Study Guide

A Season in Hell

A Season in Hell Summary

Once upon a time, everything was just hunky-dory in our speaker's life. One night, though, everything changed. Instead of awesome things like beauty and justice, the speaker embraced things like hatred and jealousy. He pulled a total 180, and not in a good way like skateboarder or BMX stunt rider. Still, the speaker can't help writing this poem to see if he can reclaim a little bit of his former mojo.

The speaker traces his lameness back to his Gaulish (ancient French) ancestors. In addition to those lazy, good-for-nothings of the past, he also hates the modern insistence on science. He just wants to get away, on a permanent vacation to an uncivilized land. He also sort of wishes he was a convict, since he identifies so much with being on the outs of society. He's incapable of loving life, but at the same time he's unwilling to embrace death. The dude has some serious problems.

Eventually, the speaker starts to fantasize that he's in H-E-double-hockeysticks (well, at least the title checks out). He describes hanging out there with his companion, who calls the speaker his "infernal Spouse" and "a demon." Ouch. Not to be outdone, the speaker reclaims the stage and starts to boast about his artistic prowess. He busts out a kind of pastoral poem as proof.

He goes on to describe the wild, often surreal, ways his imagination acts on the world, throwing in a few more formal verses to describe how he's isolated and alone. Then he returns to his fantasies of quitting civilization, or "the West," for someplace less conventional and restrained. He calls this place "the East," but he's not talking strictly in geographical terms. He wants to find a place where the restrictions of both science and religion don't apply. He wants total freedom of the mind.

As you might have guessed, such a place is hard to come by. The speaker's not going to give up, though. He looks forward to a time of rebirth, of new, "fresh," wisdom. He tries to get there through the power of his imagination, but poverty and reality combine to smack him down to the cold, dirty, stinking, not-fun-at-all Earth—bummer. He can't help hoping, though, that a new dawn is coming, where he'll be able to know truth.

  • Section 1: Prologue

    Lines 1-7

    Once, if I remember rightly, my life was a feast where all hearts opened, and all wines flowed.
    One evening I sat Beauty on my knees – And I found her bitter – And I reviled her.
    I armed myself against Justice.
    I fled. O sorceresses, O misery, O hatred, it was to you my treasure was entrusted!
    I managed to erase all human hope from my mind. I made the wild beast's silent leap to strangle every joy.
    I summoned executioners to bite their gun-butts as I died. I summoned plagues, to stifle myself with sand and blood. Misfortune was my god. I stretched out in the mud. I dried myself in the breezes of crime. And I played some fine tricks on madness.
    And spring brought me the dreadful laugh of the idiot.

    • Once upon a time, our speaker, whoever "I" is, was happy. That makes sense. How can you not be happy when your life is like a fancy feast?
    • After this good times feast metaphor, though, something changes for this person. It looks like he had personified Beauty right in his lap, but for some reason the speaker now finds Beauty not to his (or her) liking. He (or she) "reviled" it, in fact.
    • So, in a move that would rival that of the most angst-ridden 21st-century emo teen, the speaker now pretty much hates everything.
    • In a classic super villain move, he (we're going to just assume that the speaker is some version of Rimbaud himself—check out "Speaker" for more) fights against Justice (depicted here as another personified attribute or ideal). He also runs away—probably to some evil lair.
    • Next we get some typical 19th-century apostrophe action. The speaker's addressing abstract concepts that aren't present, with a showy "O"—how overwrought.
    • All hope seems to be gone from the speaker. He's like a metaphorical animal now, not a human being.
    • He seems to revel in this, though (so totally emo). He kind of goes with the flow and doesn't fight against his sadness. Instead, he calls it to him.
    • This sad speaker describes his sadness in terms of dirty things: plagues, sand, and blood (6).
    • So, we have a sick, dirty guy who is languishing in the mud and feeling pretty low (literally). Thanks to some figurative language, he dries off with "the breezes of crime." This might mean that he's so low that even committing crimes lifts his spirits a bit. This super villain thing is staring to make more sense.
    • Line 7 is a bit surprising. Springtime brings him "the dreadful laugh of the idiot." This is something unexpected, since in most poetry spring is associated with cute little frolicking animals, rebirth, and renewal.
    • But for this guy, it brings the sound of an idiot laughing. Bad times.

    Lines 8-11

    Now, just lately, finding myself on the point of uttering the last croak, I thought of seeking the key to the old feast, where I might perhaps find my appetite again!
    Charity is the key – This inspiration proves I have been dreaming!
    'You're a hyena still…' the demon cries who crowned me with such delightful poppies. 'Win death with all your appetites; your egoism, all the deadly sins.'
    Ah, I've practised too many! – 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.

    • Croak, croak. No frogs in sight—that's just Rimbaud dropping some good, old-fashioned onomatopoeia on us.
    • Don't worry, though. There are no real frogs around. This guy's just so sad, he's about to croak (a.k.a. die).
    • But wait—just before he shuffles off this mortal coil, he remembers that happiness from line 1, and he returns to the happy feast.
    • He realizes that charity (kindness and generosity to fellow human beings) is what will allow him to get his hunger back to participate in this metaphorical feast once again.
    • Not so fast, though, speaker. A demon (we're not sure at this point who or what that might be) calls him a "hyena." How rude. This animal is a scavenger, so once again the speaker is taken down a few notches.
    • This demon is a creature who "crowned me with such delightful poppies."
    • Historical interlude: Opium dens were pretty popular during this period (late 1800s-early 1900s), so the poppies here are probably meant to suggest opium (which is made from poppies).
    • This demon urges the speaker to indulge in his appetites—and basically to give in and sin.
    • The speaker then addresses Satan, the demon-in-chief himself. He tells the devil that, while he's waiting for the speaker to get down to his hot lair, he (the speaker) is going to pound out some poetry for him.
    • So why does the speaker consider himself a "damned soul"? We're not sure yet. Let's keep digging.
    • But before we bust out the shovels, a form note:
    • By now you're probably thinking: " is this a poem?" There seems to be lots of prose up in here. And you would be, of course, correct. Take a look at the "Form and Meter" section for the scoop on all this.
  • Section 2: Bad Blood

    Lines 12-14

    I've the whitish blue eye of my Gallic ancestors, the narrow skull, and the awkwardness in combat. I find my clothing as barbarous as theirs. But I don't butter my hair.
    The Gauls were the most inept flayers of cattle and burners of grass of their age.
    From them I get: idolatry and love of sacrilege: – oh, all the vices, anger, lust – magnificent, the lust – above all lying and sloth!

    • This section seems to be a bit more concrete than the first. The speaker gives us a bit of background. He's Gallic (meaning descended from the Gauls—head on over to "Shout Outs" for more) and has their typical facial features and inferior fighting skills.
    • Maybe he's not such a great super villain after all.
    • In fact, he's downright "barbarous." That's not as bad as it sounds, though. You see, anyone who wasn't Roman during the time he's referring to would have been considered "barbaric." For the Romans, a "barbarian" was just a foreigner.
    • So, the speaker dresses barbarically, although he doesn't roll like the Gauls and butter his hair (ew). Fun fact: the Gauls really did this—it was a sort of like a medieval hair product.
    • His ancestors also were apparently not very good at skinning ("flay"ing) cattle for leather, though, or burning grass for warmth, or agriculture…or much of anything by the sounds of it.
    • They were also pretty heavily bogged down with their own sins (first mentioned back in line 1): anger, lust, and sloth in particular.
    • That's cool, though. The speaker seems to be down with lust. His attitude here ("magnificent, the lust") is all, "Bring it on."

    Lines 15-16

    I've a horror of all trades. Masters and workers: all peasants, ignoble. The hand on the pen's the same as the hand at the plough. – What an age of hands! – I'll never get my hand in. Anyway service goes too far. The honesty of beggary upsets me. Criminals disgust me like eunuchs: me, I'm whole, and it's all one to me!
    But! Who made my tongue so deceitful that it's guided and safeguarded my laziness till now? Without even using my body to live, and idler than a toad, I've lived everywhere. Not a family in Europe I don't know. – I mean families like mine, who owe it all to the declaration of the Rights of Man. – I've known every son of good family!

    • For some reason, our speaker doesn't like the "trades," or industries and professions of his time. Those folks shouldn't feel bad, though. He doesn't like peasants, beggars, or criminals either.
    • He doesn't even seem to really like writing, since—to him—the hands do basically the same thing.
    • We get a strong impression the speaker doesn't work for a living. (What does this guy like, anyway?) Instead, he travels around and has lived "idler than a toad" with families all across Europe. The takeaway here is that he's a member of the 19th-century version of the jet set.
    • He hobnobs with those of the middle and upper classes.
    • In this case, that means the French bourgeoisie, who got their start with the Declaration of the Rights of Man and that whole French Revolution thing.
    • This guy sounds like a real plugged-in dude.

    Lines 17-19

    If only I'd forerunners at some time or other in the history of France!
    But no, nothing.
    It's obvious to me I've always belonged to an inferior race. I don't understand rebellion. My race never rose up except to pillage: like wolves round a beast they haven't killed.

    • The speaker wishes his family got its start during some other period of French history than the Revolution period. For him, that time is boring.
    • And he ups the ante by describing French people as "an inferior race." They've never really done anything—except destroy things ("pillage").
    • The image of the wolves around a beast that they haven't even killed makes the French out to be like metaphorical scavengers.

