The forest flight confirms the independence of the anarch, who is basically a forest fleer anywhere, any time, whether in the thicket, in the metropolis, whether inside or outside society.
One must distinguish not only between the forest fleer and the partisan but also between the anarch and the criminal; the difference lies in the relationship to the law. The partisan wants to change the law, the criminal break it; the anarch wants neither. He is not for or against the law. While not acknowledging the law, he does try to recognize it like the laws of nature, and he adjusts accordingly.
When it is hot, you doff your hat; in the rain, you open your umbrella; during an earthquake, you leave your house. Law and custom are becoming the subjects of a new field of learning. The anarch endeavors to judge them ethnographically, historically, and also – I will probably come back to this – morally. The State will be generally satisfied with him; it will scarcely notice him.
In this respect he bears a certain resemblance to the criminal – say, the master spy – whose gifts are concealed behind a run-of-the-mill occupation.
I assume that in great men whose names I dare not mention, the anarchic element was very powerful. You see, when fundamental changes are to occur in law, custom, and society, they presuppose a great distancing from established principles. And the anarch, should he take any action, is capable of working this lever….
The forest fleer and the partisan are not, as I have said, to be confused with each other; the partisan fights in society, the forest fleer alone. Nor, on the other hand, is the forest fleer to be confused with the anarch, although the two of them grow very similar for a while and are barely to be distinguished in existential terms.
The difference is that the forest fleer has been expelled from society, while the anarch has expelled society from himself. He is and remains his own master in all circumstances. When he decides to flee to the forest, his decision is less an issue of justice and conscience for him than a traffic accident. He changes camouflage; of course, his alien status is more obvious in the forest flight, thereby making it the weaker form, though perhaps indispensable.
The forest flight or ‘Waldgang’ – Ernst Jünger
When all institutions have become dubious or even infamous, when you hear
prayers being offered not for the persecuted but for the persecutors, then the
ethical responsibility shifts to the individual, or rather to the individual who
is still unbroken, the wanderer in the forest (Waldgänger).
– Ernst Jünger
Marin Marais, Works for Viola da Gamba,
Sophie-Watillon, Xavier Díaz-Latorre, Luca Guglielmi, Evangelina Mascardi
Before he retired in 1725 as he approached his 70th year, Marin Marais had published close to 600 pieces of viol music in his five books. He also wrote operas, and volumes of pieces for other instruments.
Sophie Watillon is the star here. She plays with less intensity, perhaps, than does Jordi Savall, and certainly with less vibrato. Yet, her tone is rich and engaging, and her playing is less mannered than that of Savall..
So I’m seated upon my comfortable sofa in my cosy familiar room, in the silence of the small hours, fed and secure and well, perched upon this mountainside, this mountain that once was a volcano, many millennia ago, so the geological story says…
And my laptop tells me all these wonderful things, this magic gadget, that is a library and a cinema and record player and a typewriter and a post office and more, truly a marvel…
And this appears…
Time and again he catalogs the miseries of rain, mud, cold, lice, boredom, shabby quarters, meagre rations, interrupted sleep, and sheer exhaustion. And above all there is the ubiquitous presence of corpses: the soft feel of bodies beneath one’s feet; the unmistakable smell of decomposing flesh, particularly unwelcome at mealtime; the sight and sound of maggots; bodies bloated and covered in flies; the discovery of corpses — or, more often, a mélange of their component parts — while digging in; and the relentless effects of artillery, disturbing and dismembering bodies long dead like a plow turning and breaking the soil. (“Not even the dead,” Jünger dryly notes, “are permitted to rest in peace.”) Death, when it comes, strikes randomly and from points unknown.
It’s two a.m., the dog is in the porch, the front door is open, the night is mild. A roosting magpie cackles, that’ll be the moving shadow of a fox on the lane, the Moon is strong, the dog growls. Tawny owls hunting, foxes hunting, badgers foraging. There is death in the night out there, for small trembling things, but this landscape, bare hills, is reduced and ravaged by the humans, the bears, wolves, and eagles exterminated long ago.
