Six Illuminations

The songs of Illuminations reflect the extremes which so violently animate the poetry of Rimbaud. With beautiful and exquisitely constructed language, Rimbaud navigates poles of despair and exhilaration, love and misanthropy, purity and filth. In this world, romanticism and modernity are placed in a crucible where they react violently to one another, as if in an alchemical experiment, an image which constantly recurs in Rimbaud.

The texts are taken from Arthur Rimbaud’s Les Illuminations (from about 1873, translated into English by the composer).

Texts to Six Illuminations
10. To a Reason
A tap of your finger on the drum releases all sounds and begins the new harmony. One step of yours, and the new men rise up and march.
Your head turns away: new love! Your head turns back: new love!

“Change our fate, destroy the plagues, beginning with time,” sing the children to you. “Raise up, no matter where, the substance of our fortune and our prayers,” people beg you.

Arriving from forever, you will go everywhere.

11. Bridges

Gray crystal skies. A strange drawing of bridges, here straight, there curved, others descending at oblique angles to the first, and these shapes repeating themselves in the other illuminated crescents of the canal, but all of them so long and light that the banks, crowded with domes, become lower and shrunken. Some of these bridges are still crowded with hovels. Others support masts, signals, frail parapets. Minor chords crisscross and fade, ropes reach up from the banks. You make out a red jacket, perhaps other costumes and musical instruments. Are they popular tunes, snatches of elite music, remnants of public hymns? The water is gray and blue, as wide as an arm of the sea.

–A white ray, falling from the top of the sky, blots out this comedy.

12. Morning of Drunkenness

O my Good! O my Beautiful! Hideous fanfare where I never falter! Enchanted rack! Hurrah for the miraculous work and for the marvelous body, for the first time! It began with the laughter of children, it will end there. This poison will still be in our veins even when the fanfare dies away and we are taken back to the earlier discord. O now let us— so worthy of these tortures!–fervently gather this superhuman promise made to our created bodies and souls. This promise, this dementia! Elegance, science, violence! It was promised us to bury the tree of good and evil in darkness, to deport tyrannical respectabilities so that we might bring forth our most pure love. It began with a certain disgust and it ended—since we could not seize eternity on the spot—it ended with a riot of perfumes.

Laughter of children, discretion of slaves, reserve of virgins, horror of faces and objects from here, be consecrated by the memory of this vigil. It began in all boorishness, behold it ends with angels of flame and ice.

Little drunken vigil, holy! even if only for the mask with which you graced us. We affirm you, method! We don’t forget that yesterday you glorified each of our ages. We have faith in that poison. We know how to give our whole lives every day.

Behold the time of the assassins.

41. Youth (III): Twenty Years Old

Helpful voices exiled . . . Physical candor bitterly calmed . . . Adagio. Ah! the infinite egotism of adolescence, the studied optimism: how full of flowers was the world that summer! Melodies and forms dying . . . A choir, to calm impotence and absence! A choir of glasses of nocturnal tunes . . . Indeed the nerves will soon go hunting.

34. Bottom

Reality being too prickly for my lofty character,–nonetheless I found myself at my lady’s house, a big gray-blue bird soaring up to the moldings of the ceiling and dragging my wings through the shadows of the evening.

I became, at the foot of the bed-head supporting her precious jewels and her physical masterpieces, a fat bear with violet gums and fur grizzled with sorrow, with eyes of crystal and of silver from consoles.

It became dark and burning aquarium.

In the morning—bellicose June dawn—I ran in the fields, a donkey, trumpeting and brandishing my grievance, until the Sabines from the suburbs came to throw themselves on my chest.

18. Tramps

Pitiful brother! The terrible vigils he caused me! “I wasn’t seized with enthusiasm for the adventure. I played upon his weakness. It would be my fault should we return to exile and slavery.” He believed I had a very strange bad luck and innocence, and he added upsetting reasons.

I responded with a jeer to my satanic scholar, and left by the window. I created, beyond the countryside striped with bands of rare music, visions of the nocturnal luxury yet to come.

After that vaguely hygienic distraction, I lay down on a straw mattress. And almost every night, as soon as I was asleep, my poor brother would get up, his mouth rotten, his eyes torn out—just as he dreamed of himself!—and would drag me into the room while howling his dream of idiot sorrow.

I had in fact, in all sincerity, made a pledge to restore him to his primitive state as a child of the sun,–and we wandered, sustained by wine from caverns and by traveler’s crusts, with me impatient to find the place and the formula.