Study Guide

A Season in Hell Section 7: Hunger

By Arthur Rimbaud

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).

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