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Towns II (Villes II)
by Arthur Rimbaud (1872-75); translated by Helen Rootham (1938).

The official Acropolis is amongst the most colossal conceptions of modern barbarism. It is impossible to put into words the soft light produced by the immovable grey of the sky, the imperial radiance of the buildings, and the eternal snows on the ground. With a singular taste for the enormous all the classical marvels of architecture have been reproduced , and I visit exhibitions of pictures in localities twenty times as vast as Hampton Court. What painting! A Norwegian Nebuchadnezzar has had staircases built for the Offices of State; the subordinate officials I could see here were more haughty than Brennus, and I trembled at the sight of all this magnificence.

The grouping of the buildings in squares, courtyards and closed terraces made the cab-drivers drunk; the parks represent primitive nature arranged with consummate art. In the upper town are inexplicable spots; an arm of the sea without any ships on it, rolls its sleet-blue sheet between quays covered with giant candelabras. A short bridge leads to a postern immediately under the dome of the Sainte-Chapelle. This dome has a sheathing of steel about 15,000 feet in diameter.

At certain points, from foot-bridges made of copper, from platforms, from staircases winding round halls and pillars, I thought I might be able to judge of the depth of the town. But here scale is annihilated, and the level of the other parts of the town, either on or under the Acropolis, was a prodigy I could not try to understand. A short and detailed survey is not possible for a stranger. The commercial quarter is a circus in one style, with arcaded galleries. No shops are to be seen, but the snow on the causeway is trodden and crushed; a few nabobs, as rare as pedestrians on a Sunday morning in London, direct their steps towards a coach of diamonds.

There are a few divans upholstered in red velvet; popular drinks are sold, varying in price from eight hundred to eight thousand rupees. At the thought of looking for theatres in this circus, I tell myself that dramas sufficiently gloomy can probably be found in the shops. I suppose there is a police-force, but the law must be so strange that I abandon any idea of imagining what kind of adventures live here. The residential quarter—as elegant as the finest streets in Paris—is favoured with an appearance of light; the democratic element counts a few thousand souls. Here again the houses possess no regularity; the quarter gradually and oddly loses itself in the country; in the 'county' that fills the west with forests and prodigious plantations, where country gentlemen hunt the chronicles of their family by the beams of an artificial light.


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AUTHOR: Arthur Rimbaud (1872-75); translated by Helen Rootham (1938).
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