And for me, of course. My own ending. The Last Dance.
Same blog states :
Ernst Jünger (1895-1998) was one of the most significant writers and thinkers of 20th-century Europe, and is one of the most controversial. He became famous with the publication in 1920 of In Stahlgewittern [Storm of Steel], an account of his experiences in the trenches in the First World War. In the following eight decades, Jünger published more than fifty works, including diaries, novels, stories and essays. His novella Auf den Marmorklippen [On the Marble Cliffs, 1939] is a thinly veiled critique of the Nazi regime. Tributes by writers of international stature (including Jorge Luis Borges, Bruce Chatwin, and Heiner Müller), as well as visits from European heads of state and government (such as François Mitterrand, Roman Herzog, Helmut Kohl, and Felipe González) have helped secure Jünger a prominent place in intellectual debates across Europe. In recent years, Jünger is emerging as a hidden ancestor of contemporary theoretical and societal discussions.
So he’s an interesting man, and I’d heard of him before because of his connection to LSD and Albert Hoffman, and he seemed to me to be an eccentric right wing anarchist whose books were not translated into English, so his ideas had not been easily accessible at the time. And a long life !
“I work only three or four hours a day,” says the 102-year old Ernst Jünger.
I have not read his books, only what I can quickly glean for free on the internet.
His novel Eumswil is here
Bruce Chatwin visited Jünger in the mid-1970s. He wrote in The New York Review of Books that In Stahlgewittern “is quite unlike anything of its time – none of the pastoral musings of Siegfried Sassoon or Edmund Blunden, no whiffs of cowardice as in Hemingway, none of the masochism of T. E. Lawrence, or the compassion of Remarque”
That article is not accessible to me, unfortunately.
Perhaps the most interesting, and definitely the most threatening type of writer, is the one who not only defies conventional categorizations of thought but also offers a deeply penetrating critique of those illusions many hold to be the most sacred.
So, the man had a very long, eventful, interesting life, running away from school aged 17 to join the French Foreign Legion without telling his family, writing many books, refusing to become a Nazi even though he knew Hitler very well, refusing to sign a document declaring to the Allies that he wasn’t a Nazi, purely as a matter of principle, which meant he was forbidden to write. And so on. A fascinating fellow with strong views which developed as the 20th century unfolded.
After leaving the army in 1923, Jünger began to study the philosophy of Oswald Spengler. His first work as a philosopher of nationalism appeared in the Nazi paper Völkischer Beobachter in September of 1923. Critiquing the failed Marxist revolution of 1918, Jünger argued that the leftist coup failed because of its lack of fresh ideas. It was simply a regurgitation of the egalitarian outlook of the French Revolution. The revolutionary left appealed only to the material wants of the Germany people in Jünger’s views. A successful revolution would have to be much more than that. It would have to appeal to their spiritual or “folkish” instincts as well.
Over the next few years Jünger studied the natural sciences at the University of Leipzig and in 1925, at age 30, he married 19-year-old Gretha von Jeinsen. Around this time, he also became a full-time political writer. Jünger was hostile to Weimar democracy and its commercial bourgeois society. His emerging political ideal was one of an elite warrior caste that stood above petty partisan politics and the middle class obsession with material acquisition. Jünger became involved with the Stahlhelm, a right-wing veterans group, and was a contributor to its paper, Die Standardite. He associated himself with the younger, more militant members of the organization who favored an uncompromised nationalist revolution and eschewed the parliamentary system. Jünger’s weekly column in Die Standardite disseminated his nationalist ideology to his less educated readers.
