Poetry turnstyle: Rimbaud and his Vowels


Rimbaud, by Pedro Covo


I was gifted this poem many years ago, by a friend. It is a poem not easily forgotten.




A black, E white, I red, U green, O blue: vowels,

I shall tell, one day, of your mysterious origins:

A, black velvety jacket of brilliant flies

which buzz around cruel smells,


Gulfs of shadow; E, whiteness of vapours and of tents,

lances of proud glaciers, white kings, shivers of cow-parsley;

I, purples, spat blood, smile of beautiful lips

in anger or in the raptures of penitence;


U, waves, divine shudderings of viridian seas,

the peace of pastures dotted with animals, the peace of the furrows

which alchemy prints on broad studious foreheads;


O, sublime Trumpet full of strange piercing sounds,

silences crossed by [Worlds and by Angels]:

-O the Omega! the violet ray of  [His] Eyes!




I should note that this poem reads very differently, depending on the translator. To read more about Arthur Rimbaud, follow this link to the relevant wiki-entry.





Filed under Poetry turnstile

3 responses to “Poetry turnstyle: Rimbaud and his Vowels

  1. Vaudeville Pete

    Christian Bok gives a very nice performance and translation of Vowelles on Youtube. What a poem.

  2. Thank you, I’ll check it out!


  3. Vaudeville Pete

    Here’s Baudilaires “La Vie Anterieure”. The tradegy of the internets is that somebody’s already done it for you – a poem, a half dozen translations. Donc, you’re an expert on a subject which no longer requires any expertise. Anyway Baudilaire was Rimaud’s muse and so a poem with half a dozen translations for no other reason but to feel the vowels as one pronounces them.

    J’ai longtemps habité sous de vastes portiques
    Que les soleils marins teignaient de mille feux,
    Et que leurs grands piliers, droits et majestueux,
    Rendaient pareils, le soir, aux grottes basaltiques.

    Les houles, en roulant les images des cieux,
    Mêlaient d’une façon solennelle et mystique
    Les tout-puissants accords de leur riche musique
    Aux couleurs du couchant reflété par mes yeux.

    C’est là que j’ai vécu dans les voluptés calmes,
    Au milieu de l’azur, des vagues, des splendeurs
    Et des esclaves nus, tout imprégnés d’odeurs,

    Qui me rafraîchissaient le front avec des palmes,
    Et dont l’unique soin était d’approfondir
    Le secret douloureux qui me faisait languir.

    — Charles Baudelaire

    My Former Life

    For a long time I dwelt under vast porticos
    Which the ocean suns lit with a thousand colors,
    The pillars of which, tall, straight, and majestic,
    Made them, in the evening, like basaltic grottos.

    The billows which cradled the image of the sky
    Mingled, in a solemn, mystical way,
    The omnipotent chords of their rich harmonies
    With the sunsets’ colors reflected in my eyes;

    It was there that I lived in voluptuous calm,
    In splendor, between the azure and the sea,
    And I was attended by slaves, naked, perfumed,

    Who fanned my brow with fronds of palms
    And whose sole task it was to fathom
    The dolorous secret that made me pine away.

    — William Aggeler, The Flowers of Evil (Fresno, CA: Academy Library Guild, 1954)

    Former Life

    I’ve lived beneath huge portals where marine
    Suns coloured, with a myriad fires, the waves;
    At eve majestic pillars made the scene
    Resemble those of vast basaltic caves.

    The breakers, rolling the reflected skies,
    Mixed, in a solemn, enigmatic way,
    The powerful symphonies they seem to play
    With colours of the sunset in my eyes.

    There did I live in a voluptuous calm
    Where breezes, waves, and splendours roved as vagrants;
    And naked slaves, impregnated with fragrance,

    Would fan my forehead with their fronds of palm:
    Their only charge was to increase the anguish
    Of secret grief in which I loved to languish.

    — Roy Campbell, Poems of Baudelaire (New York: Pantheon Books, 1952)

    My Former Life

    I can remember a country of long, high colonnades
    Which mirrored in their pale marble the prismatic light
    Cast from the bright sea billows in a thousand shades,
    And which resembled a cave of fluted basalt by night.

    The ocean, strewn with sliding images of the sky,
    Would mingle in a mysterious and solemn way,
    Under the wild brief sunsets, its tremendous cry
    With the reflected colors of the ruined day.

    There did I dwell in quiet luxury apart,
    Amid the slowly changing hues of clouds and waves;
    And there I was attended by two naked slaves

    Who sometimes fanned me with great fronds on either side,
    And whose sole task was to let sink into my heart
    The dolorous and beautiful secret of which I died.

    — George Dillon, Flowers of Evil (NY: Harper and Brothers, 1936)

    La Vie antérieure

    aeons I dwelt beneath vast porticoes
    stained by the sun and sea with fiery dye,
    whose lordly pillars, stark against the sky,
    like caverned cliffs in evening’s gold arose.

    the rolling surges and their mirror skies
    blent in a grave mysterious organ-air
    the chords all-powerful of their music rare
    with sunset’s colours in my glowing eyes.

    ’twas there I lived before, ‘mid azure waves,
    blue skies and splendours, in voluptuous calm,
    while, steeped in every fragrance, naked slaves

    made cool my brow with waving fronds of palm:
    — their only care to drive the secret dart
    of my dull sorrow, deeper in my heart.

    — Lewis Piaget Shanks, Flowers of Evil (New York: Ives Washburn, 1931)

    Previous Existence

    For a long time I lived under vast colonnades,
    Stained with a thousand fires by ocean suns,
    Whose vast pillars, straight and majestic,
    Made them seem in the evening like grottos of basalt.

    The sea-swells, in swaying the pictures of the skies,
    Mingled solemnly and mystically
    The all-powerful harmonies of their rich music
    With the colors of the setting sun reflected by my eyes.

    It is there that I have lived in calm voluptuousness,
    In the center of the blue, amidst the waves and splendors
    And the nude slaves, heavy with perfumes,

    Who refreshed my forehead with palm-leaves,
    Their only care was to fathom
    The dolorous secret that made me languish.

    — Geoffrey Wagner, Selected Poems of Charles Baudelaire (NY: Grove Press, 1974)

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