Arthur Rimbaud – Roman (Romance)

Jean Nicolas Arthur Rimbaud (1854 – 1891), French poet. (more later)
Rimbaud composed his set of Poésies (Poems) sometime between 1869 and 1873 which counts among his earlier works. I’m not a sucker for poetry but his poem Roman (Romance), written in 1871 stands as a beautiful testimony of the the euphoria of romance and the whirlwind emotions that goes with it. Pretty impressive stuff for a then teenager not quite 17 yet, hence the age given in the poem.
French version:-
On n’est pas sérieux, quand on a dix-sept ans
Un beau soir, foin des bocks et de la limonade
Des cafés tapageurs aux lustres éclatants
On va sous les tilleuls verts de la promenade
Les tilleuls sentent bon dans les bons soirs de juin!
L’air est parfois si doux, qu’on ferme la paupière;
Le vent chargé de bruits – la ville n’est pas loin –
A des parfums de vigne et des parfums de bière…
– Voilà qu’on aperçoit un tout petit chiffon
D’azur sombre, encadré d’une petite branche,
Piqué d’une mauvaise étoile, qui se fond,
Avec de doux frissons, petite et toute blanche…
Nuit de Juin! Dix-sept ans ! – On se laisse griser
La sève est du champagne et vous monte à la tête …
On divague ; on se sent aux lèvres un baiser 
Qui palpite là, comme une petite bête …
Le coeur fou Robinsonne * à travers les romans,
Lorsque, dans la clarté d’un pâle réverbère,
Passe une demoiselle aux petits airs charmants,
Sous l’ombre du faux col effrayant de son père …
Et, comme elle vous trouve immensément naïf,
Tout en faisant trotter ses petites bottines,
Elle se tourne, alerte et d’un mouvement vif …
– Sur vos lèvres alors meurent les cavatines ..
Vous êtes amoureux. Loué jusqu’au mois d’août.
Vous êtes amoureux. – Vos sonnets La font rire.
Tous vos amis s’en vont, vous êtes mauvais goût.
– Puis l’adorée, un soir, a daigné vous écrire !…
 – Ce soir-là,… – vous rentrez aux cafés éclatants,
Vous demandez des bocks ou de la limonade… 
 – On n’est pas sérieux, quand on a dix-sept ans
Et qu’on a des tilleuls verts sur la promenade

Now, Artur’s attempted translation…!
You aren’t serious, when you’re seventeen
One lovely evening, you tire of beer and lemonade,
And of the cafes with their lustrous lamps,
Under the green lime trees of the promenade, you walk
The trees’ scent was lovely on the fine nights of June!
The air felt so soft, you close your eyes;
The wind carries sounds, the city’s not far off
Carrying the scents of vines and the smell of beer
Here you see a very small rag
Of a somber blue, resting on a small branch
Pierced by an unlucky star, fleeting away
With soft little shivers, small and very white
June night ! Seventeen! You allow yourself to get drunk
The sap is of champagne and goes to your head..
You’re drifting, and feel a kiss on the lips
And palpates there like something small and alive
Your heart is akin to Robinson* (Crusoe) traversing romances
When, in the clarity of a pale streetlight
You pass a girl with charming little airs
Under the shadow of her father’s terrifying stiff collar
And because you take her as immensely naive
Toddles along with her little ankle boots,
She turns, alert and with quick movement
And cavatinas** slips away in your lips
You’re in love. At least until August (reserved until August)
You’re in love. Your sonnets make her laugh
Your friends are nowhere, you’re not in trend
Then your adored one, one evening, condescends to write to you!
That evening, you return to the gay*** cafes
You order beer or the lemonade
You aren’t serious when you’re seventeen
And there are green lime trees on the promenade
*Robinson – In the original French version, ‘Robinsonne’ is used and is highly probable that it’s used to allude to the famous marooned seaman, Robinson Crusoe in the eponymous novel, Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe written in 1719.
**cavatina(s) – an Italian song of short verse. In modern usage, the theme from ‘The Deerhunter’ a film set in the Vietnam War is also styled as a ‘cavatina’ and written by Stanley Myers.
***gay – dazzling and/or bright; not as in homosexual you perverted bumpkin
The French version rhymes perfectly in lines 1 and 3, whereas lines 2 and 4 also has similar characteristics. I’m aware that my translation does not attempt to rhyme in any way and is only a literal translation for comprehension.
I suppose that this poem is likely to be a memoir of Rimbaud’s own personal romance when he was 17 years of age. He describes a young man’s heart in the first section:- he’s tired of the same choice of beer or lemonade and is fed-up of the exciting cafes since his heart was not quite in it. The green lime trees serve as a model of constancy, where things never quite change even when affairs of the heart stirs up one’s emotions so and the trees are important material at the end of the poem.
The walk takes the protagonist of the poem to further distances, even when the phrase hints that the city is ‘not far off’ and with it, the scents of beer and the vines.
The rag described is probably the mark of the protagonist’s delusions whereupon the fleeting star is the subject of the protagonist’s love interest where the star is, matchless, pure, bright but alas; forever (or is it?) remote.
Then the drunken state. Disappointment, rebuffs. The protagonist allows his emotions to run free! But somehow, feels a kiss in the lips even when he tries to wander in a wayward manner.
As the protagonist’s heart Crusoe(s) through his romances, he stops short at a little girl who had ‘charming little airs’ or giving herself a lot of pride. She’s kept in rein by her father, who displays an outwardly terrifying approach.
So the protagonist dismissed the little girl as unimportant, but she turns once quickly at the protagonist to look at him and then a song dies on his lips. (He’s possibly smitten)
The first two lines of ‘You’re in love’ signifies the protagonist’s personal frustrations. His sonnets (a song largely based on a poem) made his objection of affections laugh and could mean that it wasn’t the effect he was hoping for. His friends desert him and he was not the most popular one around. But, one evening, the same beloved deigns to write to him! So, it’s an end to his affairs of the heart although there is a hint of reluctance. Note the word ‘condescend’ used in the same context as ‘deign’ which mark a degree of unwillingness.
Then he goes back to the cafes. He orders the same beer and lemonade as he used to do before the time we’re told of in the first stanza. Like at the beginning, at 17, one is never serious. And the green lime trees would still be on the promenade. Some things never change. Rimbaud would have us believe that romance is a cycle. The cycle may be turbulent, but come the end of the protracted affair, things will still be the same. If only it is so… in reality.   

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2 Responses to Arthur Rimbaud – Roman (Romance)

  1. Pauline says:

    Thank you for this lovely reflection on a beautiful poem and poet

  2. Artur says:

    Thanks, Pauline.

    Rimbaud is indeed an inspired individual. In a letter to his teacher Georges Izambard when he was 17, he wrote ‘Les souffrances sont énormes, mais il faut être fort, être né poète, et je me suis reconnu poète’ (The sufferings are enormous, but one must be strong, be born a poet, and I’ve recognized myself as a poet.). I do read these letters from time to time and remind myself of how much I still need to learn.

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