It is newly found.
Who? – Eternity.
Is the sea, vanished
With the sunshine.
Raun your consent,
Soul on the watch,
With the day’s fires,
Of cries of applause,
From lowly drive
Releasing you into the open
Swing on you and fly.
For you only originate,
Her glow of velvet,
The breath of a duty,
The never goes out.
There let hope go,
Waiting and watching;
Agony is sure only.
She is newly found.
Who? – Eternity.
Is the sea, gone
With the sunshine.
The reader, who has taken from Rimbaud’s early poems from the years 1870/71 his so-called Last verses The reader who turns his attention to his poems, the vast majority of which were written in 1872, will be surprised at how the tone and mood of his poetry have changed. Whereas at that time Rimbaud attacked the outer world as he found it in rugged poems and imbued it with powerful sensual metaphors, he now returned, as it were, to the "inner worlds" of introspection, which in retrospect are fed by childhood memories and native-rural images and in view of an uncertain future are interwoven with a black, often bitter irony. Rimbaud, one might say, has begun to reflect on the boundaries drawn for him, and so, in the midst of his turbulent life with Verlaine and his Parisian friends, verses as sonorous as they are dark in meaning emerge as an expression of his struggle for a threatened artistic as well as human integrity, songlike, melancholy, rhythmically virtuously executed poems, which look like signals of a halt before a new departure into the poetic world of the Illuminations and the Season en enfer work.
Such poems, which have no "occasion" in the grossly external sense of this word, naturally elude quick access, and every commentator therefore finds himself on the fine line of a more or less factual attribution of the poems to external events and a speculative interpretation that all too often leads astray. While the first method attributes too small a capacity to the poetic imagination, the second dangerously proclaims its complete autonomy. The most permissible and safest way, however, might be to provide the reader with only cautious hints, but otherwise to let him dwell above all before the enigmatic beauty of Rimbaud’s verses themselves.
born 1854 in Charleville, died 1891 in Marseille, composed his poetic work between the 15. and (probably) 20. Year of life. Most of the poems in this volume were written around 1872. He is the second of a new translation of the poetic work in single editions. The first volume was published under the title The drunken ship.
Rimbaud Publishing Company, blurb, 1992
When the brass wakes up as a trumpet
– Rimbaud: The images of the unconscious. –
You are in the Occident, but you are free to dwell in your Orient, in as old a time as you need – and settle there. Do not give in to defeat.
Rimbaud in "A Season in Hell"
Arthur Rimbaud, in his self-description "A Season in Hell", left no doubt that his poetry was not an artificial continuation of literary traditions. Rather, it was the manifestation of a need for life, which he consistently spoke of only as long as it existed for him:
Oh! This life of my childhood, on the country road in all weathers, moderate in a supernatural way, more wishful than the best beggar, proud of having no home, no friends…
It was not a desire to become a poet that led the studious and well-mannered fifteen-year-old to write a poem like "The New Year’s Gifts of Orphans" in 1869:
In the house is no longer a mother! – the father far!..
Only an old maid is helpful to them.
So alone are the little ones in the icy rooms,
Rimbaud here evoked his own situation. While his mother was not dead, she was even – in her bigoted, hard-hearted and miserly way – painfully present. But it was precisely the fact that she kept such a strict regime, not only chastising and beating her children, but also driving her husband out of the house ("the father far!"), triggered in the son the feeling of being an unprotected, an orphaned child.
A few years earlier, in 1862 or 1863, the boy had already imagined in a school notebook another childhood in another era:
I dreamed that… I was born in Rheims, in 1503… My parents were not particularly rich, but very honorable people… My mother was… a gentle, quiet woman, who was frightened by a little thing, but kept the house in the best order… She was so quiet that my father joked with her as with a young girl. I was her favorite child..
This prose piece was a refuge from reality. It sketched a counter-world in which the father appears as the officer he actually was, while the mother is transfigured and wrapped in an aura of ideality that shows her to be quite different from the woodenly proud landowner’s daughter who lived withdrawn from her neighbors, kept the children on a short leash of material utilitarianism, and in this proceeded with such cold reason that Rimbaud said of her in a letter that she was "as unyielding as seventy-three administrators in lead helmets."
The unfortunate boy benefited from his talent for language. And the skill he acquired as a student in writing Latin and Greek verses was useful to him when the emotional pressure built up and when he needed an outlet for the lingual regulation of his despair and rage.
However, literature was ultimately too weak a means of capturing and deriving what tensions existed in Rimbaud. Thus the poetic eruptions with which he surprised not only his teacher Izambard but also the Parnasse poet Theodore de Banville in 1870 were soon accompanied by attempts at escape, in which the young rebel’s desire to break out shifted from the symbolic stage of agitation additionally to the level of crude factuality.
In 1871, when Rimbaud was picked up for the third time and brought back to Charleville, he wrote to George Izambard and Paul Demeny those two Seer-Letters that represent a rejection of her own poetry up to that point and, moreover, condemn most of the world’s poetry for its subjectivity.
What the poet demanded of himself and others from then on was a poetry "on strike" that broke with all traditions, not out of showmanship, however, but out of an anthropological impulse that already anticipated essentials of psychoanalysis: Freud’s concept of the ‘it’ and C.G. Jung’s postulate of the ‘collective unconscious’.
The lyric poet, Rimbaud found, must engage in lumpiness and take on suffering in order to dispose himself to be both medium and mouthpiece:
It is wrong to say. One would have to say: it thinks me… I is an Other. All the worse for the wood that finds itself as a violin, and mockery of the unsuspecting who niggle at that which they do not know at all!
Even more apodictic was the following letter in which Rimbaud pontificated:
All ancient poetry completes itself in Greek poetry. Harmonious existence. – From Greece to the Romantic movement – all through the Middle Ages – there are only educated, verse-makers. From Ennius to Theroldus, from Theroldus to Casimir Delavigne, all is mere rhymed prose, pure play, softening, and glory-seeking of countless idiotic generations…
Then, after some associative links, Rimbaud once again let follow the sentence that he had already made a maxim: "For I am another"; and similarly as before by the analogy of the wood and the violin he clarifies his opinion also this time:
If the brass wakes up as a trumpet, it is not itself to blame for it.
The Seer-Letters are heated, imaginative and pictorial epistles, which not only have their place in Rimbaud’s work. They also have an immense significance far beyond modern French poetry. Nevertheless, one should not see a calculated poetology in these spontaneous and moreover disproportionately presented proclamations. The Seer-Letters are rather psychogrammatic probes of a brilliant adolescent who, in an act of radical self-liberation, tried to overcome the traumas of his childhood by writing verse, and who thereby became aware that poetry has more to do with amorphous driving forces than with traditional forms and predetermined contents.
Since Rimbaud’s attempts at escape ultimately led nowhere, he chose a different direction for his escapism – the path to the psychic interior, where he unexpectedly found a large supply of archaic images:
The first thing that the man who wants to be a poet must work out is the full knowledge of his own; he traces his soul, gains insights into it, seduces it, makes the experience of its essence his own. Once he knows, he must cultivate his soul! This seems very simple: in every head a natural development takes place; that is why so many egoists declare themselves to be authors; and there are many others who attribute their spiritual progress to themselves! – But it is a question of expanding the soul into the monstrous… I say it is necessary to be a seer, to make oneself seer. The poet becomes sighted through a long violent and deliberate unleashing of all senses. All forms of love, suffering, madness; he searches himself, exhausts all poisonous effects in himself… Thus he reaches the unknown, and even if, overwhelmed, he ends by no longer understanding his own visions, he has nevertheless seen them! May he break quietly in his giant leap through the unheard-of and unnameable things: other frightening workers will come after him and start at the horizons where the predecessor has exhausted himself!
