Study Guide

A Season in Hell Section 9: Lightning

By Arthur Rimbaud

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).

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