the previous poem more about Practical Alchemy the next poem

red line
Le Bateau Ivre  :  The Drunken Boat
Translated, edited, and adapted for performance by Holly Tannen,
assisted by Lydia Rand, Lynne Abels, and Dennis J. Carlile
Old mill at Charleville on the river Meuse around the turn of the century. To the right is quai Madeleine where Rimbaud lived with his mother, brother, and sisters until Verlaine invited him to Paris.
As I came floating down impassive rivers
I felt myself no longer guided by the bargemen's hands
Howling natives hauled them up for targets
Nailed them naked onto painted poles.

What did I care I for any crew?
Traders of Flemish wheat or English cotton
When they were through with all their noisy grief
The rivers let me wander where I would.

Out on the angry splash of winter tides
Emptier than children's minds I ran!
And no unmoored peninsula ever knew
More triumphant uproar than I made...

Sweeter than sour apples to a child
Green water seeping through my battered hull
Cleansing the stains of vomit and the wine
Tearing apart my anchor and my keel.

Light as a cork I danced upon the waves, ten nights
And never missed the lantern's idiot eyes...

...And since then, I've been bathing in the Poem of the Sea,
Milk-white, infused with stars...

I know the sky split wide by lightning, tides,
And surf, and waterspouts; I know the night,
And dawn exalted like a flock of doves
And sometimes I have seen what man has thought he's seen!

I've seen the setting sun light up the shiv'ring purple waves
Like actors in some ancient tragedy...
I've dreamed the evening green with dazzled snow and singing phosphor
And kisses rising slowly on the eyelids of the sea...

I've touched the shores of Floridas where flowers mingle
With the eyes of panthers in the skins of men
And monstrous serpents eaten up with lice
Drop down from trees entwined with black perfume...

I've seen sidereal archipelagoes and islands
Ecstatic skies thrown open to the traveller on the wave
Is it in these endless nights you sleep in exile
O million golden birds, o future strength?

I'd like to show to children these dolphins on the wave
These fish of gold, these singing fish
These flowers of foam that lulled my scudding course
Until I rested like a woman on her knees.

There were times I'd list, almost an island,
Beneath the quarrels and droppings of the barking blond-eyed birds
And there were times when past my fragile bow
A pensive corpse came floating backwards by.

Lost beneath the estuary's long and trailing hair
Jettisoned by hurricane into the birdless ether
There's neither shipbuilder nor sailor
Would salvage my water-drunken carcass now...

I who rose from violet fog and ran...
Steaming and free, stained with electric crescents...
Herds of black seahorses by my side

I who trembled, fifty leagues away
From groans of gathering storms and rutting whales...
I long for Europe with its ancient parapets...

True, I've wept too much. Dawns are heartbreaking
Every sun is agonizing, every moon is cruel
Acrid love has swollen me with drunken torpors
Split apart my keel! Let me go to the sea!

If I do desire any European water
It's the cold black pond at twilight
Where a lone child crouches, eyes full of sorrow,
And sets sail a boat frail as a butterfly in May.

Sodden with weary waves
I can no longer sail against the cotton-trader's wake
Nor cross the pride of flags and blazing banners
Nor swim beneath the prison-ship's dreadful eyes.

Note: In adapting "The Drunken Boat" for performance, I cut the original twenty-five stanzas down to seventeen. In order to keep the wave shape I've cobbled several verses together and moved the "O million golden birds" verse from its original place four verses from the end. For more complete versions, see the translations by Louise Varèse, Wallace Fowlie, Oliver Bernard, Paul Schmidt, Dennis J. Carlile, and Wyatt Mason.

the Lavoir at Roche where Rimbaud loved to dream -- photo by Alain Grillon
Washhouse at Roche
photo credit: Alain Grillon
red line

back to the Prologue      Poem of the Sea
translations      next poem: What do we care, my heart...

Practical Alchemy
HollyTannenLT.gif - 5520 Bytes
Mistress of Folklore
Box 1136
Mendocino, California

Fax 707-937-3055
     Holly Tannen teaches folklore and anthropology, and has lectured on contemporary magic at U.C. Berkeley and at Yale University. Her recordings include "Invocation", "Between the Worlds", and "Rime of the Ancient Matriarch"

Holly's home page :  CDs :  concerts :  workshops :  vita :  quotes

HollyTannenLT.gif - 5520 Bytes
Mistress of Folklore
Box 1136
Mendocino, California

Fax 707-937-3055

Michael Potts, webster updated 4 April 2002 : 10:25 Caspar (Pacific) time

All text, translations, and songs copyright © 2002 by Holly Tannen