Arthur Rimbaud

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

The Drunken Boat - Poem by Arthur Rimbaud

As I drifted on a river I could not control,
No longer guided by the bargemen's ropes.
They were captured by howling Indians
Who nailed them naked to coloured posts.

I cared no more for other boats or cargoes:
Flemish wheat or English cottons, all were gone
When my bargemen could no longer haul me
I forgot about everything and drifted on.

Amid the fury of the loudly chopping tides
Last winter, deaf as a child's dark night,
Ah, how I raced! And the drifting Peninsulas
Have never known such conquering delight.

Lighter than cork, I revolved upon waves
That roll the dead forever in the deep,
Ten days, beyond the blinking eyes of land!
Lulled by storms, I drifted seaward from sleep.

Sweeter than apples to a child its pungent edge;
The wash of green water on my shell of pine.
Anchor and rudder went drifting away,
Washed in vomit and stained with blue wine.

Now I drift through the poem of the sea;
This gruel of stars mirrors the milky sky,
Devours green azures; ecstatic flotsam,
Drowned men, pale and thoughtful, sometimes drift by.

Staining the sudden blueness, the slow sounds,
Deliriums that streak the glowing sky,
Stronger than drink and the songs we sing,
It is boiling, bitter, red; it is love!

I know how lightening split the sky apart,
I know the surf and waterspouts and evening's fall,
I've seen the dawn arisen like a flock of doves;
I've seen what men have only dreamed they saw!

I saw the sun with mystic horrors darken
And shimmer through a violet haze;
With a shiver of shutters the waves fell
Like actors in ancient, forgotten plays!

I dreamed of green nights and glittering snow,
Slow kisses rising in the eyes of the sea,
Unknown liquids flowing, the blue and yellow
Stirring of phosphorescent melody!

For months I watched the surge of the sea,
Hysterical herds attacking the reefs;
I never thought the bright feet of Mary
Could muzzle up the heavy-breathing waves!

I have jostled - you know? - unbelievable Floridas
And seen among the flowers the wild eyes
Of panthers in the skins of men! Rainbows
Birdling blind flocks beneath the horizons!

In stinking swamps I have seen great hulks:
A Leviathan that rotted in the reeds!
Water crumbling in the midst of calm
And distances that shatter into foam.

Glaciers, silver suns, waves of pearl, fiery skies,
Giant serpents stranded where lice consume
Them, falling in the depths of dark gulfs
From contorted trees, bathed in black perfume!

I wanted to show children these fishes shining
In the blue wave, the golden fish that sing -
A froth of flowers cradled my wandering
And delicate winds tossed me on their wings.

Sometimes, a martyr of poles and latitudes,
The sea rocked me softly in sighing air,
And brought me dark blooms with yellow stems -
I remained there like a woman on her knees.

Almost an island, I balanced on my boat's sides
Rapacious blond-eyed birds, their dung, their screams.
I drifted on through fragile tangled lines
Drowned men, still staring up, sank down to sleep.

Now I, a little lost boat, in swirling debris,
Tossed by the storm into the birdless upper air
- All the Hansa Merchants and Monitors
Could not fish up my body drunk with the sea;

Free, smoking, touched the violet haze above,
I, who the lurid heavens breached like some rare wall
Which boasts - confection that the poets love -
Lichens of sunlight, and snots of bright blue sky;

Lost branch spinning in a herd of hippocamps,
Covered over with electric animals,
An everlasting July battering
The glittering sky and its fiery funnels;

Shaking at the sound of monsters roaring,
Rutting Behemoths in thick whirlpools,
Eternal weaver of unmoving blues,
I thought of Europe and its ancient walls!

I have seen archipelagos in the stars,
Feverish skies where I was free to roam!
Are these bottomless nights your exiled nests,
Swarm of golden birds, O Strength to come?

True, I've cried too much; I am heartsick at dawn.
The moon is bitter and the sun is sour…
Love burns me; I am swollen and slow.
Let my keel break! Oh, let me sink in the sea!

If I long for a shore in Europe,
It's a small pond, dark, cold, remote,
The odour of evening, and a child full of sorrow
Who stoops to launch a crumpled paper boat.

Washed in your languors, sea, I cannot trace
The wake of tankers foaming through the cold,
Nor assault the pride of pennants and flags,
Nor endure the slave ship's stinking hold.

____________________________________ ________________

Translation by Rebecca Seiferle:

As I descended impassible Rivers,
I felt no longer steered by bargemen;
they were captured by howling Redskins,
nailed as targets, naked, to painted stakes.

