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Translated by Holly Tannen,
assisted by Lydia Rand

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Reality being too thorny for my great personality, I found myself nonetheless at my lady's, a big blue-grey bird soaring toward the moldings of the ceiling and dragging my wing through the shadows of the evening.

     At the foot of the counterpane holding her adored jewels and physical masterpieces, I was a big bear with purple gums and fur hoary with sorrow, eyes on the crystal and silver of the sideboards.

     All became shadow and fiery aquarium. In the morning - belligerent June sunrise - I ran through the fields, an ass, braying and brandishing my grief, until the Sabines of the suburbs came to throw themselves upon my withers.

Translator's note: This piece was originally entitled "Metamorphosis." Like many of the "Illuminations," it was probably written while Rimbaud was living in London with Verlaine. Rimbaud compares himself to the boastful weaver in "A Midsummer Night's Dream" who fancies himself a great actor and is turned into an ass.
     Claude Jeancolas (Rimbaud, l'Oeuvre. Textuel, 2000), like Rimbaud's posthumous brother-in-law Paterne Berrichon, considers this poem an evocation of Arthur's first heterosexual experience. I am inclined instead to agree with Enid Starkie: "As he sits beneath the window of the girl he loves but cannot reach, his imagination conjures up possibilities which might bridge the gulf which separates them." (Arthur Rimbaud, New Directions, 1961. P. 274)
     Many commentators interpret the "Sabines of the suburbs" as prostitutes. I see them rather as housewives - the Sabine women were forced into marriage, not prostitution - annoyed by this kid running through the streets making a big scene.
     The last word of the original is "poitrail," the breast of a horse. I don't know of an equivalent term in English, so I settled upon "withers",the shoulder of a horse, which is incorrect anatomically but retains the equine imagery.

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La réalité étant trop épineuse pour mon grand caractère, -je me trouvai néanmoins chez ma dame, en gros oiseau gris bleu s'essorant vers les moulures du plafond et traînant l'aile dans les ombres de la soirée.

     Je fus, au pied du baldaquin supportant ses bijoux adorés et ses chef-d'oeuvre physiques, un gros ours aux gencives violettes et au poil chenu de chagrin, les yeux aux cristaux et aux argents des consoles.

     Tout se fit ombre et aquarium ardent. Au matin - aube de juin batailleuse, - je courus aux champs, âne, claironnant et brandissant mon grief, jusqu'à ce que les Sabines de la banlieue vinrent se jeter à mon poitrail.

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     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"

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Michael Potts, webster updated 23 April 2002 : 9:15 Caspar (Pacific) time

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