First Communions - Poem by Arthur Rimbaud
Truly, they’re stupid, these village churches
Where fifteen ugly chicks soiling the pillars
Listen, trilling out their divine responses,
To a black freak whose boots stink of cellars:
But the sun wakes now, through the branches,
The irregular stained-glass’s ancient colours.
The stone always smells of its earthly mother.
You’ll see masses of those earthy rocks
In the rutting country that solemnly quivers,
And bears, on ochrous paths, near heavy crops,
Those burnt shrubs where the sloe turns bluer,
Those black mulberries the hedge-roses top.
Once a century, they make the barns respectable
With a wash of curdled milk and blue water:
If grotesque mysteries are viewed as notable,
Near to the straw-stuffed Saint or Madonna,
Flies, that know every inn and every stable,
Gorge on wax there, dotting the sunlit floor.
The child’s duty above all’s to home and family,
Simple cares, honest toil that stupefies;
They go, forgetting how their skin crawls freely
Where the Priest of Christ’s powerful finger lies.
The Priest has a house shaded with hornbeam
So he can loose these tanned brows to the light.
The first black suit, the finest pastries, there,
Beneath the little Drummer or Napoleon
Some plate where Josephs and Marthas stare,
Sticking their tongues out with excess emotion,
Joined, on the day of truth, by maps, a pair,
Are the sole sweet mementoes of Devotion.
The girls always go to church, content forever
To hear themselves called bitches by the sons,
Who put on airs, after Mass or Sung Vespers,
Those who are destined to grace the garrisons,
In cafes taunt the important families, snicker,
Dressed in new jackets, yelling frightful songs.
Meanwhile the Curé for the children’s choosing
Pictures; in his garden, and, when Vespers done,
The air fills with the distant sound of dancing,
He feels, despite all celestial inhibition,
His calves beat time, his toes with joy wriggling;
– Night steps, dark pirate, onto skies all golden.
The Priest has noted among the catechists,
Gathering from the Faubourgs and the Quarters,
This little unknown girl, her eyes pale mist,
Her sallow brow. Her parents humble porters:
‘On the great Day, seeing her among the Catechists,
God will snow down blessings on this daughter.’
On the eve of the great Day, the child feels ill.
Better than in the tall Church’s dismal murmuring,
First a shudder comes – bed’s not uninteresting – still,
The supernatural shudder may return: ‘I’m dying…’
And, like a theft of love from her stupid sisters,
She sees, exhausted and hands on heart, there,
Angels, Jesus, a Holy Virgin that glimmers;
And calmly her whole soul swallows her conqueror.
Adonai! … – In their Latin endings dressed,
Skies shot with green bathe Brows of crimson,
And, stained by pure blood from heavenly breasts,
Across swirling suns, fall great snowy linens!
– For her present and future virginities
She bites on the freshness of your Remission,
But more so than sweetmeats or water-lilies,
Your forgiveness is like ice, O Queen of Zion!
Then the Virgin’s no more than the virgin of the book.
Mystical impulses are often thwarted…
The hideous print and the old woodcut come,
Poverty of images, bronze-sheathed by boredom.
Startled, her dream of chaste blueness,
By vaguely indecent curiosities,
Surprises itself among celestial tunics,
Linen with which Christ veils his nudities.
She yearns, she yearns, still, soul in distress,
Brow on the pillow racked by muffled sounds,
To prolong the supreme flashes of tenderness,
And dribbles – Darkness over house and grounds.
And the child can bear it no longer, she stirs,
Arches her back, opens the blue bed-hangings,
To draw the coolness of the room towards her,
Beneath the sheet, to breasts’ and belly’s burning.
Waking – at midnight – the window-panes were
White. Past the blue sleep of moonlit hangings,
The vision of Sunday candours captured her;
She’d dreamed of red. Her nose was bleeding,
And, feeling quite chaste and full of weakness,
Savouring love’s return to a God once known,
She thirsted for night when the heart may guess
At soft skies where it worships and bows down;
For night, impalpable Virgin-Mother, that bathes
All youthful emotion in its shadowy silences;
Thirsted for deep night where the heart, blood-stained,
Pours out without cries rebellion without witnesses.
And playing the Victim and the little bride,
Her star saw her, a candle between her fingers,
Descend to the courtyard where clothes dried,
White spectre raising the roofs’ black spectres.
She passed her holy night in the latrine,
To the candle, from roof-holes, white air flowed,
And full of purplish blackness a wild vine,
Skirting the next-door yard hung down below.
The skylight made a heart of living brightness,
In the yard where the low sky, with its red-gold,
Plated the panes; cobbles, stinking with excess
Wet filth, sulphured the sleep-dark wall-shadows.
Who’ll speak of that languor, those unclean pities,
And what hatred will fall on her, O you filthy
Lunatics, whose divine work still warps destinies,
When leprosy finally devours that sweet body?
And when, having swallowed all her hysterias,
She sees, in the melancholy born of happiness,
Her lover dreaming of the white million Marys
In the dawn of the night of love, her distress:
‘Do you know I killed you? Took your mouth,
Your heart, all that one has, all you possess;
And I, I am ill: Oh, I wish that I were drowned
With the Dead, drenched by nocturnal waters!
I was a child, and Christ has soiled my breath.
Filled me with loathing, through and through!
You kissed my hair thick as a fleece, and yes,
I allowed it….Oh, there, it’s all fine for you,
Men! Who don’t see that the most loving woman
Is, behind conscience full of ignoble terror,
The most prostituted and the most saddened,
That our every impulse towards You is error!
For my first Communion is long past.
I have no power ever to know your kisses:
And my heart and flesh, your flesh has clasped,
Seethe with the rotten kisses of Jesus!’
Then, the desolate soul, and the soul that’s putrid,
Both will feel the stream of your maledictions.
– They’ll be at rest in your inviolate Hatred,
Freed, for death’s sake, from honest passions,
Christ! O Christ, the eternal thief of vigour,
God who, for two millennia, bowed to your pallor,
Nailed to the earth, in shame and mental horror,
Or overwhelmed, the brows of women of sorrow.
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