    Line 20

    I recall the history of France, eldest daughter of the Church. As a peasant I'd have made the journey to the Holy Land: I have all the roads of the Swabian plains in my head, all the views of Byzantium, the ramparts of Suleiman: the cult of the Virgin; tenderness for the crucified, wake in me among a thousand profane enchantments. – I sit, a leper, among broken pots and nettles, at the foot of a wall ravaged by the sun. – Later, a mercenary, I'd have bivouacked under German midnights. 

    • The speaker now goes back over his French history, noting that the country is the "eldest daughter of the Church."
    • This is because, way back in the 6th century—when King Clovis of Gaul (before France was France it was called "Gaul") converted to Catholicism—the entire country also converted. So, France was the first new-fangled country to wholesale become Catholic. And now you know.
    • He's imagining himself seeing moments in French history: the Swabian lands (parts of modern Germany that used to belong to France), parts of Turkey and its impressive buildings under King Suleiman (referring to Christian-Islamic battles), and the cults of the Virgin Mary.
    • Then he jumps forward in time and imagines himself as a mercenary soldier camping out and getting ready to attack the Germans.
    • This guy sure gets around.

    Lines 21-23

    Ah! Again: I dance the Sabbath in a red glade, with old women and children.
    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.
    What was I in the last century? I only discover myself in the present day. No more vagabonds, no more vague wars. The inferior race has spread everywhere – the people, as one says, reason; the nation and science.

    • This imaginative racial memory of the speaker only extends so far back. He can't remember anything prior to Christianity.
    • He fancies himself a lone wanderer. He has no family—he doesn't even know what language he speaks in these early times.
    • The fact that he doesn't see himself in "the counsels of Christ" might emphasize his separation from other people. It might also emphasize that he's a sort of non-Christian (he does seem a little too close to Satan back in the Prologue).
    • Our Rimbaud-speaker contrasts the past with the present. His vivid descriptions of what he imagines he might have done in the past juxtapose with his descriptions of his current life (15-16), or even his sadness and lack of interest that he details in the Prologue.
    • Flashing forward to the present day, the speaker laments his "inferior race" that has spread everywhere because of science, reason, and the rise of the modern concept of the nation.

    Lines 24-26

    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.

    • Things are starting to get a bit jumbled here. The speaker is heading toward a more stream-of-consciousness kind of expression.
    • Check out how he interrupts himself with "the Eucharist" when he talks about "the body and the soul" (the Eucharist is a moment in the Catholic mass where the spirit of Christ manifests itself through transubstantiation into the communion wafer).
    • Yeah—heavy stuff here.
    • In Rimbaud's age, things are changing fast, and there are new sciences that seem to replace a spiritual sense of the body and the soul.
    • Even thought he says "We advance towards the Spirit," he means a new spirit here, a scientific replacement for the religious spirituality of yesteryear (25). All this progress is great and all, but our speaker equates these advances with things of the past, like "old wives' remedies."
    • Still, he seems to know that something momentous will happen and describes himself as a sort of oracle—someone who speaks the truth literally out loud.
    • Now his connection with the non-Christian makes sense. He has to express himself in "pagan words" (since science is the new religion), so he'd rather be quiet.
    • That's quite a conflict the speaker has set up here.

    Lines 27-31

    The pagan blood returns! The Spirit is near, why doesn't Christ help me by granting my soul nobility and freedom? Alas! The Gospel has passed! The Gospel! The Gospel.
    I wait for God with greed. I've been of inferior race from all eternity.
    Here I am on the Breton shore. How the towns glow in the evening. My day is done: I'm quitting Europe. Sea air will scorch my lungs: lost climates will tan me. To swim, trample the grass, hunt, above all smoke: drink hard liquors like boiling metals – as those dear ancestors did round the fire.
    I'll return with iron limbs; dark skin, a furious look: from my mask I'll be judged as of mighty race. I'll have gold: I'll be idle and brutal. Women care for those fierce invalids returning from hot countries. I'll be involved in politics. Saved.
    Now I'm damned, I have a horror of country. The best is a good drunken sleep on the beach.

    • Now we're back to the pagan thing, and yet the speaker pleads for something very un-pagan: to have Christ help him. (Remember that things are twisted in his view. Science is the new religion, but our speaker wants to stick with God and religion and all that traditionally spiritual stuff.) He gets no help, though, because the Gospel of religion is gone in the modern world, as he sees things.
    • He imagines himself on the shore of Brittany (an area in the northwest of France), getting ready to leave Europe for a sea voyage—to, well, somewhere.
    • We get the idea it's somewhere tropical (sounds nice). He'll be tanned and will engage in lots of rough and manly man activities.
    • He'll also indulge in drinking—like his Gallic ancestors did, around big fires (sounds dangerous).
    • So, he's basically fantasizing about a foray into un-civilization to return to a more primitive state of pleasure.
    • When he returns, he'll no longer be of the inferior Gallic race. Instead, he'll have a more brutal look about him, and will be powerful. The gold and the iron limbs are strong symbols of power here.
    • This will also get him some more of the ladies. For whatever reason, they care for men who return after such adventurous exploits.
    • Then, he'll be able to get involved in politics and will have some power.
    • It's just a fantasy, though, because a good "drunken sleep" is better than "country" (which probably means his own civilization, his own country—not the place with a bunch of barns and chickens). It sounds like this guy really needs a vacation.

    Lines 32-40

    One doesn't go. – Let's take to the roads again, full of my vice, the vice that has thrust its roots of suffering into my side, since the age of reason – that rises to the sky, strikes me, knocks me down, drags me along.
    The last innocence, and the last timidity. I've said it. Not to carry my disgust and betrayals through the world.
    Let's go! Marching, burdens, deserts, boredom, anger.
    Whom shall I hire myself to? What beast must be adored? What saintly image attacked? What hearts shall I break? What lie must I uphold? – Wade through what blood?
    Rather, protect oneself from justice – a hard life, pure brutalisation – to open the coffin lid with a withered hand; sit down, stop your breath. So no old age, no dangers: to be terrified is un-French.
    – Ah! I am so forsaken I could offer any divine image no matter what my urges towards perfection.
    O my self-denial, O my marvellous pity! Even down

    De profundis Domine, what a creature I am!

    • What is this "vice" that the speaker talks about at line 32? It could be the opium he mentions back in line 10. It could be his secret Oreo addiction. Or maybe it's both. Whatever it is, it sounds painful.
    • And the speaker's really down on the age of reason; it's something that drags him down and keeps him from the more unfettered and uncivilized life he admired in the previous stanza.
    • He's again ready to go out into this other world (away from civilized Europe).
    • But, he wonders, when he gets there, whom will he work for (and do they have a good benefits package)? What kind of belief system will he need to join? Which other religions will he need to attack? Which people will he need to kill?
    • This more primitive life—a life of "pure brutalisation"—will protect him from the life in France that he seems to disdain.
    • He shouldn't be afraid of danger or dying, though, because that would be completely un-French. Then again here we go with the flamboyant apostrophes—this guy's got it bad. He's so set apart from his fellow humans that he pities himself. The self-denial points to internal conflict, though. How can he be self-pitying, but also self-denying? Hmm.
    • De profundis Domine is Latin for "from the depths, oh Lord!" (better check out "Shout Outs"). So, he's calling out to God from the depths. That sounds like a long-distance call.

    Line 41

    Still a child, I admired the stubborn convict on whom the prison gates always close again: I visited inns and lodgings that he might have sanctified with his presence: I saw the blue sky with his mind, and the flowering labour of the countryside: I scented his fate in the towns. He had more strength than a saint, more good sense than a traveller – and he, he alone! As witness to his glory and reason.

    • The speaker admires convicts, and weirdly regards them as a "sanctify[ing]" presence. That's tres ironic.
    • This goes along nicely with how he praises things and people who are more primitive. The convict is outside of civilized society, and so in the speaker's eyes he is stronger and glorious.

    Lines 42-43

    On the roads, on winter nights, without shelter, without clothing, without bread, a voice would clutch my frozen heart: 'Weakness or strength: with you it's strength. You don't know where you're going or why you're going: go everywhere, react to everything. They won't kill you any more than if you were a corpse.' In the morning I had such a lost look, such a dead face, that those who met me perhaps they did not see me.
    Suddenly, in the towns, the mud would seem red or black to me, like the mirror when the lamp is carried about in the next room, like a treasure in the forest! Good luck, I'd cry, and I'd see a sea of flames and smoke in the sky: and to right and left all the riches flaming like a trillion lightning flashes.

    • While our intrepid speaker is traveling around (it's still not clear on where he's going—so maybe this is some kind of metaphorical journey, continuing with his imaginary traveling from earlier stanzas), he hears a voice praising his strength.
    • This voice encourages him to be active and experience many things out in the world—like an otherworldly pep talk.
    • Wherever he is, our guy feels apart from the rest of society. He feels invisible (and check out how that part at the end of line 42 is in italics, which is a formatting way to say, "Listen up!").
    • Things start to look weird to the narrator—"red or black," which is completely not the usual color of mud. It's darker and perhaps tinged with blood.
    • Simile time: things look like reflections in a mirror, or a "treasure in the forest."
    • We're not really expecting to hear something like that, so maybe he's trying to make us see how unfamiliar or strange the world seems to him (check out our "Calling Card" section and our surrealism guide for more on this).
    • And what's up with all that smoke and flames? It sounds pretty hellish, doesn't it? Maybe this poem's title is becoming more important. Check out "What's Up With the Title?" for more on that.

