Tag Archives: impressionism

“To Music” by Arthur Rimbaud

Rimbaud_2

I decided to read something a little different today, so I got my complete collection of works by Rimbaud, translated by Wyatt Mason down from the shelf and flipped through. It is, by the way, an excellent book and I encourage you to invest in a copy.

Because I have been thinking about music a lot lately, the poem “To Music” caught my attention. I am including Mason’s translation here for reference purposes only and to provide context for my analysis of the poem.

Pruned into stringy plots of grass, the public square,
Where trees and flowers and everything is just so,
Finds wheezy bourgeois strangling in the heat,
Trotting out petty jealousies on Thursday nights.

—The military band, in the middle of the garden,
Balance their shakos while playing the “Waltz of Fifes.”
—Around them, in the first rows, dandies strut,
The notary hangs from his own monogrammed fob.

Women wearing ruffles like advertisements
For themselves flounce like elephant wranglers
Around bloated bureaucrats and bloated wives:
Petty bourgeois with lorgnettes hang on every clinker;

On green benches, clubs of retired grocers rest
Poking the sand with knobbed canes,
Discussing treaties with great sobriety,
Taking snuff from their silver boxes, saying: And so…!”

Spreading the roundness of his rump across the bench,
A bourgeois with bright buttons and a Flemish gut
Savors his pricy Onnaing pipe overflowing with tobacco:
“This stuff’s still illegal, don’t-you-know?”

All along the green lawn, little hoodlums sneer;
Naïve young soldiers smoking roses,
Made lovesick by the sad trombones,
Pat the heads of babies to charm their nannies….

Me? Looking like a scattered student
I follow exuberant girls through the green chestnuts:
They know I’m there, and turn towards me
Laughing, eyes brimming with indiscretion.

I don’t say a word: I just stare at the flesh
Of their white necks framed by tresses:
I follow the curve of their shoulders down
Their divine backs, hidden by bodices and flimsy finery.

Soon I’m ogling their boots and socks…
Burning with fever, yearning for flesh.
They think I’m silly. They whisper to each other…
—And I feel kisses blossom on my lips…

The poem describes Rimbaud’s impression of a day at the Railway Square in his childhood home town of Charleville. While a band is playing music, Rimbaud observes and comments on the bourgeois loafing around the park. You get a sense of Rimbaud’s disdain at the superficial qualities of these people. They are almost alien to him, absorbed into their own worlds and oblivious to what is going on around them.

The tone of the poem shifts about halfway through and becomes more reflective. He begins to fantasize about the girls he sees, and I get the feeling that these fantasies are fueled by the music. It is a strange combination of lust and innocence, something that is familiar to most adolescent males.

Overall, I really liked this poem. It is a great combination of impressionism and personal reflection, and Mason does an amazing job of capturing the cadence of the language in this translation.

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“To Summer” by William Blake

Claude Monet: Green Garden

Claude Monet: Green Garden

O thou who passest thro’ our valleys in
Thy strength, curb thy fierce steeds, allay the heat
That flames from their large nostrils! thou, O Summer,
Oft pitched’st here thy golden tent, and oft
Beneath our oaks hast slept, while we beheld
With joy thy ruddy limbs and flourishing hair.

Beneath our thickest shades we oft have heard
Thy voice, when noon upon his fervid car
Rode o’er the deep of heaven; beside our springs
Sit down, and in our mossy valleys, on
Some bank beside a river clear, throw thy
Silk draperies off, and rush into the stream:
Our valleys love the Summer in his pride.

Our bards are fam’d who strike the silver wire:
Our youth are bolder than the southern swains:
Our maidens fairer in the sprightly dance:
We lack not songs, nor instruments of joy,
Nor echoes sweet, nor waters clear as heaven,
Nor laurel wreaths against the sultry heat.

Sometimes, you read a poem and it just speaks directly to your soul. I experienced that feeling today when I read this poem. I live in the southern Appalachian Mountains and this poem captures the feeling I get when I sit outside under my large oak tree, or go for a hike along a mountain trail and rest beside a stream, smelling the rich moss and decomposing leaves that fell to the earth the previous autumn. As I read Blake’s words, I could feel the humid warmth that is a part of my summer.

This poem also stirred memories of my childhood summers. There was an excitement associated with summer that is difficult to express in words. The sensation of running barefoot through the grass, of climbing trees, lush with green foliage, of lying about, lazy, basking in the long days. I sometimes forget how much I loved summer as a child.

There is a sense of abundance in this poem, as well as celebration and inspiration. The third stanza makes me want to invite all my friends over to cook out in the backyard, then take out our instruments and play music until long after the sun sets.

I hope you found this poem as inspiring as I did, and may you enjoy your summer.

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