Monday, September 14, 2009

Le sève est du champagne

Novel
by Arthur Rimbaud
tr. by Wyatt Mason


I.

No one's serious at seventeen.
--On beautiful nights when beer and lemonade
And loud, blinding cafés are the last thing you need
--You stroll beneath green lindens on the promenade.

Lindens smell fine on fine June nights!
Sometimes the air is so sweet that you close your eyes;
The wind brings sounds--the town is near--
And carries scents of vineyards and beer. . .

II.

--Over there, framed by a branch
You can see a little patch of dark blue
Stung by a sinister star that fades
With faint quiverings, so small and white. . .

June nights! Seventeen!--Drink it in.
Sap is champagne, it goes to your head. . .
The mind wanders, you feel a kiss
On your lips, quivering like a living thing. . .

III.

The wild heart Crusoes through a thousand novels
--And when a young girl walks alluringly
Through a streetlamp's pale light, beneath the ominous shadow
Of her father's starched collar. . .

Because as she passes by, boot heels tapping,
She turns on a dime, eyes wide,
Finding you too sweet to resist. . .
--And cavatinas die on your lips.

IV.

You're in love. Off the market
till August.
You're in love.--Your sonnets make Her laugh.
Your friends are gone, you're bad news.
--Then, one night, your beloved, writes. . .!

That night. . .you return to the blinding cafés;
You order beer or lemonade. . .
--No one's serious at seventeen
When lindens line the promenade.

29 September 1870


The French title for this poem is Roman, which does, indeed, mean "Novel", but one inevitably feels that something is lost in the translation. In "The wild heart Crusoes through a thousand novels," 'Crusoes' should be read as verb: Rimbaud's verb is robinsonne. A looser, but better, way to capture the idea in English would be to verbalize Robinsonade: The crazy heart of a seventeen-year-old robinsonades through novels. As, indeed, the not-quite-so-crazy hearts of those older than seventeen sometimes do, too.

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