    Line 44-47

    But orgies and the company of women were forbidden me. Not even a friend. I could see myself before an angry crowd, facing the firing-squad, weeping with a misery they couldn't have understood, and forgiving them! – Like Joan of Arc! – '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…'
    Yes, I've shut my eyes to your light. I'm a beast, a black. But I can be saved. You are really blacks, you maniacs; wild beasts, misers. Merchant, you're a black: magistrate, you're a black: general, you're a black: emperor, you old sore, you're a black: you've drunk an untaxed liquor, Satan's make. – This race is inspired by fever and cancer. Old folks and invalids are so respectable they ask to be boiled. – The cleverest thing is to quit this continent, where madness prowls to find hostages for these wretches. I'm off to the true kingdom of the sons of Ham.
    Do I know nature yet? Do I know myself? –
    No more words. I bury the dead in my gut. Shouts, drums, dance, dance, dance, dance! I don't even see the moment when the whites land and I'll fall to nothingness.
    Hunger, thirst, shouts, dance, dance, dance, dance!

    • The speaker's now imaginatively putting himself in the place of this criminal or convict that he was talking about back at line 41.
    • He's such an outsider that he can't even engage in some serious hanky-panky (the orgies and company of women).
    • Instead, he's violently outcast—in front of a firing-squad and likening himself to Joan of Arc (hit up "Shout-Outs," if you please).
    • In an imaginary conversation with the crowds surrounding his execution, he emphasizes his outsider status (as if being executed wasn't enough). He doesn't follow their laws, their religion, or their morality.
    • He's a total brute.
    • Just in case we don't get the picture, he describes himself in terms of being an animal and black. Yes—in case you're wondering, we're probably supposed to read that as ethnic African-ness.
    • But in a strange reversal, he describes all of those he imagines around him as black, de-familiarizing himself even more.
    • Rimbaud-speaker wants to leave Europe and find the "true kingdom of the sons of Ham" ("Shout-Outs" is your friend once again).
    • Check out how even his ability to express himself breaks down: "No more words" (46). It all dissolves into the more primitive sound of drums and the physical movement of dancing.
    • It's all physical appetites—hunger and dancing.

    Lines 48-54

    The whites are landing. Cannon! We have to submit to baptism, clothes, work.
    I've received the
    coup de grâce to my heart. Ah! I hadn't foreseen it!
    I've done nothing wrong. The days will pass easily for me, repentance will be spared me. I'll not have known the torments of the soul that's almost dead to virtue, where the light rises severely like that from funeral tapers. The fate of a son of good family, an early coffin scattered with crystal tears. Doubtless, debauchery is foolish; vice is foolish, rottenness must be thrown out. But the clock has not yet taken to striking only hours of pure sadness! Shall I be carried off like a child to play in paradise forgetting all unhappiness?
    Quick! Are there other lives? – Repose with riches is impossible. Wealth has always been so public. Divine love alone offers the keys of knowledge. I see that nature is nothing but a show of kindness. Farewell chimeras, ideals, errors.
    The rational song of the Angels rises from the lifeboat: it is divine love. – Two Loves! I can die of earthly love, or die of devotion. I've left souls for whom the pain of my departure increases! You have chosen me from the shipwrecked: those who are left aren't they my friends?
    Save them!
    Reason is born in me. The world is good. I'll bless life. I'll love my brothers. These are no longer childish promises. Nor the hope of escaping old age and death. God give me strength and I praise God.

    • As the speaker's reverie continues, he sees the country where he has imaginatively placed himself being taken over by white colonizers.
    • Taken by force (the "cannon" in line 48), he—among the others—have to submit to the colonizers' religion and slavery.
    • He imagines that he dies, and will never know what it's like to live as he currently lives in the real world, which is filled with vice and debauchery, and is, well, generally boring. (Check out that simile about the light being like funeral tapers, or candles. This place is dead, yo.)
    • But, he wants to know: are there other options for life? Being rich doesn't look like it will cut it for him.
    • Instead, he's after a more spiritual existence that enjoys "Divine love."
    • Even that won't save him, though. As he hears Angels singing their "rational song" (remember that science is the new religion in his world), he suggests that he can either die of an "earthly love" (probably a connection to someone in real life), or he can die of devotion (a spiritual devotion).
    • Rationality comes back to him (um, we think), and he acknowledges that the world is good on some level. He'll be good, then. He promises.
    • And it's not just one of those empty promises to avoid "old age and death." He's super-serious here, guys.

    Lines 55-61

    Tedium's no longer my love. Rage, debaucheries, madness, all of whose joys and disasters I know – my whole burden's laid down. Let us appreciate without dizziness the extent of my innocence.
    I'd no longer be capable of demanding the comfort of a bastinado. I don't think I'm embarking for a wedding with Jesus Christ for father-in-law.
    I'm not a prisoner of my reason. I said: 'God, I want freedom in salvation: how to pursue it? Frivolous tastes have quit me. No need for self-sacrifice or divine love any more. I don't regret the age of sensitive hearts. Each has his reason, scorn, pity: I retain my place at the summit of this angelic ladder of good sense.
    As for established happiness: domestic or not…no, I can't. I'm too dissipated, too feeble. Life flowers through work, an old truth: me, my life is too insubstantial, it flies off and drifts around far above the action that focus dear to the world.
    What an old maid I'm becoming, lacking the courage to love death!
    If God would grant me celestial, aerial, calm, prayer – like the ancient saints – the Saints! Strong ones! The anchorites, artists for whom there's no longer need!
    Continual farce! My innocence should make me weep. Life is the farce all perform.

    • Our speaker tries to move away from his world-weariness. He's no longer in love with tedium (so, he's trying hard to not be so emo).
    • Now, he's innocent, since he's given up his previous vices. It sounds like he was quite The Bad Boy once upon a time.
    • He is, in fact, no longer capable of asking for "the comfort of a bastinado." What's a "bastinado," you ask? Well, it's a hefty stick that's used to smite a criminal upon the soles of his feet or his buttocks. Ouch.
    • Plus, he's not going to have Jesus Christ as his father-in-law anytime soon. Bummer. But wait: did Jesus have a daughter or son?
    • We're thinking no. So we're probably meant to read this more metaphorically. The speaker's not going to pledge himself to a life of religion anytime soon.
    • Or maybe he's not going to be Jesus-like and sacrifice himself.
    • He seems unsure of what he really wants. He used to be down for divine love, but now he's over that, as well as self-sacrifice. He says that everyone has their own reason, then claims that he's firmly at "the summit" of an angel's ladder of "good sense." So maybe he's discovered a kind of spiritual knowledge, which in the speaker's modern scientific era would be more like a logical mind.
    • He's also not cut out for domestic happiness, it seems. He's too weak, he claims. He describes himself and his life as being insubstantial enough to just drift away.
    • Tell us again, Rimbaud-speaker, how you're no longer world-weary. Because this all sounds pretty world-weary and "so over it all" to us.
    • Also, he's like an "old maid"—someone who has outlived their potential (and an awesome card game).
    • This all seems to bother him. He wants strength like that of the saints. But the world no longer needs "anchorites" (religious figures) or artists.
    • Everything's just one big farce to him right now, starring…everyone in the world.

    Lines 62-68

    Enough! Here is the sentence. - March!
    Ah! My lungs burn, my brow throbs! Night revolves in my eyes, in this sun! Heart…limbs…
    Where to? To fight? I'm weak! The others advance. Equipment, arms…the weather! …
    Fire! Fire at me! Here! Or I'll surrender – Cowards! – I'll kill myself! I'll hurl myself under the horses' hooves!
    Ah! ...
    – I'll get used to it.
    That would be the French way, the path of honour!

    • And now we seem to be back with the speaker in the midst of some battle, and he's being commanded to march.
    • He's being pushed to his limits, and blacking out in the heat and under the exertion.
    • He tries to work himself up to some heroic act—like he'll draw fire from his enemies, or he'll sacrifice himself (although he's already mentioned in the last section that he's not cut out for that, or doesn't want it).
    • Instead, he'll "get used to it." Wow—what a cop out.
    • He describes this as the honorable "French" thing to do.
    • This whole section seems to suggest that the speaker is struggling with...well, struggling. The "French," honorable way would be to accept his fate, no matter how horrible it was (like suffering in war).
    • But we can't help but feel that he's really not down with that kind of acceptance. All of these strangely conflicting images that he's been throwing out in this section emphasize this.
    • Let's see if we find out more info as we head into the next section.
  • Section 3: Night in Hell

    Lines 69-72

    I have swallowed a famous gulp of poison – Thrice blessed be the thought that came to me! – My guts are burning. The venom's violence wracks my limbs; deforms me, fells me. I'm dying of thirst; I'm stifling, unable to cry out. It's hell, the everlasting torment! See how the flames rise up! I'm burning in the proper manner. Well then, demon!
    I've glimpsed a conversion to goodness and joy, salvation. Let me describe the vision, the air of hell suffers no hymns! It was of millions of enchanting creatures, sweet spiritual harmony, strength and peace, noble ambitions, who knows what?
    Noble ambitions!
    There's life yet! – What if damnation is eternal! A man who wants to mutilate himself is truly damned, is he not? I think myself in hell, therefore I am. It's the ratification of the catechism. I'm the slave of my baptism. Parents, you caused my wretchedness and your own. Poor innocent! – Hell can't touch pagans – There's life yet! Later the delights of damnation will deepen. A crime, quick, let me fall into the void, in the name of human law.