The Seer-Letters were the intuitive theoretical prerequisite for a break with the previous subjective poetry. And the insights that came to light in them, as it were, like glowing emotional magma, gave the young Rimbaud the possibility to experience and to understand terra incognita to open up.
His famous poem "The Drunken Ship" – still written in bound form and rhymes – was the transposition of his own fate problems into the landscape of the tropics, which with its primeval natural scenery provided a grandiose exotic background for the hallucinatory of overheated fantasy images.
In "Drunken Ship" one of Rimbaud’s central motifs sounded for the first time: his aversion to Europe, whose Christian beliefs and material practices he was soon to counter with the introspections of his prose poems before breaking with poetry altogether in the poetic-existential account "A Season in Hell" and preparing for his later life in Africa:
I am an animal, a Negro. But I can be saved. You are false Negroes… Merchant, you are Negroes… General, you are Negroes; Emperor, mangy old man, you are Negroes… The wisest thing is to leave this continent where madness prowls…
Even in his prose poems, the "Illuminations," written when he was eighteen and nineteen, Rimbaud had settled accounts with the Occident…partly by inventing unreal terrain as a refuge…partly by direct, viciously worded criticism:
Wherever on any evening, for example, the unspoiled traveler, escaped from our economic abominations, may find himself, the hand of a master makes the meadow piano sound, one plays cards at the bottom of the pond…. Slave of its visions, Germany laboriously works its way up to the regions of the moons; the deserts of Tartary brighten; the revolutions of ancient times crawl in the center of the Celestial Empire; on the steps and armchairs of rocks a small, pale and flat world, Africa and countries of the Occident, wants to build itself up… The same bourgeois magic everywhere, wherever the mail drops us off..! The simplest physics student feels that it is no longer possible to put up with this personal atmosphere…
Rimbaud, with the pasted images of his prose poem "Historical Evening," has cassandra-like the monstrosities of the 20th century. Rimbaud anticipated the most tragic dreams of the twentieth century: the trivialization of space through rocket technology, Asian steppe communism, and the social upheavals in China. His medial sensitivity enabled him to read the coming disruptions and destructions from inconspicuous signs which he perceived in his environment and which became a portent for him.
During a short creative period, in which he – similar to Gongora and later Giorgio de Chirico – freely interacted with the phenomena of space and time, he felt himself as the sovereign of his life, even as a Promethean remodeler of the earth. Afterwards, he was frightened by the pretensions of his fantasies of omnipotence; and the delimiting (partly stimulated by hashish intoxication) constructions of the "Illuminations" were followed by the hungover examination of conscience "A Season in Hell".
The poet, who had previously brought his resentment almost exclusively to the outside world, now included himself in his criticism and his disgust with existence. Faced with the necessity of saving the shattered ego, his poetic delirium suddenly appeared to him as foolishness, and the pride in having discovered, even invented, "the alchemy of the word" and "the color of the vowels" did not cancel out the fear of going mad. The seer and creator gave no more occasion for boastfulness:
My black art of the word was not without all kinds of poetic junk… At last I came to feel the confusion of my mind as something almost sacred… I fell into idleness, stricken with a heavy fever: I envied the animals their bliss, – the caterpillars who embody the innocence of unbaptized children, the moles, the sleep of virginity… At last, O happiness, I detached the blue from the sky, so that it is now black, and I lived, golden spark of the light nature… I became a fairy-tale opera: I saw that all beings have their happiness determined by doom: The act is not life, but a kind of waste of strength, a weakening. Morality is brain weakness… My health was endangered. Fear overcame me. I slept sometimes for whole days, and when I got up, I continued to dream the saddest dreams. I was ripe for death… I had to wander, to dispel the magic images that had accumulated in my brain…
Rimbaud (if he also influenced the poetry of the future with his work and became trend-setting for later movements such as Expressionism, Creacionism and Surrealism) had, according to his own judgment, failed on the way inwards. He had only been able to bring forth new truths and images from the depths of his artificially confused psyche because he had deliberately destroyed his rational ego and had thereby put himself in a position that could not be reached by C.G. Jung in The Relations between the Ego and the Unconscious is described as follows:
A breakdown of conscious attitude… is always a small end of the world… One is at the mercy, disoriented, a rudderless ship, at the mercy of the whims of the elements. At least it seems so. In reality, however, one has fallen back on the collective unconscious, which now takes the lead… But if the unconscious contents reach consciousness and fill it with their almost uncanny power of persuasion, the question arises how the individual will react to it. If it is overwhelmed by these contents? Or will it merely believe them? Or will it reject them?… The first case means paranoia or schizophrenia. The second case becomes a prophetic oddity or an infantile person, but it leaves the human cultural community. The third case means the regressive restoration of the persona..
A person who restitutes his individuality in a regressive way is – according to Jung – someone who "as a result of the horror has slipped back to an earlier stage of development of his personality, he has diminished himself and gives himself the appearance of still being before the critical experience, but with a total inability even to think of repeating such a venture."
Jung’s reflections, although meant in principle, can be applied in a striking way to Rimbaud… from the moment he felt himself to be the brass of a trumpet blown by another, to the abandonment of his literary career and the no longer understanding of what he had passionately pursued for a time.
Rimbaud, when he turned away from Izambard and Demeny and began to run up a storm against Europe, history, society, culture, the church, marriage, science, technology, and progress, was probably acting far more compulsively than those exegetes who see in him a conscious provocateur and methodical arranger would like to admit.
His disastrous childhood, even before it came to an end, passed into a youthful existence, which was no less unbearable, since instead of the longed-for fulfillment of love with women, it brought only the male friendship with Verlaine, which brought lively intellectual exchange, but at the same time an inwardly never accepted physical contact…
Rimbaud’s problems, extra-literary as they actually were, could not be solved by literary means (and in literary milieus), only alienated creatively:
In the forest lives a bird, its song makes you stop your step and blush.
There is a clock that does not strike.
There is a ravine with a nest full of white animals.
There is a cathedral that sinks, and a lake that rises.
There is a small wagon that stands abandoned in the bushes or rolls down the path, all decorated with colorful ribbons.
There is a company of small actors in their theatrical costumes, seen on the road that passes through the edge of the forest.
There is at last, when you are hungry and thirsty, a person who chases you away.
Rimbaud had first become a poet because poetry was supposed to distance him from reality (like that exercise book narrative in which he transported himself back to the Middle Ages). But it soon became apparent that poetry and the men who practiced it were not likely to give his mind freedom and relieve his soul of pain. Thus he fell for the idea of penetrating into the unknown of his own self as into a continent yet to be discovered:
Enough looked. The vision has met me under all the skies.
Enough possessed. Roaring of the cities, in the evening, and in the sun, and always.
Known enough. The moments when life stands still. – O roars and visions!
Departure in new love and new noise.
