Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Vowels - Voyelles / Arthur Rimbaud


Black A, white E, red I, green U, blue O: you vowels,
Some day I'll tell the tale of where your mystery lies:
Black A, a jacket formed of hairy, shiny flies
That buzz among harsh stinks in the abyss's bowels;

White E, the white of kings, of moon-washed fogs and tents,
Of fields of shivering chervil, glaciers' gleaming tips;
Red I, magenta, spat-up blood, the curl of lips
In laughter, hatred, or besotted penitence;

Green U, vibrating waves in viridescent seas,
Or peaceful pastures flecked with beasts  furrows of peace
Imprinted on our brows as if by alchemies;

Blue O, great Trumpet blaring strange and piercing cries
Through Silences where Worlds and Angels pass crosswise;
Omega, O, the violet brilliance of Those Eyes!

Arthur Rimbaud
translated by George J. Dance, 2010

from Doggerel, and other doggerel, 2015

Creative Commons License
[Vowels by George J. Dance [translation of "Voyelles" by Arthur Rimbaud] is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.]



A noir, E blanc, I rouge, U vert, O bleu: voyelles,
Je dirai quelque jour vos naissances latentes:
A, noir corset velu des mouches éclatantes
Qui bombinent autour des puanteurs cruelles,

Golfes d'ombre; E, candeurs des vapeurs et des tentes,
Lances des glaciers fiers, rois blancs, frissons d'ombelles;
I, pourpres, sang craché, rire des lèvres belles
Dans la colère ou les ivresses pénitentes;

U, cycles, vibrements divins des mers virides,
Paix des pâtis semés d'animaux, paix des rides
Que l'alchimie imprime aux grands fronts studieux;

O, suprême Clairon plein des strideurs étranges,
Silences traversés des Mondes et des Anges;
- O l'Oméga, rayon violet de Ses Yeux!

Arthur Rimbaud

[Poem is in the public domain worldwide]

Arthur Rimbaud biography


  1. I thought it was a fine translation. You managed to keep the same rhyme scheme and scansion and created a very poetic English version whilst remaining remarkably faithful to the original. That's extremely difficult to do. I wonder though why you chose to say Black A rather than A Black, etc. I would have preferred Rimbaud's original order on the first line, although either would do thereafter.

  2. Thank you for the kind words. It is indeed a difficult task to juggle rhyme, meter, and sense in a translation. But it has to be done; those who translate Rimbaud in free verse are IMO selling him short. I'm glad my version worked for you.

    You raised a good point about the first line; AFAIK mine is the only one that has this first-line order. I've had three reasons for writing and then leaving it this way which didn't all occur to me at once; I'll list them in order that I thought of them, rather than importance, since the latter shifts around for me:

    First, I thought it was more natural. I don't think Rimbaud was doing anything more, in putting the adjectives after the noun, than following normal French usage for those adjectives. So I went with normal English usage.

    Second, given the iambic rhythm, I like how the line reads -- how the stressed syllable lands on the vowel each time.

    Finally, I think the fact that my first line is different from the norm makes my translation stand out a bit more. For example, if it were reprinted on a Rimbaud site with the original and a group of English translations, I think someone would be more likely to read mine because it's not the same old first line he's already read at least once.

    That was my reasoning. I hope it makes sense to you.

    Thank you again for writing and for your kind comment.