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4.41 of 5 stars 4.41  ·  rating details  ·  4,439 ratings  ·  120 reviews

John Ashbery's long-awaited, virtuosic translation of Arthur Rimbaud's Illuminations is presented with the French text in parallel and a preface by its new translator. Given Rimbaud's own cavalier attitude toward his most substantial work, few would have thought the "bunch of unpaginated and untitled pages" that Rimbaud handed his former lover Paul Verlaine (who had attemp

Paperback, 182 pages
Published February 1st 1988 by New Directions Publishing Corporation (first published 1875)
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I feel a little about Ashbery translating Rimbaud the way I did about Pavement once closing a show with two Velvet Underground covers. With both, there’s a touching tip of the hat to one’s roots, but also a little bit of giving the game away. Not that either has to worry about the charge of being derivative (if anything, Ashbery’s Rimbaud sounds more like elegant, bittersweet, cast-off mot juste Ashbery than it does the Johnny Rotten of French lit), but the effects that made each stand out from...more
I think what's amazing here is that a magnificent American Poet John Ashbery at the age 83 (or something like that) translated the great poetry of Arthur Rimbaud, whose poems were written when he was in his teens. The ultimate teenage rebel icon touched by the grand poet of American letters, whose work is still controversial and has a bite. One wonders what took so long?
The truth is in this book, well, kind of. Rimbaud will always be this cloud that floats above us. It is there to be captured an...more
Michael Steger
John Ashbery translating Rimbaud seems such a logical, even natural pairing, that it is surprising it hasn't happened sooner. (Should we believe Ashbery when in the acknowledgments of his translation of Rimbaud's Illuminations, he thanks Norton editor Robert Weil for giving him the idea?) Ashbery has said that he was about 16 when he first encountered Rimbaud’s poetry, which happens to be about the same time that Ashbery was reading closely the poetry of W. H. Auden. In 1956, Auden would select...more
I can't stop reading books alongside Infinite Jest.

Today I checked out Ashbery's new translation of Illuminations from the library and read it in one sitting in my kitchen. I'm glad I did it. It's a beautiful book. I don't know much French, but I will fight anyone who says this is not a good translation.

Really, we should all be singing these poems to each other. We should've fought for the last copies in bookstores and read them all the first night they were published. If we care about poetry an...more
David Lentz
The mark of an extraordinary writer to me has always had something to do with whether the writer's genre was enhanced by the writer. This is a tall order, I know, but the very best writers change the way that their genre is perceived. Rimbaud's prose poems challenged the traditonal style of the Romantics who wrote before him. He brought a sharp, new incandescence, a flaring literary reality, a breakthrough perception to poetry expressed by his point of view. His stirring soul is seared by his ep...more
Stars seem difficult here (for translation? for R or A or both?), because I read another translation of *Illuminations* some time ago, and remember feeling like I was reading a translation. But Ashbery's Rimbaud is something quite different, more immediate, and perhaps one way of living out "I is someone else" ("Je est un autre.") To reference lines I'll use "R/A" (Resident Assistant? Recycled Author?).

In "Historic Evening" R/A bemoans the Romantic hangover: "'s no longer possible to submit...more
I happen to have the Paul Schmidt and Louise Varese translations as well, and find that each of them has more felicitous versions of particular phrases but that no one translator stands out for me as far above the others. Ashberry and Varese are more literal, but I think I like Schmidt’s slightly looser translation as perhaps being more evocative in being less mechanically accurate.
Ed Smiley
What do you make of an author that hands a work for publication to an ex-lover who shot him?

The imagery is vivid, idiosyncratic hermetic and strangely beautiful, and anticipates surealism.

Ashbery has, as far as I can tell, done an excellent job in translation. The original and translation appear on opposite sides. I don't speak French in any meaningful sense, but there is a an exquisite sound sense in his language that I can pick up in a vague sense in reading (and doubtless mispronouncing) pass...more
S.D. Johnson
My first whole book in French & even more than I expected. With language like carved crystal, a text infused with rapture, despair, a kind of monkish dereliction.... We are drawn into its supreme egoism, an egoism which doesn't long to dominate the reader, but to simply celebrate (rightfully) its own supremacy of voice, & one I think not only fascinating in its description of other times & lands... but reaching its greatest fulfillment in a nostalgia for things which have never exist...more
Lesfleurs Dumal
This just blew my mind, so impetuous and with such incredible visions. Rimbaud knew something we didn't. And at such a young age? How would anyone know to write such incredible things and to improve on the poetic fashionable/revolutionary fashion of symbolism? How did he have all this figured out? I'm just amazed at his prescience and aggression. I would have loved to have known such a shooting star!