The new love, the new sound, however, did not materialize – except in the fantasy and in the art world of alchemical word-sounds. Therefore Rimbaud became more and more desperate and, as a consequence, more and more boorish, foul-mouthed and cynical. As he had previously spat at priests and pelted them with lice, he now insulted his friends, the Parisian literati, until they boycotted him. And when he henceforth depended entirely on his mentor Verlaine, he tormented the latter, who confused and provoked him with homosexual desire, to such an extent that on one of their joint trips to Brussels it finally came to a fiasco and Verlaine shot the friend.
Rimbaud perceived everything that happened to him on the part of the literati as a confirmation of his already bad life experiences. The world was brutal, "barbaric" (the title of one of his prose poems); one could only hate and curse it, and nothing remained for the martyred heart but to "calm sexual innocence in bitterness". For this, however, every means was right: meanness, betrayal, vice, intoxication, the mockery of the church and the deformation of reality into monstrous metaphoric formations, in which scholastic education and the fruits of reading were combined with one’s own dissociations, so that an affective work came into being… about the same time as Lautreamont’s The songs of Maldoror, this (artistically admittedly far less concentrated) word cataract.
In the "Illuminations," Rimbaud became a magician, a sly juggler, interspersing fairy-tale subjects and ancient motifs with particles of science and private philosophical aphorisms – all above the abyss of a world gone transcendentless. There are flowers at the North Pole. Or, in a text entitled "Light Rail," a "simple-minded undine" who stands in as strange a neighborhood as, elsewhere, the "nymphs of Horace in the hairdress of the First Empire".
Rimbaud adopted the form of the prose poem from Baudelaire, along with nervous urban restlessness, that hallmark of modernism:
Truly, the nerves are in a hurry to chase.
But while the prose poems of his predecessor are still largely narrative in character and tend toward scenic elaboration, Rimbaud’s is abrupt and acausal. There are no more episodes, nothing narrative-organic, no chronology, no logic.
The only thread that runs through the fabric of the miniatures is the poet’s erratic imagination, a wandering fantasy that – the final text of the "Illuminations" is called "Selling Out!" – the stocks of the Occident squandered like leftovers:
Up there, the feet in the waterfall and in the thorns, the deer suck on the breasts of Diana. The bacchantes of the suburbs sobbed, and the moon burned and howled.
Or, incurably dissonant and desolate:
In the dirty main street the meat banks were opened, and one pushed the barques to the sea, which lay graded up there, as on the copper engravings… Mrs. *** set up a piano in the Alps. The Mass and the celebrations of the First Communion were held at the hundred thousand altars of the cathedral. The caravans set out. And the Splendid Hotel was built in the primeval world of the ice and the night of the North Pole. From then on the moon heard how the jackals whined in the thyme meadows, – and how the shepherds’ poems, wooden shoes on their feet, growled in the orchard.
Rimbaud’s somnambulistic song, however, did not lose itself entirely in the imaginary. Again and again, the personal, the confessional sounded in harsh diction: "… and we wandered along, feeding on the wine of the taverns and the rusks of the street, I, urged by the desire to find the place and the formula," it says about the vagabond time that the poet spent together with Verlaine. But more haunting than anything else are casual expressions of pain that refer back to festering childhood wounds:
Small children stifle imprecations along the rivers.
I could well be the child abandoned on the breakwater driven into the high sea, the little boy walking along the avenue, whose forehead touches the sky.
The sense of insecurity that had defined Rimbaud’s childhood and youth led to the furious hammer blows of his poems and prose poems. But because his rebelliousness, which made him shake the bars of the universal cage, did not lead to any result, to any external and internal liberation, his fighting courage and his power of resistance gradually broke down. The poetic attacks now became questionable to him, indeed, from a certain point on they seemed to him unworthy and ridiculous, and when he was later approached about his poetry, he evaded them or made terse derogatory remarks.
The poet and the seer Rimbaud – that had been a person in a state of revolt and catharsis. A berserker who had taken on the gods – for a brief intoxicating time, at the end of which he had to realize that it had all been in vain after all, the spell of words and the fever of images. Christ was not to be driven out of the churches; and the commercial and mean-thinking century in which he lived remained unalterably "a century of stooges.". Nothing had succeeded to him, nothing had been granted:
… the showiness and the intimacy with women was forbidden to me. Not even a comrade.
In "A Season in Hell" Rimbaud mercilessly holds self-judgment, he calls himself of "inferior race" and calls misfortune his god. "I have," he says bitterly, "called the executioners, only because in death I wanted to bite the butts of their guns."Thus speaks not a megalomaniac poet, but a poor battered creature, a fallen angel who no longer dares to claim himself:
I can make gold, produce remedies.
The departure, the storming of the heavens, was unsuccessful. And Rimbaud’s silencing as a poet occurred no less compulsively than had previously been the unleashing of the lyrical stream of speech, which had been based on a desire to relieve pressure, but which led ever deeper into entanglement and doom, until no other feelings remained than disgust with life and the desire for death:
If only they would finally rent me this grave, whitewashed, with relief lines of cement, – very deep in the earth.
From the beginning, Rimbaud’s poetry was designed to be silenced. The titanic rebellion found a counterpart in the fright about his own excessiveness. And when it had succeeded in calming the whipped blood and bringing down the mind from hybrid heights, that state occurred which C.G. Jung described as the regressive restoration of the persona on a lower level of consciousness.
The process was complete. A few more poems followed, just as a few boulders rumble behind in a landslide. Otherwise the volcano was extinct… and its top, the eruptive cone, had exploded and blown away.
Rimbaud believed himself to have failed as a man and as a poet. But before finally turning his back on Europe, the hated continent, and isolating himself in Abyssinia, he made many spontaneous journeys, which took him halay around the world, but from which he always returned to France.
Parallel to his journeys in space, all of which had something aimless-escape-like about them, he undertook linguistic forays in which he learned numerous foreign languages. These efforts, in my opinion, were not only practical, communicative – they also had a psychic stabilizing function. Foreign languages, modern psychotherapy teaches us, are apt to act as sedatives in schizophrenics and other anxiety sufferers. Because there are no emotion-laden memory roots attached to the vocabulary of an unfamiliar idiom that has yet to be learned, they can be used therapeutically: as verbal synapses that can be used to make connections other than those manifested in the native language.
Rimbaud, who had been inspired to write poetry by the ancient poets he had been forced to read at school, gained distance from himself and his poetry at the end of his career as a word alchemist by learning emotionally neutral languages.
The reason he finally went to East Africa and settled in the desolate place of Harar may have had to do with his father. The latter had also spent four years in Africa: in Algeria, where he had served as an officer in the army before his marriage, and had developed an interest in Islam, which led him to Quran to translate.
Rimbaud learned Arabic from his father’s sura transcriptions. However, he was not attracted to the Maghreb, but deep into the dark part of the world: to the "sons of Ham," the blacks, to whom he had already expressed a sympathetic closeness in his poetic work.
When the poet, who had long since ceased to be one, began a new unhoused existence in the Horn of Africa, he entered into a certain inner relationship with his father, and at the same time he created a sufficient distance to Europe and his family. By now trading in agricultural products and weapons, and possibly even slaves, he left behind any aspiration to poetry and beauty, and in ascetic self-denial did exactly what his materialistic-minded mother had always expected of him: he raked in money, strived for filthy lucre.
Rimbaud, who was still occupied with languages in Africa, mastered Arabic so perfectly that he taught the locals in Harar during his after-work hours, and on excursions he gave lessons to camel drivers from the Koran read aloud. The people who dealt with him in Ethiopia considered that he was a Muslim like them, and he emphasized this impression by wrapping himself in oriental garments.
