Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Ashbery's translation of Rimbaud's 'Illuminations'

Modern French poets Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud have made an enormous influence on Western literature - their tangled lives as much as their poetry. Translating these two has been a major challenge for many poets of the past, but now two contemporary poets have produced new translations of classics by them both.

Read about these translations in this short review from the Wall Street Journal at

This from Criticism &c. at

January 5, 2011
A New Translation of Rimbaud’s Illuminations

W.W. Norton will publish a new translation of Rimbaud’s Illuminations by the poet John Ashbery in April. The New York Review of Books features one of them, Tale, in its current issue (January 13, 2011).

In the interest of textual comparison, I have reproduced below the first paragraph of Ashbery’s translation, followed by that of Louise Varèse, from the revised New Directions edition of 1957.


From Rimbaud’s Tale

A Prince was annoyed at always being occupied with perfecting vulgar generosities. He foresaw amazing revolutions in love, and suspected that his wives could come up with something better than complacency adorned with sky and luxury. He wished to see the truth, the hour of essential desire and satisfaction. Whether or not this was an aberration of piety, he wanted it. He possessed at the very least a rather broad human power.

(John Ashbery)


A Prince was vexed at having devoted himself only to the perfection of ordinary generosities. He foresaw astonishing revolutions of love and suspected his women of being able to do better than their habitual acquiescence embellished by heaven and luxury. He wanted to see the truth, the hour of essential desire and gratification. Whether this was an aberration of piety or not, that is what he wanted. Enough worldly power, at least, he had.

(Louise Varèse)

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