    • The speaker drinks poison and "dies." It must not have worked, though, because he goes on to descriptively tell us about his death, and how the poison affects him.
    • Now we get to Hell (well, our speaker does anyway). He finds himself burning there after drinking the liquid. (Or at least drinking the liquid makes him feel like he's in Hell.)
    • In a weird reversal, though, he describes a sort of heaven-like place that he glimpses.
    • Now he's afraid that his damnation might be eternal, and he blames it on his parents for his baptism and religious upbringing. If he were a pagan (i.e., a non-believer) he wouldn't be in Hell.
    • That makes a kind of weird sense, if you think about it.

    Lines 73-74

    Quiet, quiet there! ... Here's shame and reproach: Satan, who says that the fire is ignoble, that my anger is fearfully stupid. – Enough! ... Of the errors whispered to me, magic, false perfumes, puerile music. – And to think that I grasp truth, see justice: my judgement is sane and sound, I am ready for perfection… Pride – the skin of my head dries up. Pity! Lord, I'm afraid. I thirst, such thirst! Ah, childhood, grass, the rain, the lake over stones, the moonlight when the clock struck twelve! …the devil's in the belfry, at that hour. Mary! Holy Virgin! – Horror at my stupidity.
    Back there, aren't there honest souls, who wish me well? ... Come…I've a pillow over my mouth; they can't hear me, they're phantoms. Besides, no one ever thinks of others. Let no one come near me. I smell of scorching, that's certain.

    • Our speaker is now in Hell. He's feeling guilt ("reproach") and shame.
    • He's also seems to be going back over his life, and mentally tallying up all of the errors of his ways.
    • It's as though his life is flashing before his eyes. He thinks back to his childhood and memories from when he was still living.
    • He wonders if there are any good people back in the land of the living who wish him well. If there are, they are just ghosts, and he can't contact them anyway because he's unable to talk.
    • Besides, he is burning (what with being in Hell and all), so they won't come near him. Can you blame them?

    Lines 75-78

    The hallucinations are innumerable. That's what has always been wrong with me, in fact: no belief in history, obliviousness to principles. I'll be quiet about it: poets and visionaries would be jealous. I am a thousand times richer, let's be as miserly as the sea.
    See there! The clock of life has just stopped. I am no longer in the world – Theology is no joke, hell is certainly
    down below – and heaven above – Ecstasy, nightmare, slumber in a nest of flames.
    What tricks while waiting in the countryside…Satan, Ferdinand, runs rife with wild seed…Jesus walks on the purple briars, without bending them…Jesus once walked on the troubled waters. The lantern showed him to us standing, pale with brown tresses, on the flank of an emerald wave…
    I shall unveil all the mysteries: mysteries religious or natural, death, birth, future, past, cosmogony, nothingness. I am a master of phantasmagoria.

    • Well, our speaker is now seeing things (continuing the visionary or surreal feel of the previous chapter).
    • In fact, he's having such hallucinations that visionaries (like Joan of Arc in the last section) would be jelly of him.
    • He is well and truly in Hell now, and acknowledges that his "clock of life" has stopped. He's crossed from the land of the living into this bleak afterlife where everything is in flames, like a frantic nightmare.
    • In Hell, he's apparently able to see visions of Jesus walking on the water, as well as Satan and Ferdinand (the patron of Christopher Columbus—hit up "Shout Outs" for more).
    • From his new home down below, the speaker will unveil all of the mysteries of the beyond. He's got a newfound power, describing himself as a "master of phantasmagoria." In other words, he's got supremacy over random strange or ghostly images and visions.
    • At this point, we totes believe him.

    Lines 79-84

    Listen! ...
    I possess every talent! – There is no one here, yet there is someone: I don't wish to spill my treasure – Shall it be negro chants, the dance of houris? Shall I vanish, dive deep in search of
    the ring? Shall I? I will make gold, cures.
    Have faith then in me, faith soothes, guides, heals. Come, all you – even the little children – let me console you, may a heart go out to you – the marvellous heart! – Poor men, workers! I don't ask for prayer; with your trust alone, I'll be happy.
    – And let us consider myself. It makes me regret the world very little. I was lucky not to suffer more. My life was nothing but sweet follies, it's regrettable.
    Bah! Let us make every possible grimace.
    Decidedly, we are beyond the world. No more sounds. My sense of touch: gone. Ah, my chateau, my Saxony, my rank of willows! Evenings, dawns, nights, days…How weary I am!

    • With this catalog of exotic, otherworldly images (the treasure, the "negro" other, the "houris", the ring that he'll search for), the speaker describes Hell as a sort of marvelous, fantastical realm. It's also more than a little racist. (Check out "Themes: Foreignness and the 'Other'" for more.)
    • From his new vantage point, he wants to console people—children, poor men, and the peasant classes.
    • He now seems to regret his previous actions less (maybe the "errors" he laments in the previous section). His previous "errors"—although "regrettable"—are now "sweet follies," which sounds much better.
    • No longer in the material world, he is unable to hear or touch anything, and his home in Saxony (a region in modern Germany, from where the "Saxons" got their name) is long gone. That's too bad. The "rank of willows" creates a nice, homey, protective scene.
    • Time seems to go by very quickly, and (once again) he becomes wearied. This dude needs a serious nap.

    Lines 85-88

    I ought to have a hell for my anger, a hell for my pride, – and a hell for my caresses; a concert of hells.
    I'm dying of lassitude. It's the tomb; I'm going to the worms, horror of horrors! Satan, you trickster, you want to destroy me with your enchantments. I demand, I demand one prick of the fork, one drop of the fire!
    Ah, to rise again to life! To set eyes on our deformities. And that poison, that kiss a thousand times damned! My weakness, the world's cruelty! My God, have pity, hide me, I can't defend myself! – I'm hidden yet un-hidden.
    It's the fire that flares again with its damned soul.

    • Taking a page out of Dante's book, our speaker longs for a different kind of Hell for each of his sins. But these Hells would work together as a sort of concert.
    • Instead of burning in fiery flames, though, the speaker discovers that Hell is just…pretty boring. And if you've ever been to the DMV, you can sympathize.
    • The "lassitude" (a nice Victorian-esque way of saying "lacking energy") is what's destroying him, and at this point he's dying to get poked by Satan's proverbial pitchfork and to be burned with fire. Hey, at least he wouldn't be bored anymore.
    • In an overwrought way, he now wishes he could undo his action. He curses the drink of poison he took, as well as his weakness and how cruel the world is.
    • His soul won't stop the fire from flaring up again. We get the impression this "fire" may be his memories of his previous life. Let's read on and see.
  • Section 4: Ravings I—Foolish Virgin, The Infernal Spouse

    Lines 89-95

    Let us hear the confession of a companion in hell:
    'O divine Spouse, my Lord, do not refuse the confession of the most sorrowful of your servants. I am lost. I am drunk. I am impure. What a life!
    Forgiveness, divine Lord, forgiveness! Ah, forgiveness! What tears! And what tears again, later, I hope!
    Later, I will know the divine Spouse! I was born His slave. – The other can beat me for now!
    At present, I inhabit the world's depths! O my friends! … No, not my friends…Never such ravings such torments…It's so stupid!
    Ah, I suffer, cry out! I suffer truly. And yet all is permitted me, weighed down with the contempt of the most contemptible hearts.
    Well then, let us confide this thing, though we repeat it twenty times more – just as drearily, as insignificant!

    • Now we get to hear the confessions of another Hell-dweller, and one who is apparently a friend of our Rimbaud-speaker. It's time for an embedded dramatic monologue, guys.
    • This new guy seems to be in pretty bad shape. He is calling out to some "divine Spouse" and "divine Lord." Is this Satan, ruler of the underworld? Or is he calling out to God in the hopes of being freed from his torment? We don't know yet.
    • He does call out to his friends, though, and clues them in on his suffering, and how he's feeling "weighed down." He's "lost," "drunk," and "impure." All in all, he's bummed out.
    • Now, he wants to confess to us, even though he says what he's about to tell us is not even worth hearing. Who's excited?

    Lines 96-97

    I am slave to the infernal Spouse, he who ruined the foolish virgins. It's indeed that very same demon. It's no spectre, it's no phantom. But I who have lost my wisdom, who am damned and dead to the world – they won't kill me! – How can I describe him to you! I can't speak any more. I am in mourning, I weep, I fear. A little coolness, Lord, if you please, if you graciously please!
    I'm a widow…– I was a widow... – why yes, I was very respectable once, I was not born to be a skeleton! ... – He was almost a child…His mysterious sensitivities seduced me. I forgot all my human tasks to follow him. What a life! The true life is absent. We are not in this world. I go where he goes, I have to. And often he's angry with me,
    me, poor soul. The Demon! – He's a Demon you know, he's not a man.

    • This companion is a slave to someone he calls "the infernal Spouse." Hmm...we've got a capital letter, which means this whole spouse thing is pretty significant. And "infernal" means diabolical, devilish, or just plain annoying or troublesome.
    • Moreover, this infernal Spouse has ruined some virgins.
    • At this point, the Spouse sounds like a rakish guy who is making it his job in life to deflower as many virgins as possible—so, he's pretty bad news.
    • The guy claims this Spouse is a demon—something concrete instead of spectral and insubstantial, like a ghost would be.
    • We also learn that this guy is a widow, and he's a "slave to the infernal Spouse," who is described as a man. This would be some pretty salacious stuff back in 1873.
    • (Historical note: This "companion" is Paul Verlaine, the great French fin-de-siècle and decadent poet—who also happened to be Arthur Rimbaud's lover.)
    • The companion describes how the Rimbaud-speaker basically seduced him, and he left behind all of his responsibilities to follow him.
    • Turns out there's a downside, though, since the speaker is often mad at the companion.
    • Plus, he's a demon, and not a man—yipes.

