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4.37  ·  Rating details ·  10,248 ratings  ·  309 reviews
The prose poems of the great French Symbolist, Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891), have acquired enormous prestige among readers everywhere and have been a revolutionary influence on poetry in the twentieth century. They are offered here both in their original texts and in superb English translations by Louise Varèse. Mrs. Varèse first published her versions of Rimbaud’s Illuminat ...more
Paperback, 182 pages
Published January 17th 1957 by New Directions (first published 1875)
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Average rating 4.37  · 
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 ·  10,248 ratings  ·  309 reviews

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Oct 26, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: poetry, french
I. Sunday

When homework is done, the inevitable descent from heaven and the visitation of memories, and the session of rhythms invade the dwelling, the head and the world of the spirit.
—A horse scampers off along the suburban turf and the gardens and the wood lots, besieged by the carbonic plague. Somewhere in the world, a wretched melodramatic woman is sighing for unlikely desertions.
Desperadoes are languishing for storms, drunkenness, wounds. Little children are stifling curses along the r
Mar 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2020, poetry, favorites
A series of hallucinatory prose poems full of surreal images and turns of phrase. In arresting detail the work lends voice to the poet’s fantasies and nightmares, violently cycling between self loathing and grandeur, euphoria and despair. So often the work’s opaque and lines lend themselves to multiple readings, inviting rereading.
Ahmad Sharabiani
‏‎Illuminations‬, Arthur Rimbaud
Illuminations is an incompleted suite of prose poems by the French poet Arthur Rimbaud, first published partially in La Vogue (fr), a Paris literary review, in May–June 1886. The texts were reprinted in book form in October 1886 by Les publications de La Vogue under the title Les Illuminations proposed by the poet Paul Verlaine, Rimbaud's former lover. In his preface, Verlaine explained that the title was based on the English word illuminations, in the sense of co
Alejandro Saint-Barthélemy
Despite my love for Rimbaud's poetry and intelligence (painfully high IQ, if you care about these things), and my knowledge of him (actually, because of it) I'd like to state something: it is virtually impossible to read Rimbaud today in a critical or subjective manner anymore, because his books and life have been so studied and examined by so many that you cannot shake off this feeling of "win-win" towards his poetry.
Let me explain myself: Rimbaud could get away with the most obscure and perso
Steven Godin
Nov 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry, favourites, france
Illuminations remains one of the most compelling, influential and groundbreaking works of literature I've ever encountered. And yes, I am also staggered that this was written by somebody so young.
Concise and expansive, fluid and intricate, imaginative and original, immense, kaleidoscopic, soaring into heights that not many others are able to reach.

What more can one add that hasn't been said already? This really is the real deal. Bravo!
Dec 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
The clouds gathered over the open sea which was formed of an eternity of warm tears.

There was obviously a time when Rimbaud was an aspiration, an impoverished goal, one brocaded with the lice with which one can toss upon the clergy. Allah, of course, had other plans. I did read a number of fawning books and I maintained the posture for a while. That is a but a memory. Steeped--perhaps--in patchouli and cigar smoke.

It was thus strange to return to the poet after a few decades. I was encouraged ea
Jon Nakapalau
Oct 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, poetry
Haunting and surreal - resonates in the hollowness we all try to fill.
Jul 08, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry
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
Aug 02, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 22, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry, translated
Either Rimbaud is a bit like a popular brand of salty yeast extract or I have no poetic sensibility at all. Oh well.
Jun 03, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
I doubt my own worthiness to review such sublime material. Although I usually avoid deifying literature, what Rimbaud does here is not the stuff of mortals. He truly is the only one capable of the savage slideshow he presents here as illuminations. Sheer brilliance, this. It's such a shame that I do not have a working knowledge of French to read the original but Ashberry seems to have done as stellar job with the translation. Recommended reading for anyone and everyone who chooses to rise above ...more
David Lentz
Jun 20, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Roger Brunyate
The Wild Parade

I first got to know of Rimbaud's astonishing collection of prose-poems through Benjamin Britten's 1939 setting of nine fragments for soprano and string orchestra. It is a brilliant work whose wild energy and scintillating colors are the perfect response to the extraordinary imagery of Rimbaud's writing. But only a fraction of the whole. So when I came upon this beautiful bilingual edition with the original French on the left-hand pages and translations by John Ashbery on the right
Dec 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
First off, it's insane, while you're reading this, to realize this was written by a twenty year old. More if you think this was just about when he gave up on writing.

