the drunken boat poem


"In this poem, Rimbaud reached one of the highest peaks of his art, and produced also one of the great masterpieces of French poetry."

-Enid Starkie   on THE DRUNKEN BOAT

a  new translation by Dennis J. Carlile

As I descended Rivers undisturbed
I sensed the haulers no longer steered me:
Howling Redskins took them captive, nailing
Them naked like targets to painted poles.


I was carefree of all or any crew,
Freighting Flemish wheat or English cotton.
When that racket with my haulers had done,
The Rivers led me wherever I wished.


Through the rippling fury of tides,
Last winter, emptier than childhood's mind,
I ran! And Peninsulas let slip
Have not brought down more triumphant hubbub.


The tempest has blessed my sea-borne wakings.
Lighter than a cork I danced on the waves,
Those rolling beds of the eternal dead,
Ten nights, no thought for dull-eyed harbor lights!


Sweeter then, I've been bathing in the milky
Way, in star-steeped Poem of the Sea,
Ravenous green azures; where sometimes a drowned
Man drifting by, rapt, pale and pensive, goes down.


Where, tinting all at once the blue, the slow
Delirious rhythms of the day's rosy glow,
Stronger than alcohol, vaster than poetry,
Ferment the freckled red bitterness of love!


I know the heavens cracked by lightning, surfs,
Waterspouts and currents: I know the night,
And the Dawn exalted like doves in flight;
I've seen sometimes what men thought they saw!


I've seen the low sun, smeared with mystic awe,
Lit with violet congealing fingers,
The rolling waves, like actors in old plays,
Their shuttered shivering so far away!


I've dreamt the night green to the dazzling snows,
Kissing to the sea's eyes climbing and slow,
Unheard-of juices' flow, blue and yellow
The waking of singing phosphorescence!


For months I've followed hysterical herds
Of surf surging and crashing on the reefs,
Without dreaming Mary's luminous feet
Could force back the panting Ocean's muzzle!


I've jostled incredible Floridas,
You know, mingling flowers with the panther's eyes
On the skins of men! Rainbows stretched like reins
To the seas' limits, gleaming doves of grey!


I've seen enormous bogs fermenting, snares
Where in the reeds a Leviathan rots!
Waterfalls crashing in the midst of calms,
And horizons tumbling into chaos!


Glaciers, silver suns, pearly waves, fiery skies!
Hideous wrecks in the depths of dark harbors
Where giant serpents devoured by insects
Drop with black perfumes out of twisted trees!


I'd shown these Eldorados to children,
Blue seas, these golden fish, those fish who sing.
- Flowering foams have cradled my driftings;
Ineffable winds gave me timely wings.


Sometimes the sea, wearied martyr of poles
And zones, whose sobs had me gently rolling,
Raised her yellow cupped shady blooms to me
And I rested, like a woman kneeling...


All but an island, I sideswiped quarrels
And the turds of clamoring blond-eyed birds,
And I sailed, while through my fragile rigging
The drowned fell back, descending into sleep!


Now I, in the ringlets of back bays lost,
A boat in the birdless air, storm-tossed,
The Monitors and the schooners of Hanse
Wouldn't salvage my water-sloshed carcass;


Free and fuming, decked with violet fogs,
I who pierced the blushing sky like a wall,
Bearing solar fungus and azure snot,
The exquisite jam of all good poets,


Who ran, spattered with electric lunettes,
Planking warped, black seahorses in escort,
While the hammering heat of these Julys
Beat fiery funnels out of sea-blue skies;


I, who trembled fifty leagues off, hearing
Behemoths in rut, gross Maelstroms moaning,
Eternal spinner of motionless blues,
I miss the Europe of ancient ramparts!


I've seen atolls full of stars! and islands
Whose fevered skies are open to drifters:
- Exiled in these deepless nights do you sleep,
Countless golden birds, O future Vigors? -


Too true, too many tears! Dawns of heartbreak.
Each moon is cruel, and every sun bitter:
I'm swollen with harsh love's drunken torpor.
O let my keel burst! Let me go to the sea!


If there's water in Europe for me
It's the cool, dark pond at balmy twilight
Where a child squats full of sadness, launching
A frail boat like a butterfly in May.


Bathed in your languors, O waves, no longer
Can I clear the wake of cotton freighters,
Nor pass through blazoned flags and banners' pride
Nor pull beneath prison hulks' dismal eyes.

*From Dennis J. Carlile's RIMBAUD: THE WORKS - Used by Permission


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