In an essay for Die Standardite titled “The Machine,” Jünger argued that the principal struggle was not between social classes or political parties but between man and technology. He was not anti-technological in a Luddite sense, but regarded the technological apparatus of modernity to have achieved a position of superiority over mankind, which needed to be reversed. He was concerned that the mechanized efficiency of modern life produced a corrosive effect on the human spirit. Jünger considered the Nazis’ glorification of peasant life to be antiquated. Instead, Jünger espoused a “metropolitan nationalism” centered on the urban working class. Nationalism was the antidote to the anti-particularistic materialism of the Marxists who, in Jünger’s views, simply mirrored the liberals in their efforts to reduce the individual to a component of a mechanized mass society. The humanitarian rhetoric of the left Jünger dismissed as the hypocritical cant of power-seekers feigning benevolence. He began to pin his hopes for a nationalist revolution on the younger veterans who comprised much of the urban working class.
In 1926, Jünger became editor of Arminius, which also featured the writings of Nazi leaders like Alfred Rosenberg and Joseph Goebbels. In 1927, he contributed his final article to the Nazi paper, calling for a new definition of the “worker”, one not rooted in Marxist ideology but the idea of the worker as a civilian counterpart to the soldier who struggles fervently for the nationalist ideal. Jünger and Hitler had exchanged copies of their respective writings and a scheduled meeting between the two was canceled due to a change in Hitler’s itinerary. Jünger respected Hitler’s abilities as an orator, but came to feel he lacked the ability to become a true leader. He also found Nazi ideology to be intellectually shallow, many of the Nazi movement’s leaders to be talentless and was displeased by the vulgarity, crassly opportunistic and overly theatrical aspects of Nazi public rallies. Always an elitist, Jünger considered the Nazis’ pandering the common people to be debased. As he became more skeptical of the Nazis, Jünger began writing for a wider circle of readers beyond that of the militant nationalist right-wing. His works began to appear in the Jewish liberal Leopold Schwarzchild’s Das Tagebuch and the “national-Bolshevik” Ernst Niekisch’s Widerstand.
Jünger began to assemble around himself an elite corps of bohemian, eccentric intellectuals who would meet regularly on Friday evenings. This group included some of the most interesting personalities of the Weimar period. Among them were the Freikorps veteran Ernst von Salomon, Otto von Strasser, who with his brother Gregor led a leftist anti-Hitler faction of the Nazi movement, the national-Bolshevik Niekisch, the Jewish anarchist Erich Muhsam who had figured prominently in the early phase of the failed leftist revolution of 1918, the American writer Thomas Wolfe and the expressionist writer Arnolt Bronnen. Occasionally, Joseph Goebbels would turn up at these meetings hoping to convert the group, particularly Jünger himself, whose war writings he had admired, to the Nazi cause. These efforts by the Nazi propaganda master proved unsuccessful. Jünger regarded Goebbels as a shallow ideologue who spoke in platitudes even in private conversation.
The final break between Ernst Jünger and the NSDAP occurred in September 1929. Jünger published an article in Schwarzchild’s Tagebuch attacking and ridiculing the Nazis as sellouts for having reinvented themselves as a parliamentary party. He also dismissed their racism and anti-Semitism as ridiculous, stating that according to the Nazis, a nationalist is simply someone who “eats three Jews for breakfast.” He condemned the Nazis for pandering to the liberal middle class and reactionary traditional conservatives “with lengthy tirades against the decline in morals, against abortion, strikes, lockouts, and the reduction of police and military forces.”
I came away with a sense of having confronted an enigma. Here was a gifted writer who claimed to aim at the classical simplicity and clarity of the best of French writing and could yet produce passages steeped in cloudy romanticism; a man who had detailed expert scientific knowledge about insects, fish, snakes, flora, alongside a marked interest in the mystical. He found it significant, he said, that his elder son, killed in Italy, had fallen in fighting round the marble cliffs of Carrara.
When I came to read his diaries of the war years dealing with the time he spent in Paris, in a city and culture he loved, I was struck once more by his fastidiousness, his constant search for the strange, the rare, the exquisite – whether it was a print bought from a book stall by the Seine, a flower bought for a cultured Frenchwoman, an encounter among the intellectuals of Paris with fine minds and fine tastes and dubious politics. There is in his description of these times a kind of dandyism. He is in Baudelaire’s sense of the word a flâneur who aestheticises horror whether they be the bombs falling on the outskirts of Paris or the description of the execution of a young German deserter. In such set pieces – the latter is an astonishing piece of writing – there is something fascinating and repulsive that can only be described as snake-like.