Les F.
I've wanted to read A Season in Hell for a while, but when I saw the rave reviews of Ashbery's translation of Les Illuminations I decided to start with this. I'm very happy with it. Having the French alongside is great, especially for the untranslatable cadence of pieces like "Mouvement" and "Marine," both incredibly colorful and hypnotic poems. I know little French, just enough to read very privately and savor the audible flow of the phrase.

The themes are prescient of the 20th century's dadaism...more
David Jenkins
I have not in fact read all of this "long-awaited" translation by John Ashbery (the clumsy excerpts of the translation I saw in magazines did not exactly whet my appetite), but read it first in French in about 1952 and many times since. Rimbaud is without doubt one of the most fascinating literary figures who ever lived. His astounding capacity to manipulate language is in my opinion rivaled only by Shakespeare's, and Rimbaud is even more astonishing in that he didn't go through a period of appr...more
We have faith in the poison. We know how to give our whole life every day. – Morning of Drunkenness

Rimbaud has quickly become a favourite. I’ve re-read this book thrice over the last month, finding new things to delight me each time around.

I’m in love with his words. But I’m also fascinated by him. All of his works were written in his mid to late teens. He gave up writing altogether by the age of 21. One of the French enfant terrible, he caused quite the ruckus during his lifetime (which was, in...more
Scot Quaranda
Fantastic work, I have read bits and pieces of Rimbaud through the years though never sat down with an specific collection. This was a great one to start with. I am not sure I know how to read and fully immerse myself in all poetry but this was easy to enter and quickly took me away. Though much of what I have read has been a brilliant view into his angst, his relationship with Verlaine, etc. this set had a much more metaphysical/theosophical feel to it and included absolutely beautiful fragment...more
Jeffrey Cyphers Wright
Rimbaud writes with a writhing pen while Ashbery translates with a titillating tongue. Chromatiques become gossip columns. Reading along with the original French is a treat. These poems are the step off into modernity. Their wild oxymorons scintillate stirring up hideous joy! Abysmal delight! Nights of brilliant and clear-eyed delirium!
Fairies, flowers and flea markets take turns standing in as subjects while the poet posits preposterous notions. War, women and woe are seen through a theatrical...more
I had been wanting to read Rimbaud for some time because several other writers and artists I like have mentioned him as an influence. While reading it I felt I was reading something by an adolescent know-it-all, smugly basking in his own tragedy. Of course, I was- Rimbaud did all his famous writing before he reached 20. Much of it went over my head, but I would also find passages that really stood out to me. It's poetry - you can't just sit down and read it like a romance novel or a mystery. It...more
Rimbaud's poetry forms a heartbreaking crystallization of being a young tortured artist in late 19th century France. His poems are stunningly beautiful but it's maddening to think he wrote most of them before he turned 20. He's the quintessential enfant terrible, but he's so pretty, and his poems are amazing.

I like to read these out loud to my cats; sometimes in English but usually in the French. That's why I love dual language editions like these so much. It's a fantasy of mine to find a woman...more
When I was 18, I bought this book and have carried it with me ever since. Rimbaud was 15 when he started writing his symbolistic prose, no one had ever done that before. He wrote until he was 19. He was Verlaine's lover(the great romantic poet) who felt that Rimbaud's work was extraordinary and it was. At 19, rimbaud stopped writing. He went to Africa and explored parts no white man had ever ventured.He died at 37- This French schoolboy carnet's filled with words, influenced Henry Miller, the Be...more
Chris Schaeffer
Ashbery totally reinvented Rimbaud, as far as I'm concerned. This is a translation to measure translations by. Really, I read this three months ago and I'm still getting agitated and excited just thinking about it. I feel like the Rimbaud Ashbery gives us is as startling and vital as the 'original' Rimbaud, and is as close as anyone with French as bad as mine will ever get to 'knowing' the poet.
Este é, na minha opinião, o livro que melhor retracta a poesia de Rimbaud.
Escrita numa fase muito jovem, a única fase, diga-se, revela um ser desfazado do mundo, vivendo numa utopia que se compreende quando se sabe o fim que levou.
Inspiração para outros poetas, Rimbaud foi um génio e um dos poucos poetas que me dá prazer ler e reler.
Ashberry's translation is excellent: highly accurate but preserving much of the rhythm and tone of the original. The Illuminations is written in a surprisingly spare style--much of its beauty comes from the contrast between its semi-delirious content and the cool, pristine hardness of its language.

