John Beer translating Arthur Rimbaud

Slow Drunk Boat

Hey Cori, I snapped the supermoon.
It’s not all illusion, running an empty
Acoustic mini-guitar shop. Plenty
Of stains on this little heart. More soon.
Plenty of planking. I made myself crazed.
The hemispheres keep seizing up.
In the arctic, a seahorse is freezing up.
Little black moon, in your shadow I’m dazed.
I started to write, “O cruel July,
O July is the cruelest month.”
I’m repeating myself. I slump
And the beatings repeat themselves coolly.
Malcolm Lowry locked in a cabin,
Warhol stars on skylight display.
The funnels burn as the clouds go gray.
Lacy black tones of celestial rapine.
“Doing eighty and she slammed on the brakes,”
The gendarme joked, writing the ticket.
I was the sense that shook in the thicket.
Fifty versions of me, fifty trembling mistakes.
And only one Pantagruel rutting.
And only one hurricane swamping
The civic geography. Lamping,
Cold lamping, and Behemoth strutting
For a long time I filed reports early
Regarding the eternal descent
Of blue that does not move. I went
To bed, waiting for nothing, surly.
I have only one regret, Europe.
I missed your ancient parapets.
I’m lying. I have a lot of regrets.
Not so much about tourism, sure enough.
I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe.
Archipelagoes off the shoulder of Orion.
And the islands—but once again I’m lying.
I have seen stars that led me to grief.
Doesn’t the sky. Doesn’t the sky shake
Deliriously. That time it tore me open.
Now I go from here to there hoping
Its lacy days resound for someone’s sake.
Because me or somebody’s still found
At the bottom of the night. So easy
To say, if saying sleep is easy:
“If saying sleep,” the exile droned.
Hey Cori, here’s a million gilded
Birds behind a wheezing door.
Or did I mean a freezing seahorse, or
Is this the snarling future we builded?

Translator's Note:
This translation of a portion of Le Bateau Ivre was undertaken to celebrate Drunken Boat’s anniversary. For my part, I adhered to a simple principle of extension and elaboration: each one of Rimbaud’s lines would be rendered as its own rhyming quatrain, thus quadrupling the length of the poem. Along the way, I engaged in a mélange of relatively faithful rendering Rimbaud’s French into English, cross-linguistic punning and homophonic translation, free association, and outright invention. 

John Beer

Translator Bio:
John Beer is the author of The Waste Land and Other Poems (Canarium, 2010), which received the Norma Farber First Book Award from the Poetry Society of America. His fake translation of Friedrich Schlegel's novella Lucinde is forthcoming from Canarium; a chapbook containing the first four sections appeared from Spork Press last year. He teaches creative writing at Portland State University.

Author Bio:
Arthur Rimbaud was born in France and led a life of adventure.