Yet at the same time he was engaged on the dangerous business of collecting and storing in a safe place what he called (using Goya’s word) caprichos: evidence of the horrors perpetrated by the Nazis. His was an anti-Nazism that sprang from aristocratic fastidiousness; which is in itself paradoxical for he is no aristocrat but the son of an apothecary with a shop in Hanover who embraced the codes of honour of a military caste while asserting that he was un homme de lettres.
Jünger came up with his concept of the Anarch, which is different to an anarchist.
The Anarch is a free, autonomous individual living within soceity, whilst his true nature is disguised, concealed within, as it were. He becomes transformed into a Waldgänger when he is uncovered as a spiritual outsider and forced to flee society to preserve this autonomy.
He does not ‘become’ a Waldgänger but rather this was always the true core of his humanity, at the deepest level of being, his untamed nature.
(A Waldgänger, Forest-goer, Forest-walker, some translations give Forest Fleer, as in a place to seek refuge, sanctuary, Jünger says somewhere that he gets the concept from old Iceland where the term refers to a social outcast, but it’s Germanic not Scandinavian, I think. The Indo European root that gives wald as forest must have been once the Saxon Wold and Weald of England, but you feel the hint, the trace, of the deforestation, because those Cotswolds and Yorks wolds are wolds meaning bare hills.)
So this would appear to be the same, or somewhat similar to, the conclusion that I arrived at independently in the piece I wrote for The Dark Mountain, some years back, see the concluding lines here.
The Wald is a metaphysical Forest, a spiritual freedom and wildness, that theAnarch/Waldgänger discovers within themselves, however, if existential difficulties require it, the anarch is forced to flee to the literal forest. The Waldgänger is also a psychonaut, (the term ‘psychonaut’ was coined by Jünger in his book Annäherungen [Approaches] 1970.) visiting the boundaries, trying and testing the extremities, to enhance awareness and explore the possibilities of the periphery, the beyond.
In 1944 his Jünger’s son Ernst was sent to a punishment battalion for subversive conversations in his unit. It was told that young Ernst said his fellow soldiers “If we win, we’ll have to hang Kniebolo” (it is said that Jünger described Hitler under this codename as a combination of words “knien” (kneel) and “Diablo” in his French diaries). Young Ernst was killed near Marble cliffs of Carrara in Italy on 29 November.
“On the Marble Cliffs” is often viewed as an allegory of Nazi regime; however, in the same notes to the novel Jünger wrote that it became clear even in the occupied France that this was the “shoe that fits various feet.” In later interviews he repeated that such allegories might be viewed as exposition of Stalin’s regime. As a matter of fact, in the notes Jünger expressed his discontent regarding the very political interpretation of the novel which definitely goes beyond the current and the episodic in human life.
Moreover, Jünger pointed out at his growing allergy on the word “resistance,” because the main thing is to stay true to oneself, not opposition or collaboration with the regime (this idea will be developed in his futuristic novel “Eumeswil” (1977), where he discusses Anarch’s relation to power and law in particular). Jünger reminded of the fact that man should be able to show his guts (reveal his will physically, spiritually and morally) anytime, especially when there is danger, and this is what the most important.
“Over the dark door on the gable end a skull was nailed fast, showing its teeth and seeming to invite entry with its grin. Like a jewel in its chain, it was the central link of a narrow gable frieze which appeared to be formed of brown spiders. Suddenly we guessed that it was fashioned of human hands…”
In order to avoid confusion, let us at once assert in Jünger’s terms that although concept of the Anarch depends on Stirner’s thought, the Anarch is to the anarchist, what the monarch is to the monarchist. Moreover, Anarchs’ state is the state that all Anarchs carry within themselves. The difference is that the monarch desires to rule many or even all people, whereas the Anarch wants to rule only himself. Besides, on the contrary to anarchist, the Anarch is capable of leading a lonesome existence. Unlike the anarchist, the Anarch sees little difference between regimes and will not fight against the system….