I'm not sure how far the premise holds that nearly everything in Illuminations is about drug or drink induced experiences. A lot almost certainly came from it, but reading the notes I couldn't always find agreement with that idea. In my opinion, this would take away from Rimbaud's talent instead of add to the impossible grandness o
Jan 31, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
vi macdonald
I first encountered Rimbaud in the context many do- the context of the wild seedy world that late 19th century French proto-surrealists conjured in the minds of their readers. Rimbaud is perhaps best remembered for the reeling screeching insanity of his most famous works (such as that found in The Drunken Boat and A Season In Hell), but I honestly think that much as he's one of the most beloved and influential poets of his era, he's never been given the credit he truly deserves.

John Ashbery capt
Clara Lamarca
Jun 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
I don't know what Rimbaud smoked when he wrote this but it must have been a good brand. I'm not sure I understood half of what he wrote. Seriously. It's something written by someone who had too much to drink. I'm not even sure I like it. I have to think about it, because I thought it was beautiful at times, even magnificent, but quite naive, also quite juvenile.


Je ne sais pas ce qu'Arthur avait fumé quand il a écrit ça mais ça devait être de la bonne ! Je n'ai pas compris la moitié de ce qu'il
Jun 28, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Michael Steger
Oct 15, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Maria Carmo
It is not that the book is not well written: the words flow like lava and burn everything in their way... It is the images those words form, that is not appealing in my case... The vision portrayed by the author is far too psychedelic for my taste... Reading these Illuminations, one has the feeling of an openness directly into a sort of unknown chaos: all language becomes little more than a tool through which the author informs his readers about his inner hell...
Beautiful as some sentences are,
Oct 02, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, poetry
In the wood there is a bird, his song stops you and makes you blush.
There is a clock that doesn't strike.
There is a pit with a nest of white creatures.
There is a cathedral that sinks and a lake that rises.
There is a little carriage abandoned in the thicket, or that hurtles down the path, trimmed with ribbons.
There is a troop of child actors in costume, seen on the highway through the edge of the forest.
Finally, when you are hungry or thirsty, there is someone who chases you away.
Khashayar Mohammadi
Nov 25, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: poetry, french-lit, lgbtq
This book was harshly disappointing. I hardly found a single page worth re-reading or reminiscing about. The style was dynamic and sharp, but on the whole, I felt the content can be best described as "Sophomoric".
Frankly, I do not know why I still bother with poetry. It is not, and apparently never will be a favourable genre of mine. Unjust rating, perhaps; but this very much resembles plain text to me.
Mar 19, 2018 added it
Shelves: from-my-loulou

On the slope of the knoll angels whirl their woolen robes in pastures of emerald and steel.

Meadows of flame leap up to the summit of the little hill. At the left, the mold of the ridge is trampled by all the homicides and all the battles, and all the disastrous noises describe their curve. Behind the right-hand ridge, the line of orients and of progress.

And while the band above the picture is composed of the revolving and rushing hum of seashells and of human nights,

The flowering sweetness
Brandon Haukoos-Tischer
Jun 11, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Brandon by: The Dadaists
Shelves: reread-ing, available
'Ô journées enfantes! Le corps un trésor à prodiguer.' -Saint Arthur, 'Jeunesse'

Haven't peeked the Ashbery translation yet. Hopefully such an act will be pursued before the desolation of this idyll comedy I call 'life.'
First read: Summer 2015
Re-read: 12 Jan 2017
Re-re-read: eternity
Aug 12, 2014 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Sad, sad, sad. Ashbery is a magnificent poet in his own right, but has wholly butchered this translation of Rimbaud. With the French-and-English bitext herein, it is easy to see that J.A. is lacking in his knowledge of the French language. Everything is denoted far too literally, with Rimbaud's sentence structures adopting the grammatical stylings of an automatically-translated French-to-English text.

Kinder reviewers than I have rendered this edition as "meticulously faithful [...] Ashbery’s ap
Apr 18, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry, 2010
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
Ed Smiley
Jul 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
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
Feb 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry, favorites
My first foray into Rimbaud's poetry. I've been picking at this, delving in and out for almost a month now. I find it hard to properly review poetry, or at least to designate it with a sterile star rating. However, in this collection Rimbaud paints some beautiful pictures. All before the age of 21 too. I need to go through this again.
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French poet and adventurer, who stopped writing verse at the age of 19, and who 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. R ...more

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