The Cold Tap Sings

the p-word

Tag: Illuminations


Camden Lock Basin, London. Photo: louisberk

Camden Lock Basin, London. Photo: louisberk

Here’s a translation of mine of ‘The Bridges’, one of Arthur Rimbaud’s late poems. Taken from his posthumous collection Illuminations, this prose poem was written in London, and I can’t help thinking that’s it’s set on the Regent’s Canal in Camden. Rimbaud lived there briefly with Paul Verlaine, his partner in poetry and crime.


The Bridges

by Arthur Rimbaud, translated by Robin Boothroyd

Grey crystal skies. A weird backdrop of bridges, some straight, some arched, others slanting down, or angled obliquely to the first, and these patterns reproduced in pools of light further along the canal, but all of them so long and slight that the banks, laden with domes, shrink and subside. Some bridges still foster hovels. Others support masts, signals, frail parapets. Minor chords intersect, dissolve. Ropes climb up from the banks. We make out a red coat, maybe some other costumes, and musical instruments. Are these popular tunes, fragments of stately recitals, remnants of public hymns? The water is grey and blue, wide as an arm of the sea. ––A ray of white light, falling from the top of the sky, obliterates this comedy.


You can read more of my Rimbaud translations here, and those from Illuminations here.



Here’s another translation I’ve done of a poem from Arthur Rimbaud’s Illuminations. It is significant that the title addresses “a” reason, as in “a particular version of reason”, as Rimbaud’s poetics were formed on the famous phrase “Je est un autre” (I is another self), in which he sought to divorce one “self” from another, as well as inventing different ones.


‘To a Reason’

by Arthur Rimbaud, translated by Robin Boothroyd

A tap of your finger on the drum unleashes the sounds and weaves a new harmony.

At your footfalls new men sign up and march out.

Your head turns away: new love! Turns back––new love!

“Change our lots, flatten the scourge, start with time,” the children sing to you. “Raise the substance of our fortunes and our vows wherever possible,” they plead.

You step out of always. Now make for everywhere.


You can find some of my other translations from Rimbaud’s Illuminations here.


Another Arthur Rimbaud translation for you. This one was set to music by Benjamin Britten as part of his song cycle Les Illuminations, and he dedicated it to his partner Peter Pears.


‘Being Beauteous’

by Arthur Rimbaud, translated by Robin Boothroyd

Against the snow, a tall Beautiful Being. Whistlings of death and circles of muffled music make this adored body rise, enlarge and tremble like a ghost; red and black wounds rupture the glorious flesh. Life’s colours darken, dance and disengage from the Vision as it takes shape. Shivers rise and rumble, and the frenzied cocktail of these effects combines with the mortal whistling and the raucous music that the world, at our backs, hurls at our earth mother –– she recoils, she rears up. Oh! our bones are mantled with a loving new body once more.


I’m knee-deep in Arthur Rimbaud’s Illuminations as I chronologically translate my favourite poems by him. This is one of his best.



by Arthur Rimbaud, translated by Robin Boothroyd

Seen enough. The vision met the eye at every angle.
Had enough. Rumbles, in the city, at dusk, and sunlit, and always.
Known enough. The obstacles of life. ––O Rumbles and Visions!
Departure into newfound soundscapes with renewed tenderness!


Further translations of Rimbaud’s work – including the opening poem from the Illuminations – can be found on my old blog, here.