On his deathbed in Marseille, he is said to have muttered, according to the testimony of his sister Isabelle, "Allah Kerim!", "The will of Allah be done!"
The letters that Rimbaud wrote from Africa to his relatives were laconic and amusing. Only rarely were there illustrations of lands and places. The huckster, the cold project maker, who was anxious to keep his distance and to keep Europe and its concerns away from him, spoke out more clearly:
You speak to me of political news. If you knew how indifferent I am to it!… Like the Muslims I know that what is to happen, happens, and thus enough.
At the end of his meteoric literary career, Rimbaud had said that he was concerned with "possessing truth in one soul and in one body". Now, having become a man of action, he suffered from the trivialization of his existence no less than in the days of his poetic upsurges: "… what to write to you?? That one be bored, that one be stupefied, debauched, that one have enough of it, but cannot stop"; then, only three paragraphs further on, however, he made a statement that sounds far more positive, and which proves the inconsistency of his sentiments and the volatility of his reasoning:
The people in Harar are neither dumber nor more rascally than the white Negroes of the so-called civilized countries, they are not the same kind, that’s all. They are even less mischievous and can show gratitude and loyalty in certain cases.
Rimbaud answered his mother’s letters wanting him back in France with finesse and shifting arguments. He evaded the marriage plans of his family and soon protected business, soon entrenched himself behind climatic needs. The necessity of staying away from Europe was made plausible by ever new concerns and pretexts:
… what position could I have? That is also such a question. In addition, one thing is completely impossible for me, to live firmly settled.
Rimbaud would probably never have returned to France had it not been for the rapidly growing tumor on his right knee in the spring of 1891, which caused him to dissolve his settlement in Harar and – under the most primitive conditions and plagued by unbearable pain – to travel to Aden. There he took a ship to Marseille and immediately had his leg amputated. He spent a few days in his mother’s house in Roche. Then he made the mad plan to return to Africa: for the sake of the warmer climate, from which he expected to recover. He made it, accompanied by his sister Isabelle, just to Marseille, where he had to go to the hospital again. A paralysis that seized all his limbs added to the pain the horror of the failure of his own body. "Cancer" was the diagnosis at that time. But it may also have been the final stage of syphilis.
The redeeming death presented itself on 10. November 1891 a. Shortly before his demise, the only thirty-seven-year-old is said to have performed the Islamic and the Catholic rite of death. –
Of all the poets of the pre-modern era, Rimbaud has probably had the greatest influence on the following generations… worldwide… however, with a phase delay of decades (again not untypical for border-shifting achievements).
Without his "Illuminations," these rigorous colonizations of the unconscious, Surrealism would hardly have been formed – at least not with the depth and broad impact it eventually had, reaching all of Europe as well as Asia and, in different ways, both Americas.
"The Drunken Ship" also has true verse squadrons – especially those under the German flag! – set off for the exotic lands of imaginary countries. Paul Zech (still exaggerating the expansion of the original) let himself be carried away to an eloquent translation adventure; and from the Expressionists to Brecht’s House Postilion the vocabulary of the "bateau ivre" acted as a metaphorical drug that could be used impressively against poetic convention and the draining terminology of Western civilization.
The quotations are based largely on: Arthur Rimbaud: All Poems (translation Walther Kuchler, completed by Carl Andreas) and Arthur Rimbaud: Letters. Documents (translated, explained, edited by Curt Ochwadt), Rowohlt Verlag (rororo) 1963 and 1964.
Hans-Jurgen Heise, first publication in Universitas 11/1991. Here in Hans-Jurgen Heise: Marshalling yard of alien life. Essay on 33 key figures of modernism. Wallstein Verlag, 2008 condensed.
Johannes Hubner: "Je est un autre". Thoughts on Arthur Rimbaud
DU, issue 1, January 1969
Rimbaud Mystique – The Mystical Rimbaud (1992)
I became acquainted with Rimbaud at a time when I was very interested in the mystical experience – especially under its formal and linguistic aspects. More and more I deepened my reading and said to myself: Rimbaud seems to have the same lineage, that of mystical madness. I had the idea of trying to translate him into my language, but the difficulties I encountered forced me to postpone this project for the time being; however, the work I had already done allowed me to better appreciate the nature of the path Rimbaud had taken.
First of all, it seemed to me that Rimbaud’s work is characterized by a very accentuated rejection of all elements derived from the Greek and Judeo-Christian cultural heritage. Such behavior gives it a unique character within the French culture of its time, insofar as it does not seem to be a banal rejection expressed by complete silence or by a negative attitude. Rimbaud seems to have tried to develop a way of thinking and practicing a language different from the one that was available to him through his culture, milieu and education. It is not even this or that select tradition that he plays with on occasion and seems to reject, but it is the entire West as a cultural entity. When I understood this, it meant at the same time for me that the poetry of Rimbaud was foreign to French poetry.
Secondly, I noted that Rimbaud, in his letters to Izambard and Demeny, arrived at formulations very close to those of the great Arab mystics, especially as regards the "sensible disorder of all the senses" destined to support a state of transparency that allows one to penetrate the opaque density of the external world in order to hear the inaudible and ultimately to see the invisible.
This led me to try to read Rimbaud as a mystical poet.
In this new reading, I have found in Rimbaud’s poetry the most important dimensions of the creative Arabic vision. Now the word "Arabic" may evoke a certain ambiguity here; therefore, I would like to clarify my intentions. I use this word in a sense that completely disregards racist, nationalist or religious concepts. For me, it refers to a cultural complexity whose roots go back much further than Islam: they are found in India, Persia, in Greece, in Sumer and Babylon, and run through both Jewish and Christian prophecies. It is a complexity whose diverse elements came together in the climate of Islam, especially in the climate of the Mediterranean, and which expressed itself in Arabic. My reading, then, is that of an Arab poet of today, trying to explore the "Arab" dimension in the broadest sense in the vision, the experiment of Rimbaud.
Now, as for the word "Orient", it means to me ‘Arab Orient’, which is a part of a much broader Orient, which, despite the diversity of its peoples and its cultures, is a cohesive unit vis-à-vis the Occident.
Rimbaud was born, lived and died in the second half of the 19th century. The first century of the 20th century (20. October 1854 – 15. November 1891). He spent more than ten years of his short existence in an Arabo-Islamic milieu. His first letter from Aden bears the date of 17. August 1880, the last of the 30. April 1891. We are in an epoch in which Europe has undergone the decisive mutation characterized by the abandonment of the theocratic and feudal stage and by imperialism. The rediscovery of Greek rationality thus contributes to eliminate a priori the mythical thinking and the mythical structures and to create the foundations of a new rationalism.
When life in the Occident began to be based on the industrial dimension, Western thought was just concerned with the critique of the I and the Other. The Arab as the Other was in the midst of these questions, and it can be said that the position of Renan that he took towards Averroes and Averroism in his thesis that he wrote on 11. August 1852 (two years before the birth of Rimbaud), comes to the most remarkable critical questions on the subject of "the Other", the Arab. Even if the criticism of the Arab thinkers that arose from the Western way of thinking was quite far from objectivity and precision – it is not an exaggeration to state that it testifies more to its own development than to authentic understanding of the Arabs – it remains to be noted, however, that Western rationalism builds itself on two main directions, namely Greek philosophy and Arab knowledge.
