French Book Week: From ILLUMINATIONS by Arthur Rimbaud, translated by John Ashberry


Enough seen. The vision has been encountered in all skies.

Enough had. Sounds of cities, in the evening, and in sunlight, and always.

Enough known. The stations of life.—O Sounds and Visions!

Departure amid new noise and affection!


Assez vu. La vision s’est rencontrée à tous les airs.

Assez eu. Rumeurs des villes, le soir, et au soleil, et toujours.

Assez connu. Les arrêts de la vie.—O Rumeurs et Visi ons!

Départ dans l’affection et le bruit neufs!


Crystal-gray skies. A bizarre pattern of bridges, some of them straight, others convex, still others descending or veering off at angles to the first ones, and these shapes multiplying in the other illuminated circuits of the canal, but all of them so long and delicate that the riverbanks burdened with domes fall away and diminish. Some of these bridges are still lined with hovels. Others support masts, signals, frail parapets. Minor chords meet and leave each other, ropes climb up from the banks. One can make out a red jacket, perhaps other costumes and musical instruments. Are these popular tunes, fragments of concerts offered by the aristocracy, snatches of public hymns? The water is gray and blue, wide as an arm of the sea.—A white ray, falling from the top of the sky, wipes out this bit of theatricality.


Des ciels gris de cristal. Un bizarre dessin de ponts, ceuxci droits, ceux-là bombés, d’autres descendant ou obliquant en angles sur les premiers, et ces figures se renouvelant dans les autres circuits éclairés du canal, mais tous tellement longs et légers que les rives chargées de dômes s’abaissent et s’amoindrissent. Quelques-uns de ces ponts sont encore chargés de masures. D’autres soutiennent des mâts, des signaux, de frêles parapets. Des accords min eurs se croisent, et filent, des cordes montent des berges. On distingue une veste rouge, peut-être d’autres costumes et des instruments de musique. Sont-ce des airs populaires, des bouts de concerts seigneuriaux, des restants d’hymnes publics? L’eau est grise et bleue, large comme un bras de mer.—Un rayon blanc, tombant du haut du ciel, anéantit cette comédie.

By Arthur Rimbaud

Translated by John Ashberry

From Illuminations, published by Carcanet, 2018.

Thank you to Carcanet for allowing us to publish these extracts.

Arthur Rimbaud (1854–1891) is one of France’s most controversial and influential poets, though he gave up his career at a young age. He spent the first part of his life in Charleville before moving to Paris in 1871 at the invitation of Paul Verlaine, who became his lover. After abandoning poetry at the age of twenty one Rimbaud travelled widely, eventually settling in Aden in the Yemen. Ill health forced a return to France in 1891; the same year he died in Marseilles, aged thirty seven.

 John Ashbery was born in Rochester, New York, in 1927. The winner of many prizes and awards both nationally and internationally, including the Griffin and Pulitzer Prizes, in 2011 he received the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters from the National Book Foundation, and in 2012 he received a National Humanities Medal, presented by President Obama at the White House. He lived in New York until his death, aged ninety, in 2017.

Category: TranslationsFrench Book Week


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