The Writing on the Wall – Rimbaud and his Drunken Boat – delicious jam for good poets!

The Writing on the Wall – Rimbaud and his Drunken Boat – delicious jam for good poets!

The writing on the wall is impressive, poetic, and emotive – for all to see, to read, and to enjoy. It is a poem bearing ‘delicious jam for good poets.’

Rue Henry-de-Jouvenel is a street in the 6th arrondissement of Paris. It is an extension of the original street, Rue Férou, situated at Saint-Sulpice Square. 

Rue Férou was established in about 1517. The extension gained its new name, Rue Henry-de-Jouvenel, on 27 July 1936.

American painter, photographer, and film director Man Ray (1890-1976) lived and worked at No. 2. At No. 6 was the Hotel de Luzy where American author Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961) lived in 1926 and so did F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda at some stage when they were in Paris.

The fictional character Athos in Alexandre Dumas’ 1884 novel The Three Musketeers also lived in this street. 

On one side of Rue Férou is the only original wall remaining of the Hotel des Finances. Since January 1922 the building behind the wall was assigned to the Ministry of Finance, previously a seminary (the seminarians left in 1906) and a first aid station in the First World War (1914-1918). In 1959, the building was listed as a Historic Monument in France.

The writing on the wall, added on 14 June 2012, is the complete poem The Drunken Boat (Le Bateau Ivre) by French poet Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891). But, the words are written from right to left, instead of left to right. 

Arthur Rimbaud wrote The Drunken Boat in 1871 when he was 17 years old. The poem has 25 quatrains. Written in the first person, it is the tale of a boat without a master. Rolling in the violent, stormy seas, the boat sinks.

The Drunken Boat by Arthur Rimbaud

As I was going down impassive Rivers,

I no longer felt myself guided by haulers:

Yelping redskins had taken them as targets

And had nailed them naked to coloured stakes.

I was indifferent to all crews,

The bearer of Flemish wheat or English cottons

When with my haulers this uproar stopped

The Rivers let me go where I wanted.

Into the furious lashing of the tides

More heedless than children’s brains the other winter

I ran! And loosened Peninsulas

Have not undergone a more triumphant hubbub

The storm blessed my sea vigils

Lighter than a cork I danced on the waves

That are called eternal rollers of victims,

Ten nights, without missing the stupid eye of the lighthouses!

Sweeter than the flesh of hard apples is to children

The green water penetrated my hull of fir

And washed me of spots of blue wine

And vomit, scattering rudder and grappling-hook

And from then on, I bathed in the Poem

Of the Sea, infused with stars and lactescent,

Devouring the azure verses; where, like a pale elated

Piece of flotsam, a pensive drowned figure sometimes sinks;

Where, suddenly dyeing the blueness, delirium

And slow rhythms under the streaking of daylight,

Stronger than alcohol, vaster than our lyres,

The bitter redness of love ferments!

I know the skies bursting with lightning, and the waterspouts

And the surf and the currents; I know the evening,

And dawn as exalted as a flock of doves

And at times I have seen what man thought he saw!

I have seen the low sun spotted with mystic horrors,

Lighting up, with long violet clots,

Resembling actors of very ancient dramas,

The waves rolling far off their quivering of shutters!

I have dreamed of the green night with dazzled snows

A kiss slowly rising to the eyes of the sea,

The circulation of unknown saps,

And the yellow and blue awakening of singing phosphorous!

I followed during pregnant months the swell,

Like hysterical cows, in its assault on the reefs,

Without dreaming that the luminous feet of the Marys

Could constrain the snout of the wheezing Oceans!

I struck against, you know, unbelievable Floridas

Mingling with flowers panthers’ eyes and human

Skin! Rainbows stretched like bridal reins

Under the horizon of the seas to greenish herds!

I have seen enormous swamps ferment, fish-traps

Where a whole Leviathan rots in the rushes!

Avalanches of water in the midst of a calm,

And the distances cataracting toward the abyss!

Glaciers, suns of silver, nacreous waves, skies of embers!

Hideous strands at the end of brown gulfs

Where giant serpents devoured by bedbugs

Fall down from gnarled trees with black scent!

I should have liked to show children those sunfish

Of the blue wave, the fish of gold, the singing fish.

—Foam of flowers rocked my drifting

And ineffable winds winged me at times.

At times a martyr weary of poles and zones,

The sea, whose sob created my gentle roll,

Brought up to me her dark flowers with yellow suckers

And I remained, like a woman on her knees…

Resembling an island tossing on my sides the quarrels

And droppings of noisy birds with yellow eyes

And I sailed on, when through my fragile ropes

Drowned men sank backward to sleep!

Now I, a boat lost in the foliage of caves,

Thrown by the storm into the birdless air

I whose water-drunk carcass would not have been rescued

By the Monitors and the Hanseatic sailboats;

Free, smoking, topped with violet fog,

I who pierced the reddening sky like a wall,

Bearing, delicious jam for good poets

Lichens of sunlight and mucus of azure,

Who ran, spotted with small electric moons,

A wild plank, escorted by black seahorses,

When Julys beat down with blows of cudgels

The ultramarine skies with burning funnels;

I, who trembled, hearing at fifty leagues off

The moaning of the Behemoths in heat and the thick Maelstroms,

Eternal spinner of the blue immobility

I miss Europe with its ancient parapets!

I have seen sidereal archipelagos! and islands

Whose delirious skies are open to the sea-wanderer:

—Is it in these bottomless nights that you sleep and exile yourself,

Million golden birds, o future Vigor? –

But, in truth, I have wept too much! Dawns are heartbreaking.

Every moon is atrocious and every sun bitter.

Acrid love has swollen me with intoxicating torpor

O let my keel burst! O let me go into the sea!

If I want a water of Europe, it is the black

Cold puddle where in the sweet-smelling twilight

A squatting child full of sadness releases

A boat as fragile as a May butterfly.

No longer can I, bathed in your languor, o waves,

Follow in the wake of the cotton boats,

Nor cross through the pride of flags and flames,

Nor swim under the terrible eyes of prison ships.

Reference: Arthur Rimbaud, “The Drunken Boat” from Complete Works, Selected Letters, The University of Chicago Press, 2005. From the Poetry Foundation website,    

Published by MaNi

Martina Nicolls is an Australian author and international human rights-based consultant in education, healing and wellbeing, peace and stabilisation, and foreign aid audits and evaluations. She has written eight books and continues writing articles and thoughts through her various websites. She loves photography, reading, and nature. She currently lives in Paris, France.

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