What did I care for cargo or crews,
bearers of English cotton or Flemish grain—
having left behind the bargemen and racket,
the Rivers let me descend where I wished.

In the furious splashing of the waves,
I — that other winter, deafer than the minds
of children — ran! And the unanchored Peninsulas
never knew a more triumphant brouhaha.

The tempest blessed my sea awakening.
Lighter than cork, I danced the waves
scrolling out the eternal roll of the dead—
ten nights, without longing for the lantern's silly eye.

Sweeter than the flesh of tart apples to children,
the green water penetrated my pine hull
and purged me of vomit and the stain of blue wines—
my rudder and grappling hooks drifting away.

Since then, I have bathed in the Poem
of the Sea, a milky way, infused with stars,
devouring the azure greens where, flotsam-pale
and ravished, drowned and pensive men float by.

Where, suddenly staining the blues, delirious
and slow rhythms under the glowing red of day,
stronger than alcohol, vaster than our lyrics,
ferment the red bitters of love!

I know heavens pierced by lightning, the waterspouts
and undertows and currents: I know night,
Dawn rising like a nation of doves,
and I've seen, sometimes, what men only dreamed they saw!

I've seen the sun, low, a blot of mystic dread,
illuminating with far-reaching violet coagulations,
like actors in antique tragedies,
the waves rolling away in a shiver of shutters.

I've dreamed a green night to dazzling snows,
kisses slowly rising to the eyelids of the sea,
unknown saps flowing, and the yellow and blue
rising of phosphorescent songs.

For months, I've followed the swells assaulting
the reefs like hysterical herds, without ever thinking
that the luminous feet of some Mary
could muzzle the panting Deep.

I've touched, you know, incredible Floridas
where, inside flowers, the eyes of panthers mingle
with the skins of men! And rainbows bridle
glaucous flocks beneath the rim of the sea!

I've seen fermenting— enormous marshes, nets
where a whole Leviathan rots in the rushes!
Such a ruin of water in the midst of calm,
and the distant horizon worming into whirlpools!

Glaciers, silver suns, pearly tides, ember skies!
Hideous wrecks at the bottom of muddy gulfs
where giant serpents, devoured by lice,
drop with black perfume out of twisted trees!

I wanted to show children these dorados
of the blue wave, these golden, singing fish.
A froth of flowers has cradled my vagrancies,
and ineffable winds have winged me on.

Sometimes like a martyr, tired of poles and zones,
the sea has rolled me softly in her sigh
and held out to me the yellow cups of shadow flowers,
and I've remained there, like a woman, kneeling . . .

Almost an island, balancing the quarrels,
the dung, the cries of blond-eyed birds on the gunnels
of my boat, I sailed on, and through my frail lines,
drowned men, falling backwards, sank to sleep.

Now, I, a boat lost in the hair of the coves,
tossed by hurricane into the birdless air,
me, whom all the Monitors and Hansa sailing ships
could not salvage, my carcass drunk with sea;

free, rising like smoke, riding violet mists,
I who pierced the sky turning red like a wall,
who bore the exquisite jam of all good poets,
lichens of sun and snots of azure,

who, spotted with electric crescents, ran on,
a foolish plank escorted by black hippocamps,
when the Julys brought down with a single blow
the ultramarine sky with its burning funnels;

I who tremble, feeling the moan fifty leagues away
of the Behemoth rutting and the dull Maelstrom,
eternal weaver of the unmovable blue—
I grieve for Europe with its ancient breastworks!

I've seen thunderstruck archipelagos! and islands
that open delirious skies for wanderers:
Are these bottomless nights your nest of exile,
O millions of gold birds, O Force to come?

True, I've cried too much! Dawns are harrowing.
All moons are cruel and all suns, bitter:
acrid love puffs me up with drunken slowness.
Let my keel burst! Give me to the sea!

If I desire any of the waters of Europe, it's the pond
black and cold, in the odor of evening,
where a child full of sorrow gets down on his knees
to launch a paperboat as frail as a May butterfly.

Bathed in your languors, o waves, I can no longer
wash away the wake of ships bearing cotton,
nor penetrate the arrogance of pennants and flags,
nor swim past the dreadful eyes of slave ships.

___________________________________ ___________________

As I was floating down impassive Rivers,
I no longer felt myself steered by the haulers:
gaudy Redskins had taken them for targets,
nailing them naked to coloured stakes.