    Lines 98-101

    He says: "I don't like women. Love must be re-invented, that's certain. All they do is long for security. Once gained, heart and beauty are set aside: only cold disdain remains, the fodder of marriage, nowadays. Or else I see women, with the marks of happiness, whom I could have made into fine comrades, devoured from the start by brutes as sensitive as posts…"
    I listen to him make infamy of glory, charm of cruelty. "I'm of a distant race: my forefathers were Scandinavian: they slashed their sides, drank their own blood. – I'll make cuts all over; I'll tattoo myself, I long to be hideous as a Mongol: you'll see, I'll scream in the streets. I want to be mad with rage. Never show me gems, I'd crawl on the carpet and writhe. My treasure, I'd like to be stained all over with blood. I'll never work…" On several nights, his demon seized me; we rolled about, I wrestled him! – At night, often, drunk, he lies in wait in the streets or houses, to frighten me to death. – "They'll cut my throat, truly; it will be 'disgusting'." Oh, those days when he chooses to stroll about like a criminal!
    Sometimes he speaks in a kind of tender patois, of death which brings repentance, of the wretches who must exist, of painful toil, and partings that rend hearts. In the hovels where we used to get drunk together, he would weep to see those around us, wretched cattle. He would help to their feet the drunks in dark alleys. He'd a wicked mother's pity for little children. – He'd go about with the air of a little girl on the way to her catechism. – He feigned all knowledge, of commerce, art, medicine. – I followed him, I have to!

    I could see the whole scene with which, in his mind, he surrounded himself: clothes, fabrics, furniture; I lent him emblems, another face. I saw all that touched him, as he would have created it for himself. When he seemed listless, I followed him, myself, in strange and complex deeds, far out, for good or ill: I was certain of never entering his world. How many hours of vigil, beside his dear sleeping body, questioning why he wanted to evade reality so deeply! No man ever wished for it so. I realised – without fearing for him – that he might well prove a serious danger to society. – He knows perhaps secrets for transforming life? No, he only seeks them, I'd tell myself. Then, his charity is bewitched, and I'm its prisoner. No other soul would have had the strength – the strength of despair – to endure it – to be protected and loved by him! Besides, I could never imagine him with some other soul: one sees one's own Angel, never another's – I think. In his soul it was as if I were in a palace, emptied so none as base as self can be seen: that's it. Alas! I depended on him deeply. But what did he want with my dull cowardly existence? He made me no better, even though he failed to kill me! Sadly distressed, I sometimes said to him: "I understand you." He shrugged his shoulders.

    • We interrupt your regularly-scheduled prose poem to bring you this late-breaking dramatic dialogue.
    • Now we have Rimbaud writing about the Rimbaud-speaker, who is imagining a conversation with his companion. Keeping up? Good.
    • As it turns out, this Rimbaud-speaker person doesn't like women. That's pretty clear by now, since we have figured out that this companion considers the speaker his "infernal Spouse." They're pretty close, then.
    • He seems to also have a pretty low opinion of marriage. It seems like there are some women he would like to befriend, but they are now not fit for his friendship because their intellectual potential has been (he implies) ruined by their men's dull sensitivities.
    • The companion confesses how the speaker beefs up his primitive ancestors, and how he engages in some fanciful historical cosplay by raving that he'll cut himself like his Scandinavian forefathers—sounds extreme.
    • He also lies in wait on darkened streets for the companion to come by so he can scare him. Yeah, that's not creepy or anything.
    • Unfortunately, his treatment of his lover also descends into the abusive: they get into drunken fights and wrestle around in what seems to be a decidedly non-fun way.
    • But, he seems to have had his good points, also. He has a tender heart for the down-trodden, including the poor and children. The image of Rimbaud-speaker having a "wicked mother's pity" (100) is touching and memorable.
    • The companion now picks apart his interactions with the infernal Spouse. He remembers how he watched him sleep, and his questioning why his friend wanted to "evade reality."
    • He comes to the conclusion that his friend may be dangerous to society.
    • The companion is really trying to make a connection with the infernal Spouse, but it seems like he could care less. The shrugging shoulders is a strong image of blowing him off.
    • And we're getting deep into a multi-layered poetic voice thing here. Now Rimbaud-speaker is basically examining himself through his imaginative projection of the companion's voice, who in turn is examining Rimbaud-speaker—talk about a mental work-out.
    • The image of the companion being the only inhabitant of the "palace" that is Rimbaud-speaker's soul is a pretty poignant one. It emphasizes the connection between the two, and what seems to be the speaker's self-revulsion.
    • It also emphasizes the sadness of the speaker not acknowledging that his companion understands him and is trying to create a true connection.

    Lines 102-103

    So, my grief endlessly renewed, finding myself even more bewildered in my own eyes – as in all those eyes that would have wished to stare at me, had I not been condemned to be forgotten forever by all! – I became ever hungrier for his kindness. With his kisses and loving embraces, it was truly heaven, a sombre heaven, which I entered, and where I would gladly have been left, poor; deaf, dumb, blind. I was already used to it. I saw us as two good children, free to wander in the Paradise of sorrow. We were well suited. Deeply stirred, we toiled together. But, after a penetrating caress he would say: "How odd it will seem to you, when I'm no more, all you have been through. When you no longer have my arms beneath your neck; nor my heart to rest on, nor this mouth on your eyes. Because I must go far away, one day. And then, I must help others: it's my duty. Though that's scarcely appealing…dear soul…" Suddenly I saw myself, with him vanished, in the grip of vertigo, hurled into the most frightful darkness: death. I made him promise never to leave me. He gave it twenty times, that lover's promise. It was as frivolous as my telling him: "I understand."
    Ah, I have never been jealous of him! He will never leave me, I think. To do what? He knows no one; he will never work. He wants to live like a sleepwalker. Would his goodness and kindness alone grant him rights in the world of reality? At times, I forget the pitiful state into which I've fallen: he will make me strong, we shall travel, we'll hunt in the deserts, sleep on the pavements of unknown towns, without cares or troubles. Or I will wake, and laws and customs will have changed – thanks to his magical powers – the world, remaining the same, will leave me to my desires; joys, nonchalance. Oh, will you grant me the life of adventures that exists in children's books, to repay me, I've suffered so? He cannot. I don't know what's ideal for him. He told me he had regrets, hopes: they can't involve me. Does he talk to God? Perhaps I should address myself to God. I am in the deepest abyss, and no longer know how to pray.

    • The companion continues to fall under the Spouse's seduction. He only wants to be with him, and would gladly lose his senses (he would be "deaf, dumb, blind") as long as he can be with him.
    • Using a simile, he compares the two to two innocent children, wandering in Paradise, though one that is sad instead of happy.
    • And then the Spouse has to go and ruin things by going all emo and letting him know that sooner or later, he will die, or he will go away. Cheery, eh?
    • The companion makes him promise to never leave him, and these promises are just as empty as his expression of understanding the Spouse back at line 101. "Frivolous" in relation to the companion probably means that he spouted that off without really thinking about it (as in, the Spouse is just too darned difficult to understand). We don't get the sense that the companion was being purposefully frivolous.
    • The companion seems to have a naively optimistic view of how their relationship will turn out. They're going to travel the world and have lots of adventures. It sounds all very child-like and grand. At the very least, they'll have to wait until "laws and customs will have changed." Preach, Rimbaud. We've barely gotten there ourselves.
    • But, he recognizes that he's in an "abyss" (a deep, dark place), and doesn't know how to pray anymore, so there won't be any help from that direction.

    Lines 104-107

    If he explained his sadness to me, would I understand it any better than his raillery? He attacks me, spends hours making me ashamed of all in this world that has the power to touch me, indignant if I weep.
    "– You see that elegant youth, entering that fine and peaceful house: he's called Duval, Dufour, Armand, Maurice, who knows? A woman devoted herself to loving this spiteful fool: she died; she's certainly a saint in heaven, now. You'll kill me as he killed her. That's our fate, we charitable hearts…" Alas, he had days when all human activity seemed to him a plaything of grotesque delirium; he would laugh horribly for hours! – Then, he would resume his pose of a young mother, a beloved sister. If he were only less savage, we would be saved! But his sweetness too is deadly. I submit to him. – Ah, I am mad!
    One day perhaps he'll miraculously vanish; but I must know if he's to attain some heaven, so I may glimpse my little friend's assumption!'
    A strange ménage!

