Tom La Farge translating Arthur Rimbaud

The Drunken Mystification




I, who was spilt, who spread and passed from one to the other, morally stained by sudden, violent bodyparts shaped like crescents — flat mad — convoyed for security reasons by terrifying brusque movements from the temporal lobe; when months of Julius Caesar brought about the sudden collapse, with all their weight, of spheres, ultramarine and crystalline, their throats on fire at the movement of bodyparts capable of serving as instruments of the penis in erection — brutal, repressive authority;


I, who was shaken by repeated small tremors around a position of balance, while taking cognizance more or less clearly, at a large enough aggregate of distances (small, but they seem large), of the great sexual excitement of those fantastic animals likened by some to the elephant or rhinoceros, by others — and more frequently — to the Egyptian hippopotamus, but in either case bewailing themselves about every little thing with no viable reason for doing it. Cognizance also of those very rapid marine whirlpools set going in tidal currents in a channel of the Norwegian Lofoten Islands. They form a deep abyss but lack finesse, delicacy, grace, easiness of manner, elegance, refinement;

I, the master blackmailer, the definitive interruption of whose period of activity cannot be glimpsed or guessed at, I, the cheater who conjures away horses characterized by a sort of cataleptic state resulting in the difficulty not to say the impossibility of either moving or holding a pose, so that they are left fixed in astonishment,

I suffer the baneful consequences of the Europe of protections, natural or otherwise; of separations, even of obstructions that erect themselves in the manner of a protective wall and which no longer exercise the function or activity previously exercised, and which, as they have lost their primitive purpose, become disused or turned to different uses!


I have in a passive manner lacking in preliminary intention registered the image that found itself within my visual field, an image of irregular groupings of objects (concrete, abstract) that emanated from celestial bodies luminous in themselves (sun, stars) or reflecting a solar light (moon, planets), objects identical or similar to one another!

And I have found myself as if by chance in the presence of sugary desserts composed of meringue, or else of lady-finger, floating on a cream, confections whose atmosphere, assaulted by hysterical excitement, is disposed in such a way as to permit communication between the interior and the exterior space occupied by someone engaged in kneading and moulding clay before placing it on the potter’s wheel:

Darknesses into which the surface of the planet Earth finds itself immersed when it no longer receives, on account of its position with respect to the sun, the solar light — darknesses without any side placed opposite to and facing their entrance or opening — is it within these that You remain inactive, are left unutilized for the moment? Is it into them that You drive, proscribe, banish yourself?

You, a thousand times a thousand light and tender kisses made from a simple, precious body, good conductor of heat and electricity, liberating positive ions, and gifted with a splendor often brilliant, gleaming yellow, soft, very dense, malleable, and ductile! You who normally present Yourself in small masses without any casing of earth or stone!

You, who will effectively exist, who will be (in a time to come considered above all as a period or epoch contrasted to the epoch we’re currently in), O appetite or sexual capacity!

Translator's Note:
I have subjected three stanzas of “Le bateau ivre” to the oulipian constraint of “definitional literature,” whereby signifying words are replaced by one or more of their dictionary definitions. The dictionary used in this case was the online Trésor de la Langue Française (, whose definitions I then selected and translated into English, with some minimal sculpting of the resultant language-mass.

Tom La Farge

Translator Bio:
Tom La Farge has published two novels and a collection of tales. His latest novel, The Broken House, will appear from Spuyten Duyvil in 2015. He is compiling a manual of constrained-writing practices in a pamphlet series, 13 Writhing Machines (; three have come out and another is under construction. His Life & Conversation of Animals, cut-up texts, came out in Proteotypes’ Libellulæ series. He translated Oulipian Michèle Métail’s “Compléments de noms 1972–2012” for Words Without Borders, 12/2013. With Wendy Walker he cofounded The Writhing Society, a constrained-writing salon in Brooklyn. He is managing editor of Proteotypes.

Author Bio:
Rimbaud wrote "Le bateau ivre" when he was sixteen.