Brian Kim Stefans translating Arthur Rimbaud

Les Assis (The Men Who Sit), after Rimbaud

Gashed with pocks, scabby – their eyes encircled with green
bags, chubby fingers gripping their
thighs, their skulls plated with a haughtiness vague
as the leprous flowerings of old walls;

They are knotted in epileptic loves,
their fantastic ossatures fixed to the black skeletons
of the chairs, their feet to rachitic legs
– they are entwined there, mornings and nights!

Old men sinking, one with their seats: the
vitamin sun makes burlap of their skin;
and, with eyes turned toward winter’s falling snow,
they tremble there, like pinched toads.

But the seats are good to them: shit
brown, old straw yields to their neglected hinds.
Dying suns, swaddled in stalks
of the corn they once fermented, shine for them.

Question marks, knees in teeth, green
pianists, ten fingers rapping a tambourine under
their seats… they sway to soft barcaroles,
their scissored scalps float on these surgings of love.

Oh, but what is it that makes them get up? What a shipwreck
of scolded cats! Whining, stretching
– arise more slowly, Olympic champs!
Their trousers puff around their bloated thighs.

And you can hear them: their bald heads
knock the dark walls… they stamp torqued feet,
thump after thump. Their buttons? The eyes of crouched beasts
leering from down salty corridors.

Then, they own that invisible hand
that murders: their gaze filters black poisons, cursing
the cadaverous eye of the pitiful dog,
so you choke. You are stuffed in obnoxious funnels.

Relaxed, fists plunged
in coarse cuffs – they’ve forgotten what made them get up!
From morning’s aurora to evening, tonsils bunched
in miniature chins – nearly burst with agitations!

When a sleep lowers their eyelids…
they dream of their seats made fecund, of keen
lovers waiting in droves. They frisk among chairs to be born
amidst these proud bureaus.

Flowers of ink spit their pollen in commas
and comfort them… the length of crouched calyxes,
the flight of dragonflies by a file of gladiolas
– and the barbed ears of corn arouse their penises. 

Translator's Note

I translated three poems of Rimbaud when I was a student in college in 1991. “Les Poètes de sept ans” appeared in my book Angry Penguins (2000).  I was never satisfied with my version of “Les soeurs de charité.” I’ve been pecking away at “Les Assis” for a while now and after a few “breakthroughs” managed to get it into serviceable form. Though it’s not as formally elegant or fluid as my earlier translation of “Les Poètes de sept ans,” it still expresses my general belief that the best way to translate Rimbaud is into a form that exhibits his devotion to the alexandrine.

Brian Kim Stefans

Brian Kim Stefans is a poet and digital artist who teaches at UCLA. His latest book of poems is Viva Miscegenation. His visual works can be found at

Arthur Rimbaud

Jean Nicolas Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891) was a French poet, one of whose poems provides the name of this journal. Famously, he ceased writing (or at least publishing) poetry prior to his 20s.