Study Guide

A Season in Hell Religion

By Arthur Rimbaud

Religion

But, dear Satan, I beg you, an eye a little less inflamed! And while awaiting my few cowardly little deeds, for you who prize in a writer the lack of descriptive or instructive skill, for you, I tear off these few hideous pages from my notebook of a damned soul. (11)

Well that didn't take very long. We've only gone ten lines and the speaker's already dedicating his poem to Satan. Clearly we should be buckling up for a some pretty anti-Christian sentiment.

I remember nothing more distant than this country and Christianity. I'd never be finished with viewing myself in this past. But always alone: without a family: what language, even, did I speak? I never see myself in the counsels of Christ: nor in the councils of the Lords – representatives of Christ. (22)

These lines are telling, because they're not aimed at Christianity per se. Instead, Christianity becomes synonymous with society here. The speaker is more alone because he's outside of the conventions of the religion and alienated from those that represent religious teaching. Christianity's just another community to him—one he doesn't belong to, that is.

'Priests, professors, masters, you're wrong to hand me over to justice. I've never been part of this race. I've never been a Christian: I'm of the race that sings under torture: I don't understand the law: I've no moral sense, I'm a brute: you're wrong...' (44)

Again, the speaker sees himself as outside of Christianity—not so much as a form of protest or critique, but as a marker of social separation (see "Themes: Isolation"). Maybe it's not Christianity he's mad at here, but western society as a whole. Or maybe he just needs a hug.

Yesterday, I was still sighing: 'Heaven! There are enough of us damned down here! I've already spent too long, myself, amongst this crew! I know them all. We'll always recognise each other; we find each other disgusting. Charity's unknown to us. But we're polite; our relations with people are perfectly correct.' Is it surprising! People! Merchants, fools! – We're not dishonoured – But the elect, how would they receive us? For there are pugnacious and joyous folk: a false elect since we need neither audacity nor humility to approach them. They are the sole elect. They never bless others! (248)

Here the speaker takes aim not at Christianity, but at bad Christians. It's a crucial difference. It seems that he counts himself among the damned, but he reserves his true scorn for the "false elect," folks who act as though they are saved and destined for heaven, but who never actually demonstrate kindness to others in the true Christian way.

But is there not true torture in the fact that, ever since that declaration of knowledge Christianity, man has cheated himself, proved the obvious, swollen with pleasure at repeating the proof, and lived only like that! Subtle torture, foolish; the source of my spiritual divagations. Nature could be bored, perhaps! Monsieur Prudhomme was born with Christ. (252)

Well, just when you thought the speaker might have been OK with Christianity as an abstract idea, he stomps all over it here. He says that Christian teaching has become the end-all, be-all of human knowledge, which in his view is predictable, conventional, boring. He equates the birth of Christ with the birth of Monsieur Prudhomme, a prim, proper, middle-class, French character who represented the dullest fuddy-duddy of his (and Rimbaud's) day.

From the same desert, in the same night, always my weary eyes wake to the star of silver, always, without troubling the Kings of life, the three mages, heart, soul, and mind. When shall we go beyond the shores and mountains, to hail the birth of fresh toil; fresh wisdom, the rout of tyrants and demons, the end of superstition, to adore – as newcomers – Christmas on earth! (271)

Now this quote has us scratching our chin in a deeply thoughtful pose. (We like to do that every now and again.) If the speaker is so dead-set against Christianity and Christian teaching, why does he frame the new wisdom he hopes for as a kind of "Christmas," that most Christian time of newness and beginning? Either he's more under the sway of Christianity than he himself would like to believe, or he's not as upset by it as he'd like us to believe. Hmm…

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