Arthur Rimbaud

(20 October 1854 – 10 November 1891 / Charleville, Ardennes)

Poets At Seven Years - Poem by Arthur Rimbaud

And the mother, closing the work-book
Went off, proud, satisfied, not seeing,
In the blue eyes, under the lumpy brow,
The soul of her child given over to loathing.

All day he sweated obedience: very
Intelligent: yet dark habits, certain traits
Seemed to show bitter hypocrisies at work!
In the shadow of corridors with damp paper,
He stuck out his tongue in passing, two fists
In his groin, seeing specks under his shut lids.
A doorway open to evening: by the light
You’d see him, high up, groaning on the railing
Under a void of light hung from the roof. In summer,
Especially, vanquished, stupefied, stubborn,
He’d shut himself in the toilet’s coolness:
He could think in peace there, sacrificing his nostrils.

When the small garden cleansed of the smell of day,
Filled with light, behind the house, in winter,
Lying at the foot of a wall, buried in clay
Rubbing his dazzled eyes hard, for the visions,
He listened to the scabbed espaliers creaking.
Pity! His only companions were those children
Bare-headed and puny, eyes sunk in their cheeks,
Hiding thin fingers yellow and black with mud
Under old clothes soiled with excrement,
Who talked with the sweetness of the simple-minded!

And if his mother took fright, surprising him
At his vile compassions: the child’s deep
Tenderness overcame her astonishment.
All fine. She’d had the blue look, – that lies!

At seven he was making novels about life
In the great desert, where ravished Freedom shines,
Forests, suns, riverbanks, savannahs! – He used
Illustrated weeklies where he saw, blushing,
Smiling Italian girls, and Spanish women.
When the daughter of next door workers came by,
Eight years old – in Indian prints, brown-eyed,
A little brute, and jumped him from behind,
Shaking out her tresses, in a corner,
And he was under her, he bit her buttocks,
Since she never wore knickers:
– And, bruised by her fists and heels,
Carried the taste of her back to his room.

He feared the pallid December Sundays,
When, hair slicked back, at a mahogany table,
He read from a Bible with cabbage-green margins:
Dreams oppressed him each night in the alcove.
He didn’t love God: rather those men in the dusk,
Returning, black, in smocks, to the outer suburbs
Where the town-crier, with a triple drum beat,
Made the crowds laugh and murmur at the edicts.
– He dreamed of the amorous prairies, where
Luminous swells, pure odours, gold pubescences,
Stirred in the calm there, and then took flight!
And above all how he savoured sombre things,
When, in his bare room behind closed shutters,
High, and blue, and pierced with acrid damp,
He read his novel, mooned over endlessly,
Full of drowned forests, leaden ochre skies,
Flowers of flesh opening in star-filled woods,
Dizziness, epilepsies, defeats, compassion!
– While the street noises rumbled on below,
Lying alone on pieces of unbleached canvas,
With a violent presentiment of setting sail!


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Poem Submitted: Saturday, April 3, 2010



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