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Illuminations Paperback – 30 May 2011

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Illuminations + A Season in Hell and the Drunken Boat (New Directions Paperbook) + The Flowers of Evil (Oxford World's Classics)
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Product details

  • Paperback: 80 pages
  • Publisher: Carcanet Press Ltd (30 May 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1847771416
  • ISBN-13: 978-1847771414
  • Product Dimensions: 13.5 x 1.4 x 21.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 337,293 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


Rimbaud 's epoch-making poems come through in all their bizarre originality, their brusque, unsettling freshness. --John Timpane

About the Author

Rimbaud, born in 1854, started to write at an early age. By 17 he had written his most famous poem, 'The Drunken Boat'. He then embarked on a turbulent homosexual relationship with the poet Verlaine, from which came some of their most original work, including A Season in Hell and Illuminations. Rimbaud rejected writing at the age of 20. After years of travelling and gun-running in Africa, he died in 1891, aged 37. Editor Biography Mark Treharne taught in the University of Warwick before becoming a freelance translator. Currently he is translating Proust's Le Cote des Guermantes.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Mr. N. J. Ryalls on 2 Sept. 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I read a review in the Guardian Saturday Review which encouraged ne to investigate this work. The translation seems to this retired teacher of French to be more accurate than the original! It goes beyond the words to an area where translators usually fear to go! I am not a fan of the unhygenic M. Rimbaud, but just generally interested in French music poetry and song, and this has opened my eyes and mind to new horizons. The title recalled to me the song cycle Les Illuminations by the young Benjamin Britten, which also enthralled me, so although I need to rereadthis book a number of times, I do not regret buying it for one instant.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 13 reviews
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
A Dissent 19 Dec. 2012
By R. T. Greene - Published on
Format: Paperback
I'm sorry: this strikes me a most unnecessary book.

In an interview in Rain Taxi last year, the ever candid and clear-sighted John Ashbery made a couple of admissions that put this project into perspective. The idea of a translation came from the publisher, who was looking for a follow-up to Heaney's Beowulf, their best-selling pairing of well-known contemporary poet with classic text. And as Ashbery put it, "I didn't feel I was going to be coming up with a definitive translation. I was doing it really for the enjoyment of it, and for the possible after-effect it might have on my own writing....I like Wyatt Mason's version. The Varese is still pretty good....The poet Donald Revell, a friend of mine, has published excellent translations of both A Season in Hell and Illuminations."

I don't think he was just trying to be nice, or sound humble, I think he states the case. There is something bloodless and unconvincing about the writing here, falling as it does somewhere between vernacular naturalness and strict faithfulness to the cognates. Comparing it to the Varese, often what changes were made were merely so as not to "repeat someone else's successful version," as JA puts it. The earlier phrasing naturally is almost always better. And the Varese sounds more passionate, and tense, even somewhat formal on occasion--the Ashbery diction sometimes seems inappropriately flabby and demotic.

Further, if you stick with the New Directions books you get certifiable artistic masterpieces on the cover--Ray Johnson for the Illuminations, superb Val Telberg photo for the Season in Hell.[oops! they have issued a second edition that drops that cover. Pity.] These are high water marks for twentieth-century cover design! I plan to check out the Wyatt Mason volumes too, which promise a much-needed replacement for the Wallace Fowlie complete works.
33 of 42 people found the following review helpful
By Hank Napkin - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
On a purely subjective note, of all I've read during my lifetime, Illuminations remains the most compelling work of literature I've encountered. My first contact with the work lead to what was probably intended: a slapp happy sense of disorientation imbued with a sustained and profound attraction to the fluidity of meaning and perception, to the images, to the now broken and drowned world overrun: impervious to inference, awash with unexpected associations and "new misfortunes". Rimbaud's work lead my reading on to Baudelaire, Lautréamont, Tzara, Breton, Eluard. Yet none of these authors has left as deep an impression, with such pervasive force or tangible presence. In its form, in its brevity, in its perpetual instability Illuminations accomplished mutually exclusive ends, including the end of Rimbaud's pursuit of writing. Concise and expansive, effortless and intricate, of language and of experience, it remains the best possible compass for getting lost, now made more acutely affecting by Ashbery's new and resonant translation.
17 of 21 people found the following review helpful
Definitive, Brilliant, Modern 9 July 2011
By lee morgan - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Perhaps no translator on the planet has served Rimbaud as well as John Ashbery.

The text has been translated with a modern voice that makes it feel as if you're reading the poems for the first time again. It feels as if it was written in 2011 not 1866.

Rimbaud was so far ahead of his time. The length of the line, the imagery, the clarity, the intensity of his vision.

I can only assume this will become the definitive translation of this work, clearly a labor of love.

If only Ashbery takes on A Season in Hell and The Drunken Boat.

