Study Guide

A Season in Hell Section 4: Ravings I—Foolish Virgin, The Infernal Spouse

By Arthur Rimbaud

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.

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