    • And…we're back to the rocky relationship. This pair seems to have their ups and downs—and it seems to be more downs than ups.
    • To rub things in a bit, Rimbaud-speaker tells the companion that eventually he'll kill him (the speaker), just like a woman died for the love of that hot young man going into that house over there.
    • Better to just submit to him, because his moods can be all over the place. So that's what the companion does.
    • He really wants to see his friend's assumption into heaven (which refers to how Jesus and Mary were bodily taken up into heaven).
    • This household or domestic arrangement ("mènage") is strange, indeed.
  • Section 5: Ravings II—The Alchemy of the Word

    Lines 108-113

    My turn. The history of one of my follies.
    For ages I boasted of possessing all possible landscapes, and found the celebrities of modern painting and poetry absurd.
    I loved idiotic pictures, fanlights, stage scenes, mountebanks' backcloths, inn-signs, popular prints; unfashionable literature, church Latin, erotic books with poor spelling, novels of grandmother's day, fairy tales, little books for children, old operas, empty refrains, naïve rhythms.
    I dreamt of crusades, unrecorded voyages of discovery, republics without histories, wars of suppressed religion, moral revolutions, movements of races and continents: I believed in every enchantment.
    I invented the colour of vowels! A black, E white, I red, O blue, U green. – I regulated the form and motion of every consonant, and, with instinctive rhythms, I flattered myself I'd created a poetic language, accessible some day to all the senses. I reserved the translation rights.
    It was academic at first. I wrote of silences, nights, I expressed the inexpressible. I defined vertigos. 

    • Now, the narrator steps up into the spotlight a bit more than he has up until this point, and seems ready to talk about his poetry, which he describes as "one of [his] follies."
    • The title of this section, "The Alchemy of the Word" is totes appropriate. Alchemy is a sort of magical pseudoscience where it was believed that base metals could be turned into gold… with Harry Potter's Philosopher's Stone. But that's quite another story entirely.
    • In line 109, he certainly describes the power of poetry to figuratively turn one thing into another.
    • But, alas! He admits that he was into some things that just weren't hip—kind of like a hipster admitting to liking mainstream music and film.
    • But nevermind that. He was so good at what he did (or at least that was his opinion of himself) that he gave new meaning to the very letters of the alphabet. Check out the synesthesia here, which means the ability to experience things with more than one sense. So, he sees the color of a vowel.
    • Seems pretty full of himself, doesn't he?

    Lines 114-126

    Far from the village girls, birds and cattle,
    On my knees, what was I drinking, all
    Surrounded by tender hazel copses,
    In an afternoon mist, green and warm?
    From that young Oise, what could I be drinking,
    – Mute elms, flowerless turf, dull sky –
    From yellow gourds, far from my dear hut slinking?
    A gold liquor that yields sweat by and by.
    I made a dubious inn-sign – Weather
    Came coursing the heavens. At evening
    Lost in a virgin sand the wood's water,
    The wind, of God, the ponds re-icing:
    – I could not drink: I saw gold, weeping!

    • Now this is starting to look a lot more like poetry, right? Rimbaud is definitely getting his verse on here.
    • And this is all a very quaint, and very conventional pastoral scene that seems just a bit out of kilter with Rimbaud's more 19th-century hipster aesthetic.
    • The speaker is drunk near a stream (the river Oise, which is an offshoot of the Seine), checking out the scenery, when all of a sudden the warmth turns to frosty weather, and the narrator sees gold crying.
    • Um...OK, Rimbaud.
    • Similar to the first "Ravings" section, we find ourselves in a sort of vague dreamland where we're not sure what's going on. The speaker appears to be giving us a sample of his poetry, or perhaps one stop on his poetic journey—the development of his craft.
    • The enjambment in lines 115, 122, and 123 contribute to this sense of confusion, as do the dashes used in these three stanzas.

    Lines 127-146

    At four on a summer morning,
    The slumber of love still lasts.
    Under the hedge fade fast
    Scents of the night's feasting.
    Down there and already astir
    In the Hesperidean sun,
    In their vast workshop, as one,
    In shirtsleeves – the Carpenters.

    In their deserts of foam, tranquilly,
    They prepare costly panelling
    On which the city
    Will daub its deceitful painting.
    O, for those workmen, charming
    Subjects of a king of Babylon,
    Venus! Leave the lovers sleeping,
    Whose souls a crown have on.
    O Queen of the Shepherds
    Take strong drink to the workers too,
    So their efforts may be deferred
    As they wait to bathe in the sea at noon.

    • Compared to the previous section of verse, this one flows a bit more sonically. Well, at least something of the sort is established in the first two stanzas in the slant rhyme of "lasts" and "fast" and "sun" and "one."
    • Not sure what "Hesperidean" means? Do not pass go, and do not collect $200, but instead slide on over to the "Shout-Outs."
    • The speaker has just awoken from a night with his love. It's dawn, and he imagines idealized workers preparing fancy wooden paneling that will later be painted upon as decor for the uptown crowd.
    • Form alert! Although Rimbaud is definitely a bit of an avant-garde with his free-flowing form, here he's dabbling in an aubade.
    • Check out "Form and Meter" for more.
    • But, he's giving us a nice twist: instead of just lamenting the parting of lovers at the dawn, he welcomes this idealized image of workers of this king of Babylon, awaiting their turn to take a dip in the morning sea.

    Lines 147-151

    Poetical archaisms played a key role in my alchemy of the word.
    I accustomed myself to pure hallucination: I saw quite clearly a mosque instead of a factory, a college of drummers consisting of angels, a salon in the depths of a lake; monsters, mysteries; a vaudeville title conjured up terrors before me.
    Then I explained my magical sophisms with hallucinatory words!
    I ended by treating my mental disorder as sacred. I was idle, prey to a heavy fever: I envied the happiness of beasts – caterpillars: that represent Limbo's innocence, moles: the sleep of virginity!
    My character was embittered. I took my leave of the world in various ballads:

    • Rimbaud-speaker gives us some further examples of his power of poetry.
    • His style was once archaic. What good's poetry if it doesn't give us a good, old throwback once in awhile, arewerite?
    • The speaker's poetical eye could magically turn a factory into a beautiful mosque, or some drummers into angels.
    • It's all very hallucinatory, he admits—almost like a mental illness. All that poetry writing seems to have made him depressed and bitter, and his poetry was a sort of escapism that let him get away from the real world for awhile, such as in the example that he next gives.
  • Section 6: Song of the Highest Tower

    Lines 152-169

    Let it come, let it come
    The day when hearts love as one.
    I've been patient so long
    I've forgotten even
    The terror and suffering
    Flown up to heaven,
    A sick thirst again
    Darkens my veins.
    Let it come, let it come
    The day when hearts love as one.
    So the meadow
    Freed by neglect,
    Flowered, overgrown
    With weeds and incense,
    To the buzz nearby
    Of foul flies.
    Let it come, let it come
    The day when hearts love as one.

    • Instead of verse, chorus, verse, this poetic example Rimbaud-speaker gives us reverses that format: we get chorus, verse, chorus.
    • The refrain about "hearts lov[ing] as one" sets up an expectation of lightness, happiness and unity.
    • That's subverted all too soon in the in-between verses, though.
    • The speaker here has been patient, but also scared and suffering from a "sick thirst." That doesn't sound too good!
    • This state is emphasized in the metaphor of the neglected meadow, which is overgrown and foul flies standby, ready to swoop down.
    • The takeaway? Well, it's not entirely clear, but it seems like a love relationship Rimbaud-speaker is in has gone bad—or is a sort of love-hate-love thing (which would make sense given the previous sections of the poem, especially the references to the "infernal bridegroom").

    Lines 170-172

    I loved the wilds, scorched orchards; faded shops, lukewarm drinks. I would drag myself through stinking alleys, and, eyes closed, offer myself to the sun, god of fire.
    "General, if there's one old cannon left on your ruined ramparts, bombard us with chunks of dried earth. Fire on the windows of splendid stores! Into the salons! Make the city eats its own dust. Oxidise the gargoyles. Fill the boudoirs with burning powdered rubies…"
    Oh, the drunken gnat in the pub urinal, in love with borage, that a ray of light dissolves!

    • He's got quite a dislike for civilization and the city, our morose speaker!
    • Where he loves "the wilds" and the "scorched orchards," he seems contemptuous of the shops and drinks. They're not as real to him, but are instead "faded" and "lukewarm" compared to the wilds' "god of fire."
    • Rimbaud-speaker imagines speaking to a general and ordering the destruction of the city, a symbol of the civilization that he seems to detest.
    • He doesn't have that great of an opinion of himself. He compares himself to a "drunken gnat" hanging about a urinal in a stinky old pub. He loves borage (a fragrant plant), but this plant disappears as soon as light touches it.
    • So, pleasures are fleeting and you have to hold onto them while you can. That idea appears to be the main message here.
  • Section 7: Hunger

    Lines 173-184

    If I've any taste, it's for barely
    Anything but stone and slurry.
    I breakfast ever on air,
    Coal, iron and the rockery.
    My hungers, turn. Hungers, browse
    The field of sound.
    Suck the gaudy venom
    From the weedy ground.
    Eat what's broken, pebbly,
    That old religious debris;
    Rocks from a past deluge,
    Loaves sown in grey valleys.

    • The speaker is hungry, but nothing seems to fill the emptiness inside of him.
    • Stone, slurry, air, and rocks tempt his appetite, but it's clear that no human can subsist on these.
    • It seems to be just another metaphor for the speaker (if not the poet's) sadness and separation from civilization and his fellow man.
    • Check it: food that's "broken" and "pebbly" are hardly appetizing or very nourishing, right? This emphasizes the speaker's sadness and alienation.