This rationalism has as its central axis the knowledge of matter, but since matter is in the main something that resists, one is naturally forced to deal with it in order to discover its properties, at least if one wants to understand and change it. The change of matter as a thing or an object inevitably leads to a change of the subject. Thus, Western rationalism begins to express itself through an uninterrupted movement of research and questioning of all that concerns object and subject. In other words: to nature and culture.
Rimbaud possibly believed that the (Paris) Commune in the maelstrom of metamorphoses corresponded to his hopes. We know that it was suffocated in blood after the "moral order" was restored. These facts deeply affected Rimbaud, as a letter to Izambard proves. It may be that the "season in hell" is nothing other than a season in hell of French politics, a way of confronting a rotten, quasi-wild reality.
In the context of this technical rationalism, and moreover because of the flagrant rejection by the official opinion of considering the Arab as the "Other", a current of interest developed for the art and literature of the Arabs, which originally came from the Renaissance. A new way of looking at the Orient and its culture emerged, which could be called an aesthetic, and which goes beyond a view shaped by commercial and political interests; and it also goes beyond simple description or a decorative and beguiling schematization. A great movement oriented to the Orient in its deeper creative dimensions began. This happened in the fields of poetry and the novel, of philosophy and painting, as well as in the field of theater and music. This movement gave rise to some of the great Arabic-Islamic works such as "One Thousand and One Nights" and some mystical texts, especially the works of Farid ud-Din el-Attar (The Book of Encouragements, whose translation was published by Sylvestre de Sacy in 1819, and the Conference of the Birds, which was translated by Garcin de Tassy in 1864).
One participated, in spite of the dominating rationalism, in the appearance of another dimension connected to the invisible aspects and closed to a rational definition. These aspects show up z.B. in the image of the infinite, the magical and the imaginary. The Western creator begins to feel the flow of other relations (outside the obvious and visible causality that was so rationally established), that is, relations that arise from another mysterious causality that cannot be explained. In other words, these are relationships that give rise to the sense of the undefined, the extreme limits, the penetration of the framework of logic and rationality. From this followed a complete reversal of Western literature: condemnation of Boileau’s rhetoric – which dominated the theory of poetry and literature based on reason – and the turn to another world of the imaginary and the dream, of fairy strangeness. This is what Borges, speaking of "The Thousand and One Nights," calls "the astonishing occupation of the West by the Orient". This occupation has put an end to the possession of creative poetry and prose, of artistic creation in general by reason, and has opened art to the immeasurable, to the strange.
Thus, in the light of the immense Western artistic production in the fields of poetry, painting, music, the novel and theater, it is evident that the Arab Orient was an inexhaustible source of images and forms for Western creators. Under these circumstances, it is not surprising that Goethe exclaimed in 1816:
Save yourself, move to the Orient to breathe the air of your ancestors.
and that half a century later Rimbaud echoes him when he says:
Here I am, back in the Orient and close to the first eternal wisdom. 1 In the "Illuminations" "Conte" is a symbolic resume of the person of Shahrayar from One Thousand and One Nights and the mystical journey that Fahrid ud-Din al-Attar made in the Conference of the birds describes. The meeting of the prince with the ghost is reminiscent of the Thousand and One Nights, as Sharayar, the prince, kills all his wives. But this is only the external image. The text also paints a picture of inner search; in the sense of a life journey, it shows that the prince is the spirit and that the spirit is the prince. It is the same with Conference of the Birds – the thirty birds are themselves the simhorg. In the Manifesto again they are distinguished. In the hiddenness they are only a bird. Thus, the poet must discover the spirit, d.h. the world that is hidden in him, in his innermost being. (Note. d. Author’s.)
I am not trying to prove, as a university study might demand, that Rimbaud was influenced by the Arabic-mystical way of thinking. The question of influence is of little importance anyway, because influences, whether received or exerted, are historical phenomena that accompany human creativity worldwide. In artistic creation, nothing comes from nothing; considering the incessant flow, the absolute standstill of the subject is practically impossible.
The most important thing is the way in which the materials offer themselves to the creator and how he uses the influences to which he is subject. I will, moreover, leave aside all that is said about Rimbaud, about his knowledge of the Arabic language and that he died a Muslim. Likewise, I do not want to go into the stories about his father, Frederic Rimbaud, that he is said to have known Arabic, to have translated the Koran into French and to have written books about the Arabic language.
That is not what is important: it may also be that a poet masters the Arabic language and even becomes a Muslim, without this having any influence on his relationship with the mystics. It should be noted, however, that the vast majority of Western scholars who study the influence of the Orient on the Occident understand by Orient first of all Greece, and Judeo-Christianity. Now in Rimbaud’s poetry one can find traces of Greece and Judeo-Christianity, but in a negative way, for his poetry is characterized by a rejection of these two cultures. So the Orient is something quite different in this poetry.
It is this other dimension that I will try to encircle by pointing out that Rimbaud revolts against the ideology of progress and inherited culture by using non-Western elements that could be called Arabic – of course in the broadest and cultural sense of the term mentioned above. Through his language, Rimbaud gives a new foundation to a poetic West, within the framework of an oriental-mystical horizon. 2 Note what Rene Char has to say on this subject: "The poetic instrument invented by Rimbaud is perhaps the only answer of the sated, self-important and barbaric as well as powerless West, which has lost the instinct for preservation and the desire for beauty – to the tradition and to the sacred practices of the Orient and to the ancient religions as well as to the sacred practices of the primitive peoples. Could this instrument, which we now possess, be our last chance to rediscover our lost abilities??" (Rene Char, Complete Works, Bibliothèque de la Pleiade, pp. 732) – (Note. d. Author.)
In presenting this reading, I am fully aware of what it will provoke among critics with their questioning, quite apart from bracketing the mass of critical studies dedicated to Rimbaud. But these very studies contradict each other: do not some of them make him a revolutionary of the extreme left, while others believe to recognize in him "a Christian who has had the experience of sin and redemption"? Another writing considers him a "Nietzschean," referring to the will to power and to the superman. Another, on the other hand, sees in him an enemy of religion, of the nation and of the family, considers him an idolater; on top of that, he makes of him a premature surrealist.
My work does nothing but add a new contradiction to these contradictions, perhaps a little more confusing in that it completely removes Rimbaud from the context of Western criticism and pushes his poetry towards another horizon.
I will begin my work with an external definition of the characteristics of Rimbaud’s text – as it appears in "A Season in Hell" and in the "Illuminations". These characteristics are the same as those of mystical texts, and there are four of them.
First characteristic: the Rimbaudian text is impenetrable, that is, it is indistinct or, to use an old-fashioned expression, hermetic. The reason for this is that it conveys an experience whose territory is the unknown, as with the mystical text that conveys an experience that develops in secrecy. This is a transcendent experience that cannot be captured despite its rootedness in time. Furthermore, it exceeds the linguistic energy; thus, in the infinity of experience we find ourselves before the finiteness of words. Language comes from the universe, but experience comes from outside the universe. This experience is a vision whose scope never ceases to expand. This is how the great mystic Niffarî translates it:
The more the vision increases, the more the expression decreases.
This shows very well the finiteness of language. Here grows the weakness of language, which proves incapable of bringing us face to face with the universe that the mystical experience reaches, due to the fact that it would have to translate something unspeakable, inexpressible, which can only be reached through a process that in the mystical lexicon is called enchantment or else "ecstasy". To the extent that this effort is poetry itself, it shows at the same time that true poetry in no way consists of transparency or provability, but on the contrary is a "fall" into the darkness of the universe.
