Study Guide

A Season in Hell Science

By Arthur Rimbaud


Oh! Science! They've altered everything. For the body and the soul – the Eucharist – we've medicine and philosophy – old wives' remedies and arrangements of popular songs. And the diversions of princes and the games they prohibited! Geography, cosmography, physics, chemistry! ...
Science! The new nobility! Progress. The world progresses! Why shouldn't it turn as well?
It's the vision of numbers. We advance towards the Spirit. It's quite certain: it's oracular, what I say. I know, and unaware how to express myself without pagan words, I'd rather be mute. (24-26)

Science may claim to have everything figured out, but, well, the speaker's not impressed. He likens rational thought to an old wives' tale, and he'd rather keep his trap shut than play this "pagan" game. We know he's no fan of Christianity either, though (see "Themes: Religion"). It seems like he's after a more individualized way of knowing, rather than a full-on system of belief or reason.

– No hope, never,
No entreaty here.
Science and patience,
Torture is real. (110-113)

If you've ever done any true science, you know that it takes a while. There's the observing and the testing and the confirming—it goes on and on. And have you ever tried to iron a lab coat? Talk about time-consuming. Our speaker doesn't seem to have time for all that. He's after a more immediate kind of knowing than science can provide, which moves at a torturous pace in his view.

My mind, be on your guard. No violent decisions on salvation. Stir yourself! – Ah, science is not swift enough for us!
– But I see my mind is asleep. (255-256)

Again, the speaker is too impatient for the work of science. Luckily, he's got his mind instead. Oh wait, it's in snooze mode. No wonder this guy is tortured. None of the conventional systems of knowing work for him, and yet none of his own faculties are up to the task.

– What can I do? I know work: and Science is too slow. How prayer gallops and light groans... I see that clearly. It's too simple, and the weather's too warm: they'll do without me. I've my duty: I'll be proud the way others are, in setting it aside. (264)

We're not sure why the speaker's in such a giant hurry all the time, but here again he's railing against science for being too slow. Prayer is a lot faster in his view, but that's also too simplistic for his tastes. So what's an angst-riddled ex-boyfriend to do? He decides to chuck them both, though he's not as clear on what his back-up plan is.