Ernst Jünger’s The Forest Passage explores the possibility of resistance: how the independent thinker can withstand and oppose the power of the omnipresent state. No matter how extensive the technologies of surveillance become, the forest can shelter the rebel, and the rebel can strike back against tyranny. Jünger’s manifesto is a defense of freedom against the pressure to conform to political manipulation and artificial consensus. A response to the European experience under Nazism, Fascism, and Communism, The Forest Passage has lessons equally relevant for today, wherever an imposed uniformity threatens to stifle liberty.
Albert Hoffman describes the drug trip experiences he shared with Jünger in his book,
LSD – My Problem Child.
Chapter 7, Radiance from Ernst Jünger
As usual, a half hour or a little more passed in silence. Then came the first signs: the flowers on the table began to flare up and sent out flashes. It was time for leaving work; outside the streets were being cleaned, like on every weekend. The brush strokes invaded the silence painfully. This shuffling and brushing, now and again also a scraping, pounding, rumbling, and hammering, has random causes and is also symptomatic, like one of the signs that announces an illness. Again and again it also plays a role in the history of magic practices.
By this time the mushroom began to act; the spring bouquet glowed darker. That was no natural light. The shadows stirred in the corners, as if they sought form. I became uneasy, even chilled, despite the heat that emanated from the tiles. I stretched myself on the sofa, drew the covers over my head.
Everything became skin and was touched, even the retina-there the contact was light. This light was multicolored; it arranged itself in strings, which gently swung back and forth; in strings of glass beads of oriental doorways. They formed doors, like those one passes through in a dream, curtains of lust and danger. The wind stirred them like a garment. They also fell down from the belts of dancers, opened and closed themselves with the swing of the hips, and from the beads a rippling of the most delicate sounds fluttered to the heightened senses. The chime of the silver rings on the ankles and wrists is already too loud. It smells of sweat, blood, tobacco, chopped horse hairs, cheap rose essence. Who knows what is going on in the stables?
In our situation it is our duty to reckon with catastrophe, to sleep with it, so
to speak, so that we shall not be caught unaware. Only in this manner can we
acquire a reserve of security which will enable us to act reasonably. In a state
of complete security our thought merely plays with the possibility of
catastrophe. We include it in our plans as an improbable eventuality, and we
protect ourselves with minimal precautions. In our days the reverse must be
the case. We must spend almost our entire capital on the possibility of
catastrophe precisely in order to keep open the middle road that has become
as narrow as the edge of a knife.
But we are concerned here with the threat to which the individual is exposed, and with his fear, not with politics or political ideas. Fundamentally the individual is only interested in his profession, in his family, and in the pursuit of his inclinations, but, sooner or later, the age intrudes upon him. Either conditions gradually deteriorate or he is exposed to extremes.
Expropriation, compulsory labor, and worse appear on his horizon. Before long, he will realize that neutrality would be tantamount to suicide – you must either howl with the wolves or fight them. Where in his distress can he find a third solution which leaves him some freedom from the dynamics of the events? Only in his existence as an individual, in his own being which remains unshaken.
The great experience of the forest consists of the encounter with the Ego, with the self, with the inviolate core and essence that sustains the temporal and individual appearance. This encounter, so decisive for the conquest of health and for the victory over fear, is also supreme in its moral value. It leads to the primal basis of all social intercourse, to the man whose example defines individuality. In this sphere we will encounter not only community but also identity. This is the symbolic meaning of the embrace: the Ego recognizes itself in the other human being in the saying, ”This is you.” The other can be the beloved, the sufferer, or the helpless victim. In giving help, the Ego helps its own immortal essence and confirms the basic ethical order of the universe.