This "fall" causes an aberration. Despite all this, it is illuminated by the intuition and the heart. In this sense, the Rimbaudian text opposes the occidental culture based on reason, which is not comparable to poetic knowledge. This is also the case with the mystical text, which is based on the hidden, a region that contains unexplored truths and is invisible, incomparable with the law and the institution or with what is obvious. Just like the Arab mystic, who shows his rejection of rational reality in order to confirm the intuitively hidden or the visionary, Rimbaud shows his rejection of the dualism of subject and object of Descartes, on which scientific knowledge is based. In the so-called "Seerbrief" he contradicts the Descartian "I think, therefore I am" by opposing it with an "I, that is another" which could be commented like this: I think, therefore, I is another than I; in this way also the mystic speaks. Poetry is that journey into the unknown where the ego darkens in the drunkenness of ecstasy, and the being becomes the "we", the "he" – in short, where the ego becomes a "non-ego".
Second characteristic: although the Rimbaudian text has its roots in a Western language, it never ceases to leave the Western space, the space of Descartes and Euclid, which imposes innumerable and multiple constraints of daily life. We all know in what way Rimbaud’s life was a heroic effort to escape these constraints.
Third characteristic: Rimbaud’s text transcends the dualism subject/object of Descartes through the exercise of doubt. This doubt is the obstacle to poetic knowledge. From this comes the impulse for what mysticism calls the "heart" and which becomes indispensable. It is necessary to unite with the vital energy of existence in its uniqueness and to come to a lucidity that makes the universe transparent and penetrates its secrets, which remain obscured to the rational subject. To speak of poetic knowledge and mysticism is to make known the intuition of not seeing the invisible world, this initial state in which there is no separation between the I and the existence, between the I and the We.
Thus, in order to understand the Rimbaudian text, one must apply the same process used for the mystical texts: Before grasping the expression, one must grasp the allusion. This is what Hallâj says:
The one who does not surrender to our allusions will not understand our expression.
This reading is soft, it shows itself in the confidentiality and in the suggestion.
Thus, it can be said that most critical works on Rimbaud behave in the same way as on the mystical Arabic texts: a rationalist reduction, a veil that covers the original clarity of the text, negating the allusion in general and sticking only to the expression, the text.
Fourth characteristic: the Rimbaudian text shows a visionary and prophetic attitude just like the mystical text. The universe is for the occidental a terrain of conflict, while for the mystic it is a world of harmony. At the moment when the occidental is confronted with the universe through reason, the mystic understands the universe and receives it in his intuition. For the former it is an external object, while for the latter it is interiority, intimacy, and mystery. The feeling for the universe is connected for the mystic with the meaning of his existence: it is subjective and not objective. Thus the mystic moves in a universe in a transubstantial way exactly where the occidental separates from it. In the mystic, the creative energy comes from this transubstantiation; he does not comprehend the universe through intellect or rational abstraction as the occidental does; he lives it and realizes it. Existence is not simply a matter of reason, but a message to be communicated, and therein is revealed the meaning of prophecy, which is fundamentally non-Western. The universe is not a gift given to man, but an entrusted good over which he has to watch. He must continue its powers, concretize it in its innermost being and entrust to it the life that it lacks. Thought, from such a point of view, exists only as life. So the main use is the implementation, the practice and not the theorization, the abstraction. The universe is understood only when it is lived in the deepest part of the being.
What path did Rimbaud choose to reach such a goal?? Before trying to find an answer to this, one should remember that his life has been an uninterrupted journey, where the inner life has, in a way, united with the outer one. Again, a reminder of the life of the mystic, his path and his practice. Rimbaud’s life was an interrupted chain in which it is difficult to discover any kind of continuity. An ensemble of contrasts: escapes, sudden defections, unpredictable paths. It is the same journey that the mystic undertakes, which leads into the unknown and which demands that the known be stripped of its categories, its concepts, its modes of expression and its institutional values. To do this, one must first override the effect and activity of the senses. Rimbaud’s poem entitled "Drunken Morning" follows the path of the mystics: imploring the highest, drinking the poison (hashish) to reach the drunkenness that neutralizes the senses, rejects the dualistic values, that is, good and evil, and finally reaches the state of drunkenness, enthusiasm and catharsis (the passing away).
One finds in the two letters that Rimbaud wrote on 13. and 15. May 1871, addressed to George Izambard and Paul Demeny, a meticulous description of what must be done to reach that state. In the former, Rimbaud declares:
I want to be a poet and work to make me see. You see: you will not understand anything at all, and I can hardly explain it to you. It is about arriving at the unknown through the confusion of all senses. The sufferings are enormous, but one must be strong. Born a poet, I have recognized myself as such. It is not my fault at all. It is wrong to say: "I think", one should say: "One thinks me"." – Pardon the pun. I is another. Indifferent is the wood that finds itself as a violin, and scorns the unconscious that argues about what it completely ignores. (Complete Works, Bibliothèque de la Pleiade, p. 249.)
And in the second letter he adds:
The first study of the man who wants to be a poet is his own knowledge – complete; he searches his soul, he inspects it, he tries it, he learns it. Once he knows it, he must cultivate it.
I say, one must be sighted, make oneself sighted. The poet makes himself sighted by a long, immense and conscious confusion of all senses. (…) Unspeakable torture, where he needs all faith, all superhuman strength, where he becomes among all the great sick, the great criminal, the great evil and – the highest sage! – For he reaches the unknown!
Rimbaud concludes below:
So the poet is really the thief of fire. He is commissioned by mankind, even by the animals; he should make his inventions feel, pulsate, hear; if what he brings is from outside the form, he gives it form; if it is formless, he gives formlessness. To find a language – ultimately, since every word is idea, the time of a universal language will come! (ibid. S. 251-252)
Rimbaud defines this language as "from the soul for the soul". So what he defines in the two letters, albeit using new language, seems to be an almost identical reprise of the word of Arabic mysticism. It must be mentioned that in the latter letter Rimbaud demands that poets should produce something new, both in form and in ideas. Expecting the poetry he hopes for to be realized, he appraises the poets who have preceded him as follows:
Lamartine is sometimes sighted, but strangled by the old form. Hugo is stubborn, is in the last volumes – seer -: "Les Miserables" are a real poem. (…) Musset is fourteen times abominable for us. (…) The second romantics are exceedingly seeric: Th. Gautier, Lee[onte] de Lisle, Th. de Banville. But since to examine the invisible and to hear the strange is something other than to take up again the spirit of dead things, Baudelaire is the first seer, king of poets, a true god. (ibid. S. 253)
Our study of Rimbaud’s work would like to focus on his vision and his poetic project. When one confuses the senses, one confuses that which separates us from the substance of things. In itself, life appears to be in perfect harmony; man and nature form a unity, are, so to speak, the same thing. In this climate, lively and direct relationships are created among beings; everything disappears that could separate man from man as well as that which could pervert the original innocence.
In his study of the unknown, Rimbaud says in the poem "Vagabonds" in reference to man:
I had undertaken with all sincerity of spirit to restore him to his primitive state of the son of the sun.