    Lines 185-221

    The fox howled in the leaves
    Spitting out bright plumes
    From his poultry feast:
    Like him I self-consume.
    The fruits and the veg
    Wait only for the pickers;
    But the spider in the hedge
    Eats violets, no others.
    Let me sleep! Let me simmer
    On the fires of Solomon.
    Down the rust, boiling over,
    Mingling there with the Kedron.
    At last, O happiness, O reason, I plucked from the sky the azure, which is of blackness, and I lived, a golden spark of
    natural light. From joy, I adopted the most clownish exaggerated expression possible:

    It's found we see!
    What? – Eternity.
    It's the sun, mingled
    With the sea.
    My immortal soul
    Keep your vow
    Despite empty night
    And the day's glow.
    Thus you'll diverge
    From the mortal weal
    From the common urge,
    To fly as you feel…
    – No hope, never,
    No entreaty here.
    Science and patience,
    Torture is real.
    No more tomorrow,
    Embers of satin,
    Your own ardour
    The only duty.
    It's found we see.
    – What? – Eternity.
    It's the sun, mingled
    With the sea.

    • And it's getting worse. The speaker now sees himself devouring himself (although the simile of the fox eating a chicken in lines 187-189 hardly qualifies as self-devouring, we think).
    • He just wants to sleep, or to be burned up by a hail of fires from the heavens.
    • But, things start to look a bit more up. He now sees the blue of the sky instead of just black. Um, yay?
    • That "clownish" expression, though, seems just a tad bit creepy given his new-found happiness. Maybe because he doesn't know how to be happy?
    • He has an epiphany relating to how eternity can be seen in how the sun shines on the sea—and the speaker emphasizes the significance of this in how he repeats this refrain
      in lines 218-221.
    • This image spurs him to want to leave the common masses behind ("weal" is an archaic term for happiness or wealth) and do what he likes.
    • Since there's no hope (man, he's back on that again!), he might as well just engage in his own passions.

    Lines 222-227

    I became a fabulous opera: I saw that all beings are fated for happiness: activity is not life, but a way of wasting strength, an enervation. Morality is a weakness of the brain.
    To every being, I felt, several
    other lives seemed due. This gentlemen knows not what he does, he's an angel. This family is a pack of dogs. Before several men I have spoken aloud in a moment of their other lives. – Thus, have I loved a pig.
    None of the sophistries of madness – that madness they lock away – were forgotten by me: I could recite them all, I know the system.
    My health was threatened. Terror arrived. I fell into a slumber for several days, and, waking, continued in saddest dream. I was ripe for death, and by a perilous road my weakness led me to the confines of the world and Cimmeria, land of shadows and whirlwinds.
    I was forced to travel, to distract myself from the enchantments thronging my brain. Over the sea, which I loved as if it were sure to cleanse me of defilement, I saw the consoling cross arise. I had been damned by the rainbow. Happiness was my fatality, my remorse, my worm: my life would forever be too immense to be devoted to strength and beauty.
    Happiness! Its tooth, sweet unto death, warned me at cockcrow –
    ad matutinam, at Christus venit, – in the darkest cities:

    • Now the speaker has a vision of himself as an entire opera. Sheesh...self-grandiosity much?
    • By that, though, he probably just means worth watching, story-like, dramatic, and beautiful.
    • But, there's an edge of futility here, too. He sees activity as paradoxically enervating (which means sapped of strength or extremely exhausted).
    • Plus, he sees morality as some kind of failing—a type of mental illness, or "weakness of the brain."
    • Continuing the opera-narrative metaphor, he feels like each person has several other lives (or, continuing his metaphor, stories) due to him.
    • So, in another life, his lover was a pig. Now that's just not very nice.
    • He never forget any of the "sophistries of madness." A sophistry is a false argument with the intent to deceive someone. To the speaker, insanity is a sort of intentional means of deceiving others, and the speaker places himself right there within that "system."
    • It's unclear whether the speaker is talking about "real life" here, or his imagined journey into Hell, but it is clear that he's sick, scared, and continues to dream. His dream here is about the ancient land of Cimmeria (check out "Shout-Outs").
    • And note the return to imagery relating to light versus darkness in line 225.
    • Watch out—Rimbaud's getting Biblical on us. He sees the cross (now a "consoling" image compared to previous dismissals of Christianity), and acknowledges that he has been "damned by the rainbow"—or the Old Testament symbol God gives the people after the Flood, re-assuring them he'll never destroy the world with water again.
    • For some reason, he views happiness as something bad—something that has teeth, which sounds pretty dodgy to us.
    • The Latin here means "In the morning, Christ comes." For some reason, happiness is warning him about the coming of Jesus, which makes it sound ominous (and reflects what are probably some of Rimbaud's feelings toward religion here).

    Lines 228-241

    O seasons, O chateaux!
    Where is the flawless soul?
    The magic study I pursued,
    Of happiness, none can elude.
    A health to it, each time
    The Gallic cock makes rhyme.
    Ah! There's nothing I desire,
    It's possessed my life entire.
    That charm has taken heart and soul
    Scattered all my efforts so.
    O seasons, O chateaux!
    The hour of its flight, alas!
    Will be the hour I pass.
    O seasons, O chateaux!

    • And....we're back to conventional expressions here, folks. Check out all those apostrophes. They sure make for some dramatic, overwrought reading.
    • The "chateaux" probably refers to the Rimbaud family farmhouse where he wrote a big chunk of this poem.
    • His own poetry writing is most likely the "magic study" he refers to, although the whole "it's possessed my life entire" seems pretty teen-angsty and emo, especially since when he writes this poem, Rimbaud is only 19.
    • His life is tied to his poetry, and the speaker appears to believe that once he quits writing, he'll die.

    Line 242

    That's all past. I know these days how to greet beauty.

    • His writing days are past. The speaker has a new take on life, which may relate back to the happiness in the last couple of stanzas.
    • Poetry seems to have brought him nothing but grief (as he's let us know in the earlier stanzas).
  • Section 8: The Impossible

    Lines 243-247

    Ah, that life of my childhood, the highway in all weathers, supernaturally sober, more disinterested than the finest of beggars, proud of having neither country nor friends, how foolish it was. – And only now do I realise!
    – I was right to despise those fellows who never lose the chance for a caress, parasites on the cleanliness and health of our women, now they are in such slight accord with us.
    I was wholly right in my disdain: since I am fleeing!
    I'm fleeing!
    I'll explain.

    • The speaker realizes that his childhood was foolish—he was too serious and spent too much time alone.
    • But, he was correct in hating those guys who liked to womanize—whatever that means.
    • He's fleeing from it all.
    • Why, you wonder?
    • Well, he's gonna break it down for us. Let's find out..

    Line 248

    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!

    • This guy seems to like conversing with himself. He does it a whole lot to work out his feelings (and to express them to us).
    • He realizes that there are lots of the damned down in Hell, and he knows all their types. They find each other disgusting, presumably because they are so alike and they know how they, themselves, are disgusting.
    • Low self-esteem, much?
    • No one shows them charity. And he doesn't mean the "Here, I'll give you some money because you're down on your luck" kind of charity. He means more in the sense of compassion and caring for one's fellow man.
    • Even though the damned are perfectly lovely people (they're polite—so they observe the social niceties), the "elect" wouldn't accept them. The "elect" are chosen people, usually in the sense of "chosen by God for salvation."
    • So, they get to go to the good place when they die (and not the Hell where the speaker's currently spending a season).
    • He associates the elect with the middle class ("merchants"), but they're a "false elect" because they are uncharitable to others.

    Lines 249-250

    Having found two sous of sense again – it's quickly spent! – I see my ills come of not realising soon enough that we are in the West. The western swamps! Not that I believe the light altered, the form extenuated, the movement astray…Well, then! Here my mind wants to burden itself absolutely with all the cruel developments the mind has suffered since the end of the East…it bears a grudge my mind!
    …My two
    sous of sense are spent! – Mind has authority: it wants me to be in the West. It would have to be silenced for me to end as I wish. 

    • He's found two cents' worth of sense again (a "sous" was a small unit of money in France at the time), but he quickly spends it.
    • This metaphor ties in to the whole disdain for merchants and the middle class thing he's got going there. He, himself, can't escape the pull of the bourgeoisie.
    • And he realizes that that's part of his problem. His problems all come from being part of the West (so, supposedly "enlightened" Western Europe).
    • It's pretty much "the swamps" to him. Why "swamps"? Well, think about it. All sorts of slimy, slithery, lowdown creatures live in a swamp.
    • His passion and reason are once again at war here. His irrational self wants to be of the East, while his mind wants to remain Westernized.
    • For him to escape from this, his rationality would have to be destroyed.

    Lines 251-252

    I consigned to the devil the martyrs' palm-leaves, the light of art, the pride of inventors, the ardour of looters; I returned to the East and primal eternal wisdom – It seems that's a dream of gross idleness!
    Yet I hardly dreamt of the pleasure of escaping from modern suffering. I'd not the bastard wisdom of the Koran in mind – 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.

    • Similar to how he expressed a desire to be part of a more primitive land (Africa), here he aligns the East with the same sort of passionate, primal mindset.
    • In his mind, the East is equated with idleness. Still, that's not such a bad thing, as it allows his to escape his current civilized state.
    • He's not looking to replace Western religion for an Eastern version, either. To our speaker, all religion is equally lame and ridiculous. He sees Christian teaching as "obvious" and unnecessary. That's why he's gone off wandering the way he has (on his "divagations," or meandering travels).
    • Christianity and human nature are also boring. He notes, finally, that a French middle-class character, Monsieur Prudhomme, was "born with Christ." In other words, religion is something for the conservative, middle-class to hang on to.