I cared nothing for all my crews,
carrying Flemish wheat or English cotton.
When, along with my haulers, those uproars stopped,
the Rivers let me sail downstream where I pleased.

Into the ferocious tide-rips, last winter,
more absorbed than the minds of children, I ran!
And the unmoored Peninsulas never
endured more triumphant clamourings.

The storm made bliss of my sea-borne awakenings.
Lighter than a cork, I danced on the waves
which men call the eternal rollers of victims,
for ten nights, without once missing the foolish eye of the harbor lights!

Sweeter than the flesh of sour apples to children,
the green water penetrated my pinewood hull
and washed me clean of the bluish wine-stains
and the splashes of vomit, carrying away both rudder and anchor.

And from that time on I bathed in the Poem
of the Sea, star-infused and churned into milk,
devouring the green azures where, entranced
in pallid flotsam, a dreaming drowned man sometimes goes down;

where, suddenly dyeing the blueness,
deliriums and slow rhythms under the gleams of the daylight,
stronger than alcohol, vaster than music,
ferment the bitter rednesses of love!

I have come to know the skies splitting with lightning,
and the waterspouts, and the breakers and currents;
I know the evening, and dawn rising up like a flock of doves,
and sometimes I have seen what men have imagined they saw!

I have seen the low-hanging sun speckled with mystic horrors
lighting up long violet coagulations
like the performers in antique dramas;
waves rolling back into the distances their shiverings of venetian blinds!

I have dreamed of the green night of the dazzled snows,
the kiss rising slowly to the eyes of the seas,
the circulation of undreamed-of saps,
and the yellow-blue awakenings of singing phosphorus!

I have followed, for whole months on end,
the swells battering the reefs like hysterical herds of cows,
never dreaming that the luminous feet of the Marys
could muzzle by force the snorting Oceans!

I have struck, do you realize, incredible Floridas,
where mingle with flowers the eyes of panthers in human skins!
Rainbows stretched like bridles
under the sea's horizon to glaucous herds!

I have seen the enormous swamps seething,
traps where a whole leviathan rots in the reeds!
Downfalls of waters in the midst of the calm,
and distances cataracting down into abysses!

Glaciers, suns of silver, waves of pearl, skies of red-hot coals!
Hideous wrecks at the bottom of brown gulfs
where the giant snakes, devoured by vermin,
fall from the twisted trees with black odours!

I should have liked to show to children those dolphins
of the blue wave, those golden, those singing fish. --
Foam of flowers rocked my driftings,
and at times ineffable winds would lend me wings.

Sometimes, a martyr weary of poles and zones,
the sea whose sobs sweetened my rollings
lifted my shadow-flowers with their yellow sucking disks toward me,
and I hung there like a kneeling woman...

Resembling an island, tossing on my sides the brawls
and droppings of pale-eyed, clamouring birds.
And I was scudding along when across my frayed ropes
drowned men sank backwards into sleep!...

But now I, a boat lost under the hair of coves,
hurled by the hurricane into the birdless ether;
I, whose wreck, dead-drunk and sodden with water,
neither Monitor nor Hanseatic ships would have fished up;

free, smoking, risen from violet fogs,
I who bored through the wall of the reddening sky which bears
a sweetmeat good poets find delicious:
lichens of sunlight mixed with azure snot;

who ran, speckled with tiny electric moons,
a crazy plank with black sea-horses for escort,
when Julys were crushing with cudgel blows
skies of ultramarine into burning funnels;

I who trembled to feel at fifty leagues off
the groans of Behemoths rutting, and the dense Maelstroms;
eternal spinner of blue immobilities,
I long for Europe with it's age-old parapets!

I have seen archipelagos of stars! and islands
whose delirious skies are open to sea wanderers: --
Do you sleep, are you exiled in those bottomless nights,
O million golden birds, Life Force of the future?

But, truly, I have wept too much! Dawns are heartbreaking.
Every moon is atrocious and every sun bitter:
sharp love has swollen me up with intoxicating torpor.
O let my keel split! O let me sink to the bottom!

If there is one water in Europe I want, it is the black
cold pool where into the scented twilight
a child squatting full of sadness launches
a boat as fragile as a butterfly in May.

I can no more, bathed in your langours, O waves,
sail in the wake of the carriers of cottons;
nor undergo the pride of the flags and pennants;
nor pull past the horrible eyes of prison hulks.

