There are many good translations of Rimbaud, from Louise Varese's to Wallace Fowlie's and Paul Schmidt's. I like Mr. Mason's best. No translation is perfect, but Mr. Mason's are rich in music and specific and correct in sense. His volume, a very pretty book, is bilingual (a great virtue) and contains more of Rimbaud's work than any other before it. I like it as much as Stephen Mitchell's Rilke from a few years back. Well done!
I must confess that I am not a fan of Rimbaud, although I have perforce read many of his poems and translated some of them. I feel that he his celebrated more by anglophones than francophones, and this is odd because he is very difficult to translate convincingly.
Wyatt Mason is at least as bad and embarrassing a translator as Robert Bly. He has a tin ear for English, and probably for French, since he is arrogant enough to try to translate so many poems into extremely dull English. Translation is not a matter of slogging through, but of inspiration. Good translators (and there are precious few) choose their translations carefully according to their taste and inspiration. Much poetry in French is quite simply untranslatable. Many of Rimbaud's poems would need to be *re-written* by an anglophone poet (but to my mind there aren't any left) of similar - adolescent, impetuous, precocious, devil-may-care - attitude. This would require an anglophone Rimbaud!
And so I think it would have been much better to have presented the Complete Works in French with elegant prose translations (and, where necessary, explanations) alongside.
Translating poetry is one of the most difficult (and thankless) tasks. Wyatt Mason deserves both praise and thanks for this very interesting edition. With an eye on moderns inspired by Rimbaud, including Bob Dylan, the Beat Generation poets, and before them, also TS Eliot and Ezra Pound -- Mason has produced a translation of Rimbaud in a very American idiom.
That this somehow works is evidenced by the praise the book has received. However, there are aspects of this labour of love that are repugnant. Turning a poet as essentially 19th-Century-French as Rimbaud into 21st-Century-American does produce not so much a translation as a transformation. To European readers, what is erotic and daring in Rimbaud's French may seem reduced to mere vulgarity in American English, and that is a great pity.
The less sexually explicit poems fare much better.
The great things about this edition are that the French original is printed side-by-side with the translations, and that almost all of Rimbaud's poems are here. It's a very valuable book.
Interestingly enough, one of the films that Leo DiCaprio made before Titanic was a film about Rimbaud entitled Total Eclipse. You can probably find it on tape or DVD if you want a quick background in film. It's an OK film. Rimbaud was a genius -- not just in poetry, but he was probably one of maybe the 10 smartest kids in France at the time -- I'm just guessing -- but he was very smart. That's one of the more interesting aspects of his life as a poet -- he stopped writing at age 19 -- yet he is one of Frances most famous poets! I read a recent biography that examines his entire life and goes into much more detail regarding his life in Africa. He died in his late 30s if my memory serves me correctly. On a superficial level he talked about using drugs for the total derangement of the senses --as a way to reinvent oneself as a new being. But his influence on Kerouac et. al. really goes beyond that. While Baudelaire was seen in many ways as the father of modernism, Rimbaud already started to foreshadow postmodernism. By postmodernism I mean an ultra-awareness of history, a kind of feeling of being outside of time, of looking down on time from a lofty perch. He rebelled against all the institutions of the time -- the Church, the State, the family, etc... It is the rebellious spirit that has captivated so many who have come since. If I started quoting his work, I'd be here all night, but I have noticed (and purchased) a new complete collection of his work edited and with an introduction by Wyatt Mason, Modern Library Press. Its in all the stores in the States -- don't know if it's available in the UK and elsewhere, but it includes letters and other goodies. Perry