    Lines 253-255

    Is it not because we nurture mists! We eat fever with our watery greens. And the drunkenness! And tobacco! And ignorance! And devotions! – Isn't all that far from the thought, the wisdom of the East, the primeval land? Why a modern world, if they invent such poisons!
    Men of the Church say: 'Understood. But you really mean Eden. Not for you, the history of eastern peoples. – It's true: it was Eden I dreamt of! What has that purity of ancient races to do with my dream!
    The philosophers: The world has no age. Humanity simply moves about. You are in the West, but free to inhabit your East, as old as you wish it – and live there well. Don't be one of the defeated. Philosophers, you belong to your West.

    • What's so gosh-darn amazing about the West, anyway? That's the continued theme here for the speaker. What's the West given us, except drunkenness, religion, and other poisons?
    • The speaker anticipates a couple of counter-arguments next.
    • The Church will tell him that he's really after Eden, the Biblical place where everything was cool before the snake came along and Eve at that apple. But the speaker's not really thinking about a particular group of people or race here. He's talking about a way of life.
    • The philosophers are down with that, he says, but they don't know what they're talking about either (according to him). They're just as much a part of the West as the Church-folk.

    Lines 256-261

    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.
    If it were always awake from now on, we would soon arrive at truth, which perhaps surrounds us with its angels weeping! ... – If it had been awake till now, I would never have yielded to pernicious instincts, in an immemorial age! ... If it had always been awake, I should be voyaging full of wisdom! ...
    O Purity! Purity!
    It's this very moment that has granted me a vision of purity! – By mind one goes to God!
    Heart-rending misfortune!

    • The speaker wants to give his mind a wake-up call, but it keeps hitting the snooze button.
    • If everyone was woke (in every sense of the word), then we wouldn't have ignorance, nor we would have God or religion. We'd have wisdom instead.
    • All of this is just really too bad, in the speaker's view. If he'd had Twitter back in the day, the frowny-face emoticon would be all over this poem.
  • Section 9: Lightning

    Lines 262-264

    Human labour! It's the explosion that lightens my abyss from time to time.
    'Nothing's in vain: on to Science, forward!' Cries the modern Ecclesiastes, that's to say The Whole World. And yet the corpses of the wicked and idle still fall on the hearts of others...Ah! Quick, quick, a moment: there, beyond the night, that future recompense, eternal...shall we escape them? ...
    – 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.

    • We're starting to wonder if anything can cheer this guy up. Well, as it turns out, he does like one thing: work.
    • Yep, labor is the force that gives him hope. It certainly isn't science, even though the whole word is into it. It's as though scientists are the new prophets (he compares one to Ecclesiastes).
    • For the speaker, though, science is too slow and religion (stop him if you've heard this one before) can only make the light "groan." However you want to take that, it's not a compliment.
    • He's proud to chuck both science and religion.

    Lines 265-268

    My life's used up. Let's go! Cheat, do nothing, O the pity! And we'll exist by amusing ourselves, dreaming monstrous loves and fantastic universes, moaning and quarrelling with the world's shows, acrobat, beggar, artist, ruffian – priest! In my hospital bed, the smell of incense returned to me so strongly: guardian of the holy herbs, confessor, martyr...
    I recognise now my rotten childhood education. So what! ...Let me be twenty, if the others are going to be twenty...
    No! No! Now I rebel against death! Work seems too trivial for my pride: my betrayal to the world would be too brief a torment. At the last I'll attack to right and left...
    Then – oh – poor dear soul, eternity would not be lost to us!

    • The speaker feels like he's wasted his life (even though Rimbaud was only nineteen when he wrote this—sheesh).
    • He might as well just try to make himself feel good and forget about following the rules.
    • The speaker's not giving up, though. Nineteen-year-old Rimbaud is down to live another year (to twenty), if only to keep attacking the world and trying to break out of its expectations of him (like going to work like a good citizen).
  • Section 10: Morning

    Lines 269-272

    Once upon a time did I not have a pleasant childhood, heroic, fabulous, to be written on leaves of gold – too fortunate! For what crime, what error, have I merited present weakness? You who claim that the creatures sob with grief, that the sick despair, that the dead have bad dreams, try to recount my fall and my slumber. I can explain myself no better than the beggar with his incessant Our Father's and Hail Mary's. I can speak no more.
    Yet today I think I've finished my tale of hell. It was hell, for certain; the ancient one, whose gates the son of man opened wide.
    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!
    The song of the heavens, the march of peoples! Slaves, let us not curse life.

    • In this section, the speaker goes on about his childhood. You may be shocked to learn that it was not a bowl of cherries.
    • Even still, he can't put a finger on what's caused him to be so colossally bummed-out. He feels like he's just wasting his time, like those poor schlubs who pray. So he's gonna keep his mouth shut. (We suspect that this won't last long.)
    • And there he does talking some more.
    • He thinks he's done with his tale. (Is he, really?) Before he signs off, though, he busts out some serious religious imagery (the start of David, the three wise men) to hope for a new Christmas on Earth, a time for new work and wisdom.
  • Section 11: Farewell

    Lines 273-274

    Autumn already! – But why regret an eternal sun, if we are engaged in discovering the divine light – far from races that die with the seasons.
    Autumn. Our ship towering in the motionless fog turns towards the port of poverty, the enormous city with a sky that's flecked with fire and mud. Ah! The rotting rags; the bread soaked with rain, the drunkenness, the thousand loves that have crucified me! She'll never have done then, this ghoulish queen of millions of souls and corpses who will be judged! I see my skin ravaged again by mud and pestilence, worms filling my hair and my armpits, and bigger worms in my heart, stretched out among ageless unknowns, without feeling...I might have died there...Horrible imagining! I detest poverty.

    • OK, the speaker's really going now. Heck, he even titled this section "Farewell." This must be the end of his ranting, right?
    • Right?
    • Well, just a few more points to make before he goes. It appears to be autumn for the speaker now. Time sure flies for this guy. Still, the path of time shouldn't worry folks who are in pursuit of ageless wisdom.
    • The speaker moves on to a complex series of images to describe poverty. In a nutshell: it's no good. The speaker imagines is to be a metaphorical queen who makes poor people's lives miserable, including his own.
    • (Historical note: Rimbaud wrote this poem in a dilapidated barn on his parents' farm, so that might have colored his feelings in these lines.)

    Lines 275-280

    And I fear winter because it's the season of comfort!
    – Sometimes I see limitless beaches in the sky covered by white nations full of joy. A great golden vessel, above me, waves its multicoloured flags in the morning breeze. I've created all the feasts, all the triumphs, all the dramas. I've tried to invent new flowers; new stars, new flesh, new languages. I believed I'd gained supernatural powers. Ah well! I must bury my imagination and my memories! Sweet glory as an artist and story-teller swept away!
    – I! I, who called myself magus or angel, exempt from all morality, I'm returned to the soil, with a task to pursue, and wrinkled reality to embrace! A peasant!
    Am I wrong? Is pity the sister of death, for me?
    Well, I shall ask forgiveness for nourishing myself with lies. Let's go.
    But no friendly hand! And where to find help?

    • So, autumn is no fun for the speaker. Maybe he's into winter, with its fun holidays and hot chocolate and snowball fights?
    • Yeah, no. He hates winter just as much. He describes is as too comfortable for his liking. (Maybe he should try turning off the heat and rocking a tank top.)
    • The speaker describes the glorious possibilities of his imagination as a writer, but soon enough he's knocked right back to the dirty Earth like a peasant.
    • He plans to ask forgiveness for getting so wrapped up in his fantasies, but it looks like there's no one around to ask—or to help him, either. Sniff.

    Lines 281-284

    Yes, the present hour is very severe at least.
    Since I can say the victory is won: the gnashing of teeth, the hissing of flames, the pestilential sighs are fading. All the foul memories are vanishing. My last regrets flee. – My envy of beggars, brigands, friends of Death, all sorts of backward ones. – Damned ones, if I revenged myself!
    It's necessary to be absolutely modern.
    No hymns: hold the yard gained. Harsh night! The dried blood smokes on my face, and I've nothing at my back but that horrible stunted tree! ...Spiritual combat is as brutal as the warfare of men: but the vision of justice is God's delight alone.

    • Yes, Shmoopers, things are rough for our speaker alright, but what's this? Maybe things are looking up.
    • He seems to sense a kind of victory. At least his bad memories and regrets are leaving him.
    • He needs to "absolutely modern," and live in the now.
    • It's been a brutal slog, and there's not much to celebrate about his big win here (what with all the dried blood and destroyed tree-life). Still, he doesn't want any religious help ("No hymns") to make things better. Nor will he get any sense of justice—that's for God to enjoy.

    Lines 285-286

    Still, now is the eve. Let us receive every influx of strength and true tenderness. And at dawn, armed with an ardent patience, we'll enter into the splendid cities.
    What did I say about a friendly hand? One real advantage, is that I can smile at old false loves, and blast those lying couples with shame – I've seen the hell of women down there: – and it will be granted me to possess truth in a soul and a body.

    • It's nighttime. The speaker plans on better things to come in the dawn.
    • He's still alone, but hey, at least he's got a few things going for him. Thing 1: he can laugh about folks he once thought he loved, and at couples who lie. Take that, everyone.
    • Thing 2: he's got a glimpse of "the hell of women" and that will help him attain some measure of truth.
    • (Biographical note: Rimbaud wrote this after a bad break-up with fellow French poet, and fellow man, Paul Verlaine—check out "In a Nutshell." The "hell of women," then, may have added significance as he's pondering an ex-boyfriend here.)