To liberate man (to confuse his senses, at the same time to disturb and confuse the system of knowledge and life, what Rimbaud understands by "anarchy of the soul" and what is "a sacred thing"), to liberate him from all institutional, obstructive forms – be they social, religious, cultural or moral – such is the Rimbaudian project ("alchemy of the verb"). Why should he be a savage who rejects the prevailing morality? Rimbaud asks himself in "Mauvais sang", where he opened a chasm between himself and the dominant representatives of religious and cultural values, especially with priests and teachers. Thus the path that leads to the original, natural state opens to him. In this climate love can be born, the new universal love that must be rediscovered ("A une Raison", "Vierge folle"). With love one can "change life"; with love souls become more transparent and sacred when one reaches the other. Sensibility, in the sense of understanding changeability, is what awakens in man the desire for transformation. With vehemence Rimbaud rejects that which hinders this transformation – and especially the habit of turning religion into an instrument of subjugation.
Rimbaud offers the image of the poet as that of the mystic. Tormented by his innermost being, rejected by society, banished by morality and the law, he nevertheless accepts this reality and the sufferings it carries. The path, then, which leads to truth owes nothing to the social order, but everything to another system which the law considers dissidence and which common sense calls madness. Thus, according to the norms of truth, the "seeing poet" is the supreme truer of knowledge, but to the social and legal norm he is considered nefarious and rejected.
Here the poetic experiment, from the point of view of the mystical experience, is the attempt to carry out something that in reality is unrealizable. Having thrown off everything belonging to convention, it is a journey into the depths to explore the unknown. This journey is an initiation for the poet as well as for the mystic. The writings of Rimbaud are the space where this initiation can spread out. What Rimbaud calls the "alchemy of the verb" is only the instrument with which one can develop forms of expression that belong to the mystical and the unknown. The path that Rimbaud describes is none other than the one that the mystic calls "the submission of behavior to knowledge" – knowledge here understood as visionary, without any connection to reason and to solutions, because it is outside of the usual and the general.
In the light of the foregoing, it can be said that Rimbaud’s poetic experiment is a kind of application of mystical symbolism. It is based on a single behavior that requires a great effort accompanied by immense suffering, and the key to its perseverance seems to be the following conviction: Out of deaths comes life, out of darkness and ignorance comes order and knowledge. Rimbaud, like the mystics, begins by rejecting the visible world and placing the accent on the fact that poetry is the revelation of the real life that we lack – the revelation of the invisible. The rejection of this world needs the rejection of the system of knowledge corresponding to it, as well as the confusion of the system of the word corresponding to it, as well as the confusion of the general expression. This means that the task of the mystic, like that of the seeing poet, is not to describe visible things, but to traverse them in the direction of the non-visible.
Creation is a secret writing, the symbols of which are deciphered by the poet. For example, the light as a thing is not properly expressed by the word "light". The word, when used, expresses much more than the concrete light, it is an allusion to truth and to God.
One can also say that it is the poet’s task to re-describe the world on the basis of the knowledge he has of this secret writing and to name it anew, as if inventing a new language for it. Thus we can understand what Rimbaud dared to do with his "Alchemy of the Verb": By offering the letters as colors to the universe, he wanted to change the nature of the act of naming things and apply it in a new way and in accordance with their secret language.
The "confusion of all the senses" implies a new reading of the universe that contradicts general sensory perception. This adheres to the relation of the sensible to the sensible, but in reality it is a utilitarian use, restrictive to the senses. To "confuse" them is in reality to free them, so as to free also the universe from the narrow image that the senses represent of it. They see the universe like a lifeless text written forever and ever. Rimbaud’s position denies this closed universe and opens it to the dimension of the possible and thus of the unfinished. One could almost say that Rimbaud makes it vocal, and in this vocalness it takes on a new life. Let us remember that the great masters of mankind have taught vocally, that is, orally. Its teachings disappear if they are not read again and again in a different way today. Rimbaud and the mystics do not teach the truth of things, but help us to discover it. It is not a static truth, but a mobile one that must be constantly interpreted so that it always remains alive. The same is true of the universe, it was not given to man to congeal it in a fixed knowledge, but to make him interpret it again and again in a new way. The universe is a river in which one cannot bathe twice – so must also the highest book be. When one has found access to this book, after having found the meaning of each word and grasped its definition, it means: one has exhausted it at that moment. Through the epochs, each reader must enter the book as into the river; when he returns, the interpretation has changed. This means that the interpreter has changed and that the book is no longer the same: it is the new interpretation, because it is not only the writer who writes the book, but the reader also participates, and the reading is creative, it is also constantly moving.
The "confusion of the senses" is accompanied by an effervescence in two fields of knowledge: the ego and language. The first aspect of the bursting of the ego in Rimbaud means that in consciousness existence and non-existence cancel each other out. The "cogito" of Rimbaud is the opposite of the "cogito" of Descartes. In fact, it is a mystical "cogito". "I is another," meaning that existence can be one thing on the subjective level and the exact opposite on the objective level. The existence is thus the I and at the same time something else. Thus the concept of the unity of the ego as pure identity, the classical concept, finds itself dismantled. In this disengagement of subjectivity, one discovers that the ego in the classical sense is nothing but the resultant of social, historical and cultural norms and concepts, a submission to the universe of visibilities. It is in reality the reservoir of the illusions of the group or of what the mystic calls the world of the law. Hiding behind its false-eyedness are the values, habits, beliefs, and methods for understanding the general public.
As long as one thinks: "I = I" and nothing else, the subject has an individual unity and thus gets its specific identity. This is the system that has elevated classical logic to the status of an institution. However, when one discovers that the I is not the I, but something other than the self, the identity principle of classical logic becomes dilapidated. One comes to say that a thing can be itself, but also another thing. Man can be God in one sense and vice versa. Consequently, the order of the senses is reversed, and language itself conquers a new freedom, its flow following the same path as the bursting of the ego.
The practical use of language by the classical subject in the expression of the visible momentary of the world corresponds to the institution, this is the sanctified vocabulary. But now the system of expression applied by the absent I is opposed to everything that has been established. It tries to grasp the unknown, the absent, the mobile, outside of norms and concepts.
The overcoming of the world of phenomena is possible only through the overcoming of institutionalized language. One reaches the present only with the help of a new language. One will now understand how much the renewal through poetry means at the same time a destruction of fixed conventional concepts and why the truth is reached only through a breaking of the law.
This is the inner or also mystical experience of the one who tries to know the unknowable. It manifests itself in what in mysticism is called stupor, drunkenness or rapture, the moment when this "I" shows itself as another one. In such drunkenness the state of union or oneness takes place, and the mystic can now exclaim:
My I is GOD!
Drunkenness, which opens the horizons of consciousness to that which escapes all consciousness. While the identity capsizes and one dreams that the I is another, one has the possibility of seeing the invisible and hearing the inaudible. As Rimbaud says in his letter to Demeny: "Writing is only a means to consolidate the frenzy", referring to the expression he used in the "Alchemy of the Verb". In his writings, Rimbaud repeatedly uses the great symbols that are actually typical of mysticism such as thirst, hunger, satiety, the fact of drinking or eating, food, tears, crying, laughter, dance, madness. These are words that express the poet’s desire to unite with existence, and they are typical of the description of the mystical experience.
