Rimbaud Eyes

RimbaudOur eyes tell the story of our souls. Sometimes photos capture it, sometimes not. This photo does. Just look at them. He’s a poet; there is no doubt. Rimbaud was born in 1854. Over one hundred and fifty years later, the Dum Dum Girls wrote a song about his eyes. Love the song, have been deliberate about not reading what the lyrics mean to the band, I want my own thoughts here first. And his.

“Once, if I remember well, my life was a feast/where all hearts opened and all wines flowed.”

The first lines of his poem “A Season in Hell.”

Even as a young poet, if you look, you can see that “once” is the key word. Those are not eyes that reflect life as a feast. Those eyes do not show an open heart. It’s possible those eyes had too much wine the night before.

“One evening I seated Beauty on my knees. And I/found her bitter.”

These lines follow those above from the same poem. It’s not called “A Season in Hell” for nothing. And those eyes in this picture reflect that particular anguish.

This poet, who burned all his work and never achieved anything like happiness or fame, lives on because of his lover, a famous poet at the time still taught in university today, who, thinking Rimbaud dead, published the best of his work supposedly posthumously.

It cannot be grammatically correct to end a sentence with two adverbs.

As a young poet I read Rimbaud’s work and just this morning picked up the slim volume, kept all these years, and flipped to the first poem “A Season in Hell.” That first poem hooked me on Rimbaud for life. And now I cannot stop thinking about his eyes and how they reflect other eyes I have known, including, sometimes, my own. Because Rimbaud was a gentle soul, he wanted to escape debauchery and badness as much as he craved it.

“Let me tear out these few hideous pages from my notebook of one of the damned.” Ends the poem, ends a life, ends the look in the eyes.

Rimbaud was one of several poets who convinced me to stop writing poetry. I would never have that gift, I was convinced. I moved on to other kinds of  writing. Can you image Rimbaud as a blogger? What would he say? No doubt a scathing comment here if the mood struck him. The thing that happened to me as a young poet would not have happened had I listened more to the gentle, insistent Rilke in his “Letters to a Young Poet” in which he entreats his protégé to keep writing, keep practicing, and keep hope that maybe one day there will be a poem worth its ink.

But I’m of a Rimbaud temperament, not like Rilke, more’s the pity. Wish I’d stuck with poetry. I still love it so. If you’re a young poet, read them both, but heed Rilke.


  1. As Dee Dee of Dum Dum Girls has mentioned in interviews, the three verses in the song are three verses she borrowed from Rimbaud’s poem “The Drunken Boat,” having rewritten them but slightly.
    Which means the song was co-written by Arthur Rimbaud & Dee Dee Penny! Even Rimbaud’s fertile 19th century imagination could surely never have envisioned he’d become a rock n roll songwriter in 2014 or that there’d ever be media like youtube, & TV & David Letterman’s show where his poem/song would be performed/viewed/heard by thousands all over the globe!
    Which reminds me of one of his shortest poems (“Humanity Was Putting”): “Humanity was putting shoes on the huge child Progress.” !

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The power of art, hey? He was 19 when he wrote “The Drunken Boat” and “A Season in Hell” this fact still blows me away and is enough to shake any young poets’ confidence. My translation (by Louise Varese) bookends these two poems. I read all 25 verses of “The Drunken Boat” this morning, and even though my translation is from 1945, some of the most beautiful and haunting passages, like those first words “True I have wept too much…” are intact and beautiful and haunting. Thanks for sharing the short poem, too:)


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