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A Season in Hell is an extended poem written and published by French writer Arthur Rimbaud. The book had a considerable influence on later artists and poets, for example the Surrealists. Henry Miller was important in introducing Rimbaud to America in the sixties. He once attempted an English translation of the book and wrote an extended essay on Rimbaud and A Season in Hell titled The Time of the Assassins. The poem is loosely divided into nine parts, some of which are much shorter than others. They differ markedly in tone and narrative comprehensibility, with some, such as "Bad Blood," 'being much more obviously influenced by Rimbaud's drug use than others, some argue. Academic critics have arrived at many varied and often entirely incompatible conclusions as to what meaning and philosophy may or may not be contained in the text, and will continue to do so.
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Once, if my memory serves me well, my life was a banquet where every heart revealed itself, where every wine flowed.
One evening I took Beauty in my arms – and I thought her bitter – and I insulted her.
I steeled myself against justice.
I fled. O witches, O misery, O hate, my treasure was left in your care!
I have withered within me all human hope. With the silent leap of a sullen beast, I have downed and strangled every joy.
I have called for executioners; I want to perish chewing on their gun butts. I have called for plagues, to suffocate in sand and blood. Unhappiness has been my god. I have lain down in the mud, and dried myself off in the crime-infested air. I have played the fool to the point of madness.
And springtime brought me the frightful laugh of an idiot.
Now recently, when I found myself ready to croak! I thought to seek the key to the banquet of old, where I might find an appetite again.
That key is Charity. – This idea proves I was dreaming!
“You will stay a hyena, etc…,” shouts the demon who once crowned me with such pretty poppies. “Seek death with all your desires, and all selfishness, and all the Seven Deadly Sins.”
Ah! I’ve taken too much of that: – still, dear Satan, don’t look so annoyed, I beg you! And while waiting for a few belated cowardices, since you value in a writer all lack of descriptive or didactic flair, I pass you these few foul pages from the diary of a Damned Soul.
From my ancestors the Gauls I have pale blue eyes, a narrow brain, and awkwardness in competition. I think my clothes are as barbaric as theirs. But I don’t butter my hair.
The Gauls were the most stupid hide-flayers and hay-burners of their time.
From them, I inherit: idolatry, and love of sacrelige; – oh! all sorts of vice, anger, lechery, – terrific stuff, lechery; – lying, above all, and laziness.
I have a horror of all trades and crafts. Bosses and workers, all of them peasants, and common. The hand that holds the pen is as good as the one that holds the plow. – What a century for hands! – I’ll never learn to use my hands. And then, domesticity goes too far. The propriety of beggary shames me. Criminals are as disgusting as men without balls: I’m intact, and I don’t care.
But! who has made my tongue so treacherous, that until now it has counseled and kept me in idleness? I have not used even my body to get along. Out-idling the sleepy toad, I have lived everywhere. There’s not one family in Europe that I don’t know. – Families, I mean, like mine, who owe their existence to the Declaration of the Rights of Man. – I have known each family’s eldest son!
If only I had a link to some point in the history of France!
But instead, nothing.
I am well aware that I have always been of an inferior race. I cannot understand revolt. My race has never risen, except to plunder: to devour like wolves a beast they did not kill.
I remember the history of France, the Eldest Daughter of the Church. I would have gone, a village serf, crusading to the Holy Land; my head is full of roads in the Swabian plains, of the sight of Byzantium, of the ramparts of Jerusalem; the cult of Mary, the pitiful thought of Christ crucified, turns in my head with a thousand profane enchantments. – I sit like a leper among broken pots and nettles, at the foot of a wall eaten away by the sun. – And later, a wandering mercenary, I would have bivouacked under German nighttimes.
Ah! one thing more: I dance the Sabbath in a scarlet clearing, with old women and children.
I don’t remember much beyond this land, and Christianity. I will see myself forever in its past. But always alone; without a family; what language, in fact, did I used to speak? I never see myself in the councils of Christ; nor in the councils of the Lords, – Christ’s representatives.
What was I in the century past: I only find myself today. The vagabonds, the hazy wars are gone. The inferior race has swept over all – the People, as they put it, Reason; Nation and Science.
Ah, Science! Everything is taken from the past. For the body and the soul, – the last sacrament, – we have Medicine and Philosophy, household remedies and folk songs rearrainged. And royal entertainments, and games that kings forbid! Geography, Cosmography, Mechanics, Chemistry!…
Science, the new nobility! Progress. The world moves!… And why shouldn’t it?
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