a disorderly, dissolute life, like Wilde's De Profundis. It shows us a weak temper, easily yielding to temptation, to influences of environment, to sophisms that lure afar from intellectual health; with a feeling of surprise we listen to these words uttered by a man, who, in his rambling talk, seems at times insane. His thoughts are often coloured by an extreme dejection [ Ib., p. 216. ]. 'You shall remain a hyena', cries the demon who had crowned me with such lovely poppies. 'Get death through all your desires, your egotism and all the capital sins'. Such phrases are frequent in 'these few hideous leaflets of the pocket-book of a damned man'. He was yearning after the Absolute, the Eternal; 'Raise your eyes', says Claudel to him [ La Messe là-bas, 38. ], 'and look at the Host in the monstrance; what you are seeking so far away—Eternity, accessible to all the senses, in this life—is there'.

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