Robert Yates’ complete translation of Rimbaud’s “Illuminations” has been published by Brimstone Press. The book can be ordered from the Brimstone Press website below. As well as translations of all 42 Illuminations, the book contains extensive Notes by Sebastian Hayes and essays by Sebastian Hayes and Keith Walton.


Price £6. Free p&p.

As a child, certain skies refined my way of seeing things; all characteristics affected my countenance. Phenomena were in tumult. Now, the eternal shifting of moments and the infinity of mathematics chase me through this world where I am subject to all civil triumphs, protected by my strange childhood and vast emotions. I think of a war, of might or right, of most unexpected logic.

It is as simple as a musical phrase.



N.B. This translation has just been published in issue 5 of “Ariadne’s Thread” magazine:


Long after the days and seasons, and the people and countries,

The flag of bleeding meat above the silk of seas and arctic flowers; (they do not exist.)

Delivered from the old fanfares of heroism which still assail our hearts and heads far from the former assassins.

Oh! The flag of bleeding meat above the silk of seas and arctic flowers; (they do not exist.)


The infernos raining in the gusts of frost, Sweetness! the fires in the rain of the wind of diamonds flung out by the earth’s heart, charred eternally for us. Oh world!

(Far from the old retreats and the old flames, that we hear, that we feel,)

The infernos and the foams. Music, the spinning of gulfs and the smashing of icebergs against the stars.

Oh Sweetness, oh world, oh music! And there, the shapes, sweats, hair and eyes, floating. And the white, boiling tears, oh sweetness! and the female voice penetrating to the depths of the volcanoes and arctic caves.

The flag…

Who is the genie? He may be an idealised image of the poet himself, or a Christ figure, but the genie may also represent Rimbaud’s father, who left when he was a small child, never to return. There may be homoerotic undercurrents, but if so, it cannot be Verlaine that Rimbaud is describing.

The poem ends in an assonance “son corps, son jour”, which I have endeavoured to retain in the translation: “his frame, his day”.

If the jackal image is a reference to the Moon trump card in the Tarot, it would be appropriate. The Moon signifies the spiritual, psychic and unconscious; the poem ends with the image of a sorceress and the words “que nous ignorons” (literally “of which we are unaware”.) If the Moon card is ill-dignified, it represents delusion, introversion, even mental illness; the dark night of the soul before illumination.

Notes on DAWN

An ecstatic communion with – or rather groping of – Nature. A dream that finally denies itself. The imagery of the poem is framed by a first and last line of the same length, implying that the dream and its brevity are intimately connected. “Wasserfall” is one of only two German words in the entire Illuminations, although there are other references to Germany in “Historic Evening” and “Promontory”. Perhaps the contrast between French and English, which Rimbaud employs more frequently, was not strong enough for him here, although the sibilant “ss” is also more appropriate to convey the sound of the waterfall.


O my Good! O my Beautiful! Dreadful fanfare where I never stumble! Magical rack! Hurray for the extraordinary work and the miraculous body, for the first time! It started amid the guffaws of children, it will end with them. This poison will stay in all our veins even when, the fanfare changing, we are returned to the old disharmony. O now we so worthy of these tortures! Let us receive fervently this superhuman promise made to our created bodies and souls: this promise, this madness! Elegance, science, violence! We have been promised that the tree of good and evil will be buried in the shadows, tyrannical decencies deported, that we may bring in our most pure love. It began with some disgust and it will end  – we being unable suddenly to seize this eternity – it will end in a riot of scents.

Laughter of children, discretion of slaves, austerities of virgins! Horror of the faces and objects here, blessed be you through the memory of this vigil. It began .with complete boorishness and now it ends with angels of fire and ice.

Little vigil of drunkenness! Sacred if only for the mask with which you have gratified us. We extol you, method! We have not forgotten that yesterday you glorified our every age. We have faith in the poison. We know how to give all our life each day.

This is the time of the ASSASSINS.

NOTE by the translator :    The transmutation of sordid experience into poetry, as in Baudelaire’s alchemy of pain: “You gave me your mud and I turned it into gold.” However, Rimbaud uses specific alchemical imagery. The “miraculous body” is the metal on which alchemists worked and the “ages” are the stages in the alchemical process. By assassins, Rimbaud is referring to the original hashish-eating fanatics who would devote themselves to their murderous duty even if it led to their death;  if they failed, they would be replaced by others. Thus they resembled the “horrible workers”, the ideal poets Rimbaud envisages in his second Letter of the Seer. Then again, it is possible to understand the poem without reading into it any esoteric symbolism. The body could just be a physical human frame and the ages the seven ages of man. Either way, Rimbaud here has complete faith in the poetic process, which is not true of all the Illuminations. This may mean that it is one of the earlier prose-poems. Note that he is still disparaging and even self-mocking about the experience that inspired the transmutation: it is only a “little vigil of drunkenness”.


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