Let's hope he does.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
The Wild Parade 22 Aug. 2014
By Roger Brunyate - Published on
Format: Paperback
I first got to know of Rimbaud's astonishing collection of prose-poems through Benjamin Britten's 1939 setting of nine fragments for soprano and string orchestra. It is a brilliant work whose wild energy and scintillating colors are the perfect response to the extraordinary imagery of Rimbaud's writing. But only a fraction of the whole. So when I came upon this beautiful bilingual edition with the original French on the left-hand pages and translations by John Ashbery on the right, I was eager to buy it.

I started by reading each poem in French two or three times, without consulting either the translations or a dictionary. Only then did I turn to Ashbery's versions and read them through as a single sequence, without looking back at the French. They were very different experiences, both challenging, but for different reasons. In between, I tried translating two pieces myself: MARINE, which is one of the few written in verse, and one of the prose-poems, FLEURS. I found the former more demanding but ultimately easier, since the structure of verse forces a search for the most evocative verbal jewel to set in its precise place. The experience gave me a greater respect for Ashbery's work -- but at the same time made it clear that any translator was attempting the virtually impossible.

The collection was Rimbaud's farewell to poetry, completed in 1875 before he was even 21. It is astounding that these poems, penned when Impressionism had hardly got going, should already look forward to the verbal equivalent of Post-Impressionism and even Cubism. They are modern in a way we associate with verse of the Twentieth Century. It is not just that Rimbaud takes the colorful images of Symbolist poets such as Baudelaire and Verlaine and makes them brighter, stranger, striking sparks off one another in wild combinations. It is not just the contrast between mystical visions and jangling modernity. It is also the way so many of his poems take several different viewpoints at the same time, to exist in different media simultaneously. The short poem MARINE, for example, begins with a view of the battering waves of the sea, switches imperceptibly to deep-scoured ruts on the turning land, and returns to pilings on a jetty, knocked out of true by whirlpools, not of water but of light. Or the last line of A UN RAISON: "Arrivée de toujours, qui t'en iras partout" (in Ashbery's translation: "Arriving from always, you'll go away everywhere"), that piquant discord of toujours/partout, always/everywhere, a time word and a place word, saying so much but so provocatively perplexing.

Reading the Ashbery translation by itself, I find him most successful when Rimbaud comes closest to either conventional poetry or narrative prose. The first gives permission, as it were, for the extraordinary images; the second provides a context that can contain them, as here in the beginning of PROMONTORY:

"Golden dawn and tremulous evening find our brig off shore, facing this villa and its dependencies, which form a promontory as vast as Epirus and the Peloponnesus, or the great island of Japan, or Arabia! Temples lit up by returning processions, immense vistas of the fortifications of modern coastlines; dunes illustrated with warm flowers and bacchanals; grand canals of Carthage and Embankments of a louche Venice; languid eruptions of Etnas and fissures of flowers and water in glaciers [...]."

It is extraordinary stuff, and Ashbery captures it well. But I would not recommend this book for anyone who did not also have access to the French. For while Ashbery is always accurate, there are times when the prose just seems limping and eccentric, as here at the opening of MORNING OF DRUNKENNESS:

"O my good! O my beautiful! Atrocious fanfare where I won't stumble! enchanted rack whereon I am stretched! Hurrah for the amazing work and the marvelous body, for the first time!"

But thinking again of the Britten, I wonder if Rimbaud can be translated into words at all? In light of his abrupt shifts between the senses, might his genius not be captured more truly in painting, in dance, in music? I think of the phrase that Britten uses several times as a kind of motto: "J'ai seul la clef de cette parade sauvage," which I translate as "I alone hold the key to this wild parade!" Declaimed on a high E (I think) against flashing strings, it has a savage energy that perfectly reflects the bizarre procession of grotesques in the poem that precedes it, PARADE: "Chinois, Hottentots, bohémiens, niais, hyènes, Molochs, veilles démences, démons sinistres" ("Chinese, Hottentots, gypsies, nincompoops, hyenas, Molochs, old dementias, sinister demons"). The Britten setting has an atavistic march churning away in the bass, eventually breaking to the surface; it is in motion, lurching forward, as I think the Rimbaud does too. But Ashbery turns the parade into a static display, and his magical key becomes a mere topographical diagram: "I alone know the plan of this savage sideshow."

"I alone hold the key." It is true. These are worlds of wonder that only Rimbaud can unlock; translators can only come close. So read the Ashbery by all means. But don't let it just lie there on the page. Pick it up, play with it, whisper it or shout aloud, give it movement and fire. See it as a keyhole giving onto marvels. But force that gate in any way you can; Rimbaud's universe is amazing.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Very helpful 14 Dec. 2011
By Tucker - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Of course this is a more literal translation than some, which I find most helpful. Of course, you will never find the true meaning of Rimbaud's work through a translation, but this text will help guide you through the tough readings of "Ville", "Barbare", and "Génie". Rimbaud's writing can be very difficult, so this text is a great aid for the French speaker who may not feel quite comfortable reading and interpreting profound poetry like that of Rimbaud.
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