Night in Hell
This is a piece of prose from Arthur Rimbaud’s “A Season in Hell”…
I have just swallowed a terrific mouthful of poison. – Blessed, blessed, blessed the advice I was given! – My guts are on fire. The power of the poison twists my arms and legs, cripples me, drives me to the ground. I die of thirst, I suffocate, I cannot cry. This is Hell, eternal torment! See how the flames rise! I burn as I ought to. Go on, Devil!
I once came close to a conversion to the good and to felicity, salvation. How can I describe my vision, the air of Hell is too thick for hymns! There were millions of delightful creatures in smooth spiritual harmony, strength and peace, noble ambitions, I don’t know what all?
But I am still alive! – Suppose damnation is eternal! A man who wants to mutilate himself is certainly damned, isn’t he? I believe I am in Hell, therefore I am. This is the catechism at work. I am the slave of my baptism. You, my parents, have ruined my life, and your own. Poor child! – Hell is powerless against pagans. – I am still alive! Later on, the delights of damnation will become more profound. A crime, quick, and let me fall to nothingness, condemned by human law.
Shut up, will you shut up!… Everything here is shame and reproach: Satan saying that the fire is worthless, that my anger is ridiculous and silly. – Ah, stop! …those mistakes someone whispered, magic spells, deceptive odors, childish music. – And to think that I possess the truth, that I can have a vision of justice: my judgement is sound and firm, I am prime for perfection… Pride. – My scalp begins to tighten. Have mercy! Lord, I am afraid! Water, I thirst, I thirst! Ah, childhood, grass and rain, the puddle on the paving stones, Moonlight when the clock strikes twelve.… The devil is in the clock tower, right now! Mary! Holy Virgin!… – Horrible stupidity.
Look there, are those not honorable men, who wish me well?…Come on… a pillow over my mouth, they cannot hear me, they are only ghosts. Anyway, no one ever thinks of anyone else. Don’t let them come closer. I must surely stink of burning flesh.
My hallucinations are endless. This is what I’ve always gone through: the end of my faith in history, the neglect of my principles. I shall say no more about this: poets and visionaries would be jealous. I am the richest one of all, a thousand times, and I will hoard it like the sea.
O God – the clock of life stopped but a moment ago. I am no longer within the world. – Theology is accurate; hell is certainly down below – and heaven is up on high. – Ecstacy, nightmare, sleep, in a nest of flames.
How the mind wanders idly in the country… Satan, Ferdinand, blows with the wild seed… Jesus walks on purple thorns but doesn’t bend them… Jesus used to walk on troubled waters. In the light of the lantern we saw him there, all white, with long brown hair, standing in the curve of an emerald wave…
I will tear the veils from every mystery: mysteries of religion or of nature, death, birth, the future, the past, cosmogony, and nothingness. I am a master of phantasmagoria.
Every talent is mine! – There is no one here, and there is someone: I wouldn’t want to waste my treasure. – Shall I give you Afric chants, belly dancers? Shall I disappear, shall I begin an attempt to discover the Ring? Shall I? I will manufacture gold, and medicines.
Put your faith in me, then. Faith comforts, it guides and heals. Come unto me all of you, – even the little children – let me console you, let me pour out my heart for you – my miraculous heart! – Poor men, poor laborers! I do not ask for prayers; give me only your trust, and I will be happy.
– Think of me, now. All this doesn’t make me miss the world much. I’m lucky not to suffer more. My life was nothing but sweet stupidities, unfortunately.
Bah! I’ll make all the ugly faces I can!
We are out of the world, that’s sure. Not a single sound. My sense of touch is gone. Ah, my château, my Saxony, my willow woods! Evenings and mornings, nights and days… How tired I am!
I ought to have a special hell for my anger, a hell for my pride, – and a hell for sex; a whole symphony of hells!
I am weary, I die. This is the grave and I’m turning into worms, horror of horrors! Satan, you clown, you want to dissolve me with your charms. Well, I want it. I want it! Stab me with a pitchfork, sprinkle me with fire.
Ah! To return to life! To stare at our deformities. And this poison, this eternally accursed embrace! My weakness, and the world’s cruelty! My God, have pity, hide me, I can’t control myself at all! – I am hidden, and I am not.
And as the Damned soul rises, so does the fire.
As translated by Paul Schmidt, and published in 1976 by Harper Colophon Books, Harper & Row.
- Posted in: poetry