Just as the mystic gives himself to God, the poet offers himself to the sun as a sign of the union of his fire with the initial light of the world and as a sign that he rids himself of all forms as in the mystical union with holiness. This is expressed by the poems "Mauvais sang" and "Soleil et chair". In Arabic mysticism, the flow of language reflects the bursting open of the ego and then shows itself in the "trance". The trance is a word that charges the language from the flank with ecstatic effusion, it gives expression to the astonishment of the consciousness for an ecstasy that overflows with intensity and conquers it by its surging. It is thus a translation for the state of the seeing one who is in the presence of the unknown, or when he has the feeling of uniting with him. In this case, it is not the seer who speaks or thinks; it is the mystery itself that speaks through the mouth of the seer. Not the I, but the unknown, d.h. this secret connection of the I with the universe. Under these conditions, the poet (or the mystic) negates himself as I, only the mystery of union remains. The "trance" is a kind of full drunkenness of the being and not only a drunkenness of the material body. It is a special drunkenness, far from being a delirium, a confused hallucination or a possession, is an overtaking of time and space. At this height, one could speak of a state of "madness" and refer to a word coined by the mystic Chibli on the subject of Hallâj, which, each in his own way, Rimbaud and all mystics have applied:
My madness has freed me, and his reason has lost him.
I come to the end of my remarks by saying that if Rimbaud seems to me modern in the context of occidental culture, he is not more modern in the context of Arab culture than z.B. Abu Nuwas. He is modern by his way of arranging the elements and by the purity of his language. But his poetry is an arrangement of classical elements laid out to produce a new style, which is a special form of authenticity. More than that, it is the authentic genre he has created. If by "authentic" one were to understand a creation that ignores the classical relations, it would certainly be erroneous, quite apart from the fact that it would be groundless, for this kind of authenticity is only an illusion. Creation is a process in which selected elements, which are related to each other, are brought into another structure. It is to give a particular form to these elements. In the historical field, it is not decisive to have this or that element; what is decisive is to know how to use and exploit it.
Secondly, and as a consequence of what has been said before, I would like to state that Rimbaud’s poetic intuition – as knowledge – is a mystical intuition. It places itself in opposition to the forms of Western knowledge that are rationalistic. This intuition does not transmit a definite and determinate knowledge about man, God or the universe, but opens a way. Knowledge is an expectation, or rather an untransferable personal test, the simple description of which is often impossible; nor is there any particular meaning in Rimbaud’s texts, it is an ensemble of potencies whose meanings renew themselves with each reader and in each epoch.
Just as mystical as Rimbaud was in his word, he was also in silence. The word can only occur between subjects. For there to be a language, there must be a distinction between subject and object. The seeing poet (or mystic) reaches the extreme limit in his journey into the unknown. That is, it reaches a state that one is no longer able to express with language, this is the moment of the non-word. If one seeks drunkenness, it means that the connection with the unknown leads to a kind of union of subject and object, to an ambiguous state that could be called neither subjective nor objective. In any case, this contact cannot be realized through language, language can only be a simple instrument. This contact is more reminiscent of the love contact, which is both drunkenness and union: the highest happiness. The being closed in itself, opened, sinks into the other. This absolute contact breaks with the institutional chains to such an extent that the sclerotic concepts disappear and so do the words that correspond to them. So the liberation is absolute, and here is the silence, that of the highest drunkenness. Indescribably, the efficiency of language eludes it. It is the moment of happiness, the moment of union with the actual. Rimbaud speaks of such discoveries in eternity:
"It is found!
What? – Eternity
It is the sea mixed
With the sun.
By the way, in this state of non-word, the dance takes on a sacred meaning. The pure anarchic dance, which means liberation of the being, freed from all chains and from all limitations. It seems to me that Rimbaud’s silence and his transition to no-word (poetically speaking) are not far off the mark. But it is a different thing altogether. Rimbaud has not written poetry since 1875, and his first letter from Aden bears the date 17. August 1880.
To explain this non-word situation, one can use the deep words of the mystic:
The boundaries of paradise are – my body.
Now this clearly contradicts the institution dictated by the voice of the law from above, proclaiming that the real life, which the lower, transient world lacks, is only possible in the higher world, which is reserved only for the faithful, sinless ones. That the redemption which takes place in eternity is better and truer than any inspiration or ecstasy here below, and that it alone brings eternal life. The institution preaches hope for the life to come and at the same time recommends patiently enduring the sufferings of the present. The mystic, however, affirms that happiness begins today, he certainly means mystical happiness; but for him only death, which opens eternity, allows one to reach the summit of happiness. For happiness begins here and now, just like eternity; and the state of union is nothing other than paradise before paradise. One does not hope for eternity, one lives it. Since death is nothing but a prolonged state of union, it is the highest state, d.h. the return to the eternal being.
This allows us to understand how this I, which is an "other", exchanges its substance with the wholeness of all beings, because God is the whole of existence, just as the I is the whole of existence. Rimbaud, processing this experience of absolute unity, writes: "I become a fantastic opera", and to symbolize this union Ibn Arabi writes:
My heart becomes a receiver for everything.
Don’t these two formulations deserve to be brought closer together?
Perhaps in this way one can understand Rimbaud’s fragmentation and why, regardless of the brevity of his life, he devoted himself to travel and business. What Niffarî says: "If you do not notice the unsayable, you will be dispersed by the sayable", must be applied to Rimbaud. Thus we join David Guerdon’s point of view when he says that Rimbaud’s life is in itself a mystical solitude. Since childhood, he has been driven by a methodical will to transform himself towards a precise goal: isolation and abundance. For Rimbaud, the arms dealer, is also the boyish poet, it is the same destiny that he achieves by different procedures and means. If this is true, one can say about Rimbaud what he himself says in his "Illuminations", which, by the way, are the culmination of his poetic project: in order to liberate man, one must return him to his true nature. So we say with the Son of the Sun:
In a splendid dwelling, surrounded by the whole Orient, I have completed my complete work and spent my sovereign seclusion. 3 For Rimbaud, Orient is a geographical region to the extent that it represents conception and vision. To go to the Orient, to try to find access, are, as we have seen, the deepest motivations of his poetry. The itinerary of his life, that is, his way of life, is the proof. The Orient was more for him than a simple dream or a wish. It was a search, and in this sense he went there. Has he stopped writing poetry for this reason? Or did he go away to live physically what he dreamed of in his poetry?? Perhaps this persistence was due to the influence of another obsession: writing by the deed? This attitude would be completely "mystical" and is realized in the preference of practice over writing. Like salvation, which, if it existed, could only be realized in the act, because it would thus get the opportunity to try the world, not through the alchemy of speech (in the West), but thanks to the alchemy of action (in the Orient). It is as if, like the mystics, he tried to erase the distance between himself and the imaginary by evading linguistic description. As if he had wanted his own body to become a place of metamorphosis, so that a union with total existence replaces a union with imagination. (Note. d. Author)
In the book by Farid ud-Din al-Attar The conference of birds the thirty birds, after a long pilgrimage, discover the Simorgh, the fantastic bird, and they realize that each one of them is the Simorgh, that there is a transubstantiation between them and the Simorgh. The identity is one thing, but the form is multiple. Ibn Arabi says:
The one who sees you as himself, sees in reality himself.
To know the other, it is indispensable to see him as himself and not as a subject. It seems to me that here too, namely in the dialogue between the self and the other, between cultures, Rimbaud is rather a founder, because he has made mysticism (d.h. the Orient) as the Other, as itself and not as a consequence of its culture, and it has been able to translate its foreignness without appropriating it for itself.
Adonis, from Adonis: Prayer and sword. Essays, Oberbaum Publishing House, 1995