_________________________________________ ____________
Translation by Wallace Fowlie:

As I was going down impassive rivers,
I no longer felt myself guided by haulers!
Yelping redskins had taken them as targets,
And had nailed them naked to colored stakes.

I was indifferent to all crews,
The bearer of Flemish wheat or English cottons,
When with my haulers this uproar stopped,
The Rivers let me go where I wanted.

Into the furious lashing of the tides,
More heedless than children's brains, the other winter
I ran! And loosened peninsulas
Have not undergone a more triumphant hubbub.

The storm blessed my sea vigils.
Lighter than a cork I danced on the waves
That are called eternal rollers of victims,
Ten nights, without missing the stupid eye of the lighthouses!

Sweeter than the flesh of hard apples is to children,
The green water penetrated my hull of fir
And washed me of spots of blue wine
And vomit, scattering rudder and grappling-hook.

And from then on I bathed in the Poem
Of the Sea, infused with stars and lactescent,
Devouring the green azure where, like a pale elated
Piece of flotsam, a pensive drowned figure sometimes sinks;

Where, suddenly dyeing the blueness, delirium
And slow rhythms under the streaking of daylight,
Stronger than alcohol, vaster than our lyres,
The bitter redness of love ferments!

I know the skies bursting with lighting, and the waterspouts
And the surf and the currents; I know the evening,
And dawn as exhalted as a flock of doves,
And at times I have seen what man thought he saw!

I have seen the low sun spotted with mystic horrors,
Lighting up, with long violet clots,
Resembling actors of very ancient dramas,
The waves rolling far off their quivering of shutters!

I have dreamed of the green night with dazzled snows,
A kiss slowly rising to the eyes of the sea,
The circulation of unknown saps,
And the yellow and blue awakening of singing phosphorous!

I followed during pregnant months the swell,
Like hysterical cows, in its assault on the reefs,
Without dreaming that the luminous feet of the Marys
Could restrain the snout of the wheezing Oceans!

I struck against, you know, unbelievable Floridas
Mingling with flowers panthers' eyes and human
Skin! Rainbows stretched like bridal reins
Under the horizon of the seas to greenish herds!

I have seen enormous swamps ferment, fish-traps
Where a whole Leviathan rots in the rushes!
Avalanches of water in the midst of a calm,
And the distances cataracting toward the abyss!

Glaciers, suns of silver, nacreous waves, skies of embers!
Hideous strands at the end of brown gulfs
Where giant serpents devoured by bedbugs
Fall down from gnarled tress with black scent!

I should have liked to show children those sunfish
Of the blue wave, the fish of gold, the singing fish.
--Foam of flowers rocked my drifting
And ineffable winds winged me at times.

At times a martyr weary of poles and zones,
The sea, whose sob created my gentle roll,
Brought up to me her dark flowers with yellow suckers
And I remained like a woman on her knees...

Resembling an island tossing on my sides the quarrels
And droppings of noisy birds with yellow eyes.
And I sailed on, when through my fragile ropes
Drowned men sank backward to sleep!

Now I, a boat lost in the foliage of caves,
Thrown by the storm into the birdless air,
I whose water-drunk carcass would not have been rescued
By the Monitors and the Hanseatic sailboats;

Free, smoking, topped with violet fog,
I who pierced the reddening sky like a wall
Bearing--delicious jam for good poets--
Lichens of sunlight and mucus of azure;

Who ran, spotted with small electric moons,
A wild plank, escorted by black seahorses,
When Julys beat down with blows of cudgels
The ultramarine skies with burning funnels;

I, who trembled, hearing at fifty leagues off
The moaning of the Behemoths in heat and the thick Maelstroms,
I, eternal spinner of the blue immobility,
Miss Europe with its ancient parapets!

I have seen sidereal archipelagos! and islands
Whose delirious skies are open to the sea-wanderer:
--Is it in these bottomless nights that you sleep and exile yourself,
Million golden birds, O future Vigor?

But, in truth, I have wept too much! Dawns are heartbreaking.
Every moon is atrocious and every sun bitter.
Acrid love has swollen me with intoxicating torpor.
O let my keel burst! O let me go into the sea!

If I want a water of Europe, it is the black
Cold puddle where in the sweet-smelling twilight
A squatting child full of sadness releases
A boat as fragile as a May butterfly.

No longer can I, bathed in your languor, O waves,
Follow in the wake of the cotton boats,
Nor cross through the pride of flags and flames,
Nor swim under the terrible eyes of prison ships.

