“Genius is the recovery of childhood at will.”


Arthur Rimbaud at the age of seventeen by Étie...

Image via Wikipedia

People who know me in person could think it’s a quote by me. It’s not though. It is by the French poet Arthur Rimbaud (1854 – 1891), born in Charleville. As part of the decadent movement, Rimbaud influenced modern literature, music and art. He was known to have been a libertine and quite restless, traveling extensively on three continents before his death from cancer.

I love this quote as it stands for a fearless, open minded, free and (un)controlled state of mind, being close to yourself and not bothered by convention or opinion. Especially the ‘at will’ is interesting because it reflects the power of the mind to provoke / create.

Rimbaud (age 17) began a short and torrid affair with Paul Verlaine, also a poet but 27 and married at the time they met. Whereas Verlaine had likely engaged in prior homosexual experiences, it remains uncertain whether the relationship with Verlaine was Rimbaud’s first. During their time together they led a wild, vagabond-like life spiced by absinthe and hashish.

He introduced himself to Verlaine with some of his writing of which one was “Le Dormeur du Val” (The Sleeper in the Valley) …

Le dormeur du val

C’est un trou de verdure où chante une rivière,
Accrochant follement aux herbes des haillons
D’argent ; où le soleil, de la montagne fière,
Luit : c’est un petit val qui mousse de rayons.

Un soldat jeune, bouche ouverte, tête nue,
Et la nuque baignant dans le frais cresson bleu,
Dort ; il est étendu dans l’herbe, sous la nue,
Pâle dans son lit vert où la lumière pleut.

Les pieds dans les glaïeuls, il dort. Souriant comme
Sourirait un enfant malade, il fait un somme :
Nature, berce-le chaudement : il a froid.

Les parfums ne font pas frissonner sa narine ;
Il dort dans le soleil, la main sur sa poitrine,
Tranquille. Il a deux trous rouges au côté droit.

In English

The Sleeper in the Valley

It is a green hollow where a stream gurgles,
Crazily catching silver rags of itself on the grasses;
Where the sun shines from the proud mountain:
It is a little valley bubbling over with light.

A young soldier, open-mouthed, bare-headed,
With the nape of his neck bathed in cool blue cresses,
Sleeps; he is stretched out on the grass, under the sky,
Pale on his green bed where the light falls like rain.

His feet in the yellow flags, he lies sleeping. Smiling as
A sick child might smile, he is having a nap:
Cradle him warmly, Nature: he is cold.

No odour makes his nostrils quiver;
He sleeps in the sun, his hand on his breast
At peace. There are two red holes in his right side.

Arthur Rimbaud
October 1870

We’re right on route with Verlaine & Rimbaud since it the official tour cross passes the village of Tourteron. I think either Rimbaud or Verlaine even wrote a piece on the local fruit market. The water mill was in function in those days. It’s not unimaginable that they have heard about it or even visited. The black smith and horse stables used be right next door.

Museum @ Juniville

Image by Supergites via Flickr

Nowadays there’s a small museum in Juniville that I’ve never noticed being open. But the door plate says ‘Museum’. It was the inn where Verlaine stayed after he returned to France in 1877. While teaching English at a school in Rethel, he fell in love with one of his pupils, Lucien Létinois, who inspired Verlaine to write further poems. More famous and official is the Rimbaud Museum in Charleville-Mézières. Worth a try.

An English Fan page on Rimbaud, his life and poems.
A Dutch Fan page on his life
The official route as pdf (in Dutch)

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