Enduring icon of creativity, authenticity, and rebellion, and the subject of numerous new biographies, Arthur Rimbaud is one of the most repeatedly scrutinized literary figures of the last half-century. Yet almost thirty years have elapsed without a major new translation of his writings. Remedying this state of affairs is Rimbaud Complete, the first and only truly complete edition of Rimbaud’s work in English, translated, edited, and introduced by Wyatt Mason.
Mason draws on a century of Rimbaud scholarship to choreograph a superbly clear-eyed presentation of the poet’s works. He arranges Rimbaud’s writing chronologically, based on the latest manuscript evidence, so readers can experience the famously teenaged poet’s rapid evolution, from the lyricism of “Sensation” to the groundbreaking early modernism of A Season in Hell.
In fifty pages of previously untranslated material, including award-winning early verses, all the fragmentary poems, a fascinating early draft of A Season in Hell, a school notebook, and multiple manuscript versions of the important poem “O saisons, ô chateaux,” Rimbaud Complete displays facets of the poet unknown to American readers. And in his Introduction, Mason revisits the Rimbaud myth, addresses the state of disarray in which the poet left his work, and illuminates the intricacies of the translator’s art.
Mason has harnessed the precision and power of the poet’s rapidly changing voice: from the delicate music of a poem such as “Crows” to the mature dissonance of the Illuminations, Rimbaud Complete unveils this essential poet for a new generation of readers.
There have been no fully satisfactory translations of the brilliant modernist forerunner Jean-Nicolas-Arthur Rimbaud (1854 1891): the rather flat Wallace Fowlie version (Univ. of Chicago) is the most reliable, while the error-ridden Penguin volume by Oliver Bernard and the wildly improvisational try by U.S. poet Paul Schmidt (HarperPerennial) take riskier poetic licenses, with uneven results. After Graham Robb's coarse and insensitive, yet energetic and well-received biography of the poet last year (Norton), more attention is being drawn to Rimbaud's actual writings. Mason is a translator of Pierre Michon (Masters and Servants) and Dante's Vita Nuova, and is senior editor of artkrush.com ("a Website about art," says their banner). He offers a tremendous amount of Rimbaudiana, including "schoolwork," essays and drafts, miscellaneous poems and Rimbaud's two longest works, A Season in Hell and Illuminations. The poems, unfortunately, are inexactly rendered, extending what Rimbaud wrote merely to force a rhyme (Rimbaud's couplet "My hunger, Anne, Anne/ Flee on your mule" is extended by Mason to "Flee on your mule if you can," for example), and sometimes mistranslated altogether. In the famous opening of A Season in Hell, "Bad Blood," Mason renders the French verb injurier as "to hurt" rather than "to insult" at the point when the poet has beauty across his knees. Fragmentary drafts of unpublished material, complete with crossings out, are included, along with a small-type appendix of all the poems in French, but Mason's versions do not surpass previous efforts.