Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Poem of the week - "Squattings" by Rimbaud

Continuing our theme of volatile, passionate and brilliant poets, today's installment is courtesy of the French poet Arthur Rimbaud. I managed to snag an excellent used copy of his poems for just three dollars at the local bookstore recently. Rimbaud personifies young rebelliousness. Most teenagers/young adults will pout at needless social conventions or the forceful but irrational rule of authority and will stop once they hit adulthood. Rimbaud took to poetry. By age 20, he was dazzling those around him with his irreverence, boldness and arrogance. He died of cancer at just 37.

Following is one of his "milder" poems. I love his long, deliberative approach to the central act.

Here's "Squattings":

Very late, when he feels his stomach churn,
Brother Milotus, one eye on the skylight whence the sun,
bright as a scoured stewpan, darts a megrim at him
and dizzies his sight, moves his priest's belly under the sheets.

He struggles beneath the grey blanket and gets out,
his knees to his trebling belly, flustered like an old man
who has swallowed a pinch of snuff,
because he has to tuck up his nightshirt in armfuls
round his waist with one hand
grasping the handle of a white chamberpot!

Now he is squatting, chilly, his toes curled up,
his teeth chattering in the bright sunshine
which dubs the yellow of cake upon the paper panes;
and the old fellow's nose, its crimson catching fire,
snuffles in the rays like a polypary of flesh.

The old fellow simmers at the fire, his arms twisted,
his blubber lips on his belly:
he feels his thighs slipping into the fire,
and his breeches scorching, and his pipe going out;
something resembling a bird stirs a little in his serene belly
which is like a mountain of tripe!
Round about him sleeps a jumble of stunned furniture
among tatters of filth, lying on soiled bellies;
stools cower like weird toads in dark corners:
cupboards have maws like choirmasters,
yawning with a sleepiness which is full of revolting appetites.
The sickening heat stuffs the narrow room;
the old fellow's head is crammed with rags:
he listens to the hairs growing in his moist away,
shaking his rickety stool..
And in the evening, in rays of moonlight
which leaves dribbles of light
on the contours of his buttocks,
a shadow with details squats
against a background of snow-coloured pink like a hollyhock …
Fantastic, a nose follows Venus in the deep sky.

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