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Illuminationsby Arthur Rimbaud
Synopses & Reviews
First published in 1886, Arthur Rimbaud's ?the work of a poet who had abandoned poetry before the age of twenty-one?changed the language of poetry. Hallucinatory and feverishly hermetic, it is an acknowledged masterpiece of world literature, still unrivaled for its haunting blend of sensuous detail and otherworldly astonishment. In Ashbery's translation of this notoriously elusive text, the acclaimed poet and translator lends his inimitable voice to a venerated classic. W. H. Auden recognized the strong affinities between Ashbery's poetry and Rimbaud's in his 1956 introduction to Ashbery's first book, , noting that "the imaginative life of the human individual stubbornly continues to live by the old magical notions." And it is here, in the "crystalline jumble" and "disordered collection of magic lantern slides" of , as Ashbery writes in the Preface, that we can rediscover this essential lineage. "Absolute modernity" was for Rimbaud "acknowledging the simultaneity of all of life, the condition that nourishes poetry at every second. [...] If we are absolutely modern?and we are?it's because Rimbaud commanded us to be." Ashbery's idiomatic and lyrical translations of these forty-four texts convey the originality of Rimbaud's vision to English-speaking readers of a new century.
"The prose poems of Illuminations include Rimbaud's most exotic ecstasies and most insistent contradictions, as well as (most likely) his last completed works: 'crystal boulevards rise up and intersect, immediately populated by poor families who shop for groceries at the fruit seller's,' while 'the inevitable descent of the sky and visiting memories and the sÃ©ance of rhythms occupy the home, the head and the world of the mind.' Some may wonder whether we need yet another version of this much-translated book. But anything Ashbery does deserves attention, given his own towering reputation. Ashbery also lived in France for much of the 1960s and has translated several French moderns before. His versions of Rimbaud can be playful, even flirtatious, with an undercurrent of malice wholly true to the original ('Very robust rascals' for 'Des drÃ´les trÃ¨s solides'), and they pay attention to the ear: the poem 'Bottom,' for example, begins with a tussle of long 'e' and short 'i' sounds: 'Since reality was too prickly for my lavish personality.' Ashbery's Rimbaud (perhaps paired with Donald Revell's) should spark fresh discussion of the mercurial and evasive original, given often to dreamy reverie, yet just as likely to turn and spit in the unsuspecting reader's face. Presented with the original French en face. (Apr.)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"If we are absolutely modern--and we are--it's because Rimbaud commanded us to be."--John Ashbery, from the preface
John Ashbery's long-awaited, virtuosic translation of Arthur Rimbaud's Illuminations is presented with the French text in parallel and a preface by its new translator. Given Rimbaud's own cavalier attitude toward his most substantial work, few would have thought the "bunch of unpaginated and untitled pages" that Rimbaud handed his former lover Paul Verlaine (who had attempted to assassinate him two years earlier) would turn out to be one of the greatest poems ever written. Yet, over time, this "collection of magic lantern slides," each an "intense and rapid dream," came to be recognized as an unparalleled masterpiece of world literature. Ashbery's rendering of all forty-four poems powerfully evokes the kaleidoscopic beauty of the original and creates "a vision of postdiluvian freshness" out of "the chaos of ice floes and the polar night."
A major literary event, Ashbery's new translation enables a new generation of English readers to enter "the splendid cities" so stunningly depicted by Rimbaud.
About the Author
Pulitzer Prize-winning poet John Ashbery has translated many French writers, including Pierre Reverdy and Raymond Roussel. The French government has named him both a Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters and an Officer of the Legion of Honor. He lives in New York City.
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