As far as its location is concerned, the forest is everywhere. It is in the wasteland and in the cities, wherever the follower of the forest way lives in hiding or concealed beneath the mask of his profession. The forest is in the desert and in the bush. The forest is in the fatherland and in any other country where resistance can be offered. Above all, the forest is behind the enemy’s own lines. The follower of the forest way is not in thrall to that optical illusion which sees the attacker as an enemy of the nation. He knows his predicament, the hiding-places of the oppressed, the minorities waiting
for their moment. He wages guerrilla warfare along railway tracks and supply routes; he threatens bridges, power-lines, and depots. His activities force the dispersal of troops and the strengthening of guards. The follower of the forest way is responsible for reconnaissance, for sabotage, for spreading news among the population. He makes his way into impassable terrain and becomes anonymous, so as to reappear when the enemy shows signs of weakness. He spreads constant unrest and causes nocturnal panics. He can even paralyse armies, as happened to Napoleon’s forces in Spain. The follower of the forest way does not have extensive means of combat at his disposal. However, he knows how weapons that cost millions can be destroyed through bold actions. He knows their tactical weaknesses, their defects, their destructibility. He also has greater freedom in choice of location than soldiers do, and will attack where limited means can cause great damage: in bottlenecks, in arteries leading through difficult terrain, and in places far removed from military bases. Each advance reaches the most exposed of positions where men and equipment become precious because they have to be transported over huge distances. For every combatant there are a hundred more linked up in the supply line. And this one combatant encounters the follower of the forest way. Here we return again to our ratio. The world situation favours following the forest way. It creates equilibria which call forth free actions. In the global civil war, every attack must expect difficulties in his own hinterland. And every new area that falls to him enlarges this hinterland. At the same time he has to intensify his methods, which leads to an avalanche of reprisals. His opponent makes this undermining, and the encouragement of it, his first priority. This means that even if he can’t expect the direct support of a world power, the follower of the forest way can reckon with weapons and supplies. He is not, however, a follower of political parties. Following the forest way conceals a new principle of defence. This can be practised whether armies exist or not. In all countries, particularly in smallones, people will recognise that its preparation is indispensable.
Large-scale weapons can be produced and possessed by only super-states. The forest way can be followed by the smallest minority, even by the individual. This is the answer freedom has to give. And it has the last word. Following the forest way is linked more closely to freedom than any armaments; in it resides the original will to resist. That is why only volunteers are suited to it. They will defend themselves in all circumstances regardless of whether or not the state prepares, arms, or calls on them. They therefore provide an existential demonstration of their freedom. The state which lacks this kind of consciousness will decline into being a mere satellite. Freedom is the big issue today. It is the power that masters fear. It is the main concern of the free human being; not just freedom itself, but also the way in which it can effectively be represented and made visible in resistance. We do not want to go into details.
Extracts from Der Waldgang, The Retreat into the Forest, 1954.
So, as I understand it, Jünger’s position is a way for the individual to sustain, maintain, their own personal integrity and self-respect. They can do this either whilst operating within the larger soceity within which they are embedded, in which case they are, as it were, in disguise, something like a master spy, undercover, and the Forest then is internal, symbolic, metaphorical, metaphysical.
Or, if conditions are so dire that they demand it, the individual may flee to the actual physical forest and find a way to live outside soceity. But as he says in one of his video interviews on Youtube, there is very little actual real forest remaining, and confronting the violence of the State directly head on amounts, more or less, to a recipe for suicide.
Reading how his views changed, from his earliest days prior to WW1, then all the way through the decades as Hitler rose to power and then through WW2, he had an amazing opportunity to learn the limitations of what any individual can accomplish, when faced with the mass of humanity and social and political upheaval.
It’s interesting to consider Lierre Keith’s fundamental division between Liberals and Radicals, where she distinguishes between those who emphasise individualism and those who emphasise groups. Prior to WW2, Jünger obviously had some confidence that sectors of the soceity, e.g. workers, could be motivated to act in unison toward political aims, but after WW2, as we see from his developing idea of the anarch, he seems to me to have abandoned any hope in that direction.
Deep Green Resistance – Liberal vs Radical Part 1 of 3
Anyway, on a different, rather surprising tack, I discover that Jünger stated in an interview that Rimbaud’s “The Drunken Boat” transformed