_________________________________________ _____________
Translation by A. S. Kline

As I floated down impassive Rivers,
I felt myself no longer pulled by ropes:
The Redskins took my hauliers for targets,
And nailed them naked to their painted posts.

Carrying Flemish wheat or English cotton,
I was indifferent to all my crews.
The Rivers let me float down as I wished,
When the victims and the sounds were through.

Into the furious breakers of the sea,
Deafer than the ears of a child, last winter,
I ran! And the Peninsulas sliding by me
Never heard a more triumphant clamour.

The tempest blessed my sea-borne arousals.
Lighter than a cork I danced those waves
They call the eternal churners of victims,
Ten nights, without regret for the lighted bays!

Sweeter than sour apples to the children
The green ooze spurting through my hull’s pine,
Washed me of vomit and the blue of wine,
Carried away my rudder and my anchor.

Then I bathed in the Poem of the Sea,
Infused with stars, the milk-white spume blends,
Grazing green azures: where ravished, bleached
Flotsam, a drowned man in dream descends.

Where, staining the blue, sudden deliriums
And slow tremors under the gleams of fire,
Stronger than alcohol, vaster than our rhythms,
Ferment the bitter reds of our desire!

I knew the skies split apart by lightning,
Waterspouts, breakers, tides: I knew the night,
The Dawn exalted like a crowd of doves,
I saw what men think they’ve seen in the light!

I saw the low sun, stained with mystic terrors,
Illuminate long violet coagulations,
Like actors in a play, a play that’s ancient,
Waves rolling back their trembling of shutters!

I dreamt the green night of blinded snows,
A kiss lifted slow to the eyes of seas,
The circulation of unheard-of flows,
Sung phosphorus’s blue-yellow awakenings!

For months on end, I’ve followed the swell
That batters at the reefs like terrified cattle,
Not dreaming the Three Marys’ shining feet
Could muzzle with their force the Ocean’s hell!

I’ve struck Floridas, you know, beyond belief,
Where eyes of panthers in human skins,
Merge with the flowers! Rainbow bridles, beneath
the seas’ horizon, stretched out to shadowy fins!

I’ve seen the great swamps boil, and the hiss
Where a whole whale rots among the reeds!
Downfalls of water among tranquilities,
Distances showering into the abyss.

Nacrous waves, silver suns, glaciers, ember skies!
Gaunt wrecks deep in the brown vacuities
Where the giant eels riddled with parasites
Fall, with dark perfumes, from the twisted trees!

I would have liked to show children dolphins
Of the blue wave, the golden singing fish.
– Flowering foams rocked me in my drift,
At times unutterable winds gave me wings.

Sometimes, a martyr tired of poles and zones,
The sea whose sobs made my roilings sweet
Showed me its shadow flowers with yellow mouths
And I rested like a woman on her knees…

Almost an isle, blowing across my sands, quarrels
And droppings of pale-eyed clamorous gulls,
And I scudded on while, over my frayed lines,
Drowned men sank back in sleep beneath my hull!…

Now I, a boat lost in the hair of bays,
Hurled by the hurricane through bird-less ether,
I, whose carcass, sodden with salt-sea water,
No Monitor or Hanseatic vessel could recover:

Freed, in smoke, risen from the violet fog,
I, who pierced the red skies like a wall,
Bearing the sweets that delight true poets,
Lichens of sunlight, gobbets of azure:

Who ran, stained with electric moonlets,
A crazed plank, companied by black sea-horses,
When Julys were crushing with cudgel blows
Skies of ultramarine in burning funnels:

I, who trembled to hear those agonies
Of rutting Behemoths and dark Maelstroms,
Eternal spinner of blue immobilities,
I regret the ancient parapets of Europe!

I’ve seen archipelagos of stars! And isles
Whose maddened skies open for the sailor:
– Is it in depths of night you sleep, exiled,
Million birds of gold, O future Vigour? –

But, truly, I’ve wept too much! The Dawns
Are heartbreaking, each moon hell, each sun bitter:
Fierce love has swallowed me in drunken torpors.
O let my keel break! Tides draw me down!

If I want one pool in Europe, it’s the cold
Black pond where into the scented night
A child squatting filled with sadness launches
A boat as frail as a May butterfly.

Bathed in your languor, waves, I can no longer
Cut across the wakes of cotton ships,
Or sail against the pride of flags, ensigns,
Or swim the dreadful gaze of prison ships.


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Poem Submitted: Saturday, April 3, 2010



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