Ashberry avoids the common mistake of many English translators of 19th century French poetry: the arbitrary introduction of an ornate, exaggeratedly poetic style and overly complex vocabulary that Fre...more
Emma Arceneaux
for when you're incredibly depressed and it's cold and grey outside and you have to get on the subway to go somewhere awful for something you don't want. this is what you must read for moments of clarity and refreshment. he understands.
Jun 12, 2011 jennifer marked it as to-read
ashbery translating rimbaud as reviewed by lydia davis. dreamy.
Haven Fairfield
The scope of Rimbaud's influence is nothing short of profound. It is with intentional hyperbole that I say every important twentieth century poet cites this man as an influence. This is why I am deeply intimidated by him.

Rimbaud's poems are not easily accessible. He gives away very little, but he does give away something. Your first glance is like skimming the surface of a tidal pool. You are dazzled by the reflections and the play of light. When you lean a little further, when you put a little...more
Erez Davidi
I had been debating with myself for quite a long time whether to read this book or not. (You’d be surprised how much time is spent researching books before I decide to read them). Finally, I decided to read it chiefly because I know that one of my favorite musicians, Bob Dylan, was a big admirer of Arthur Rimbaud. Apparently, it wasn’t a good indication, or Bob Dylan just idealized Rimbaud’s wild life style and, to a lesser degree, his poems.

Admittedly, I am no poetry expert. However, on a basi...more
Isla McKetta
While I very much enjoyed the relationship between the French and the English texts as they broke across pages, the writing itself did little for me. Some nice images or sounds here and there (hard to avoid gorgeous sound in French), but I wished I was more into it.
Heather Hartley (Paris Editor): Reading Rimbaud has been pure indulgence these past days—from his brilliant and burning Illuminations to his astonishing A Season in Hell to his luminous and dark The Drunken Boat. And after reading his poems, Rimbaud’s correspondence is quite a perfect companion for any season and in particular his letters to Georges Izambard, the young teacher who had a huge influence on his work. Vibrant, desperate, raw, joyous, wretched–all this in little paperback books that...more
Matthew Thompson
For translators, few books pose as formidable and seductive a challenge as Rimbaud’s unpaginated, fevered masterpiece, Illuminations. Here, seasoned translator and Pulitzer prize-winning poet John Ashbery answers that call and succeeds splendidly. Presenting each English translation alongside its French original, this dazzling edition breathes new life into the 19th century voyant’s kaleidoscopic world while still preserving its intense vision and incomparable immediacy. The results are incandes...more
Aaron Winston
This is my favorite book at present and has been for over two years now. I constantly find myself rereading it, particularly the pome "Tale." After having read the original French version (with extensive use of an online dictionary to refresh my high school learning) and other translations, I can honestly say that John Ashbery nails it with an absolutely stunning English rendition that both maintains the spirit of the original while preserving its impact en Anglais.
J Frederick
I read the version translated by Bertrand Mathieu. I got it out of the library and someone wrote this in the introduction: B.M. fails to understand the subtlety of the Symbolist aesthetic, and therefore, we may reduce him to the status of a crazed hippie, a pitiable admirer of Henry Miller.

Well, the poems are good, even though I can tell how liberally this was translated even with my nonexistent French. Illuminations is both broader thematically and deeper in analysis than A Season in Hell, yet...more
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  • Paris Spleen
  • Alcools
  • Selected Poems
  • The Maximus Poems
  • Sonnets to Orpheus
  • Artaud Anthology
  • Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror
  • Paroles
  • Paterson
  • The Collected Poems of Frank O'Hara
  • Capital of Pain
  • Hymns to the Night
  • Maldoror and the Complete Works
  • Pictures of the Gone World
  • The Selected Poems
  • Collected Poems
French poet and adventurer, who stopped writing verse at the age of 21, and became after his early death an inextricable myth in French gay life. Rimbaud's poetry, partially written in free verse, is characterized by dramatic and imaginative vision. "I say that one must be a visionary - that one must make oneself a VISIONARY." His works are among the most original in the Symbolist movement. Rimbau...more
More about Arthur Rimbaud...
A Season in Hell/The Drunken Boat Complete Works A Season in Hell/Illuminations Rimbaud: Poems (Pocket Poets) Une Saison En Enfer les Illuminations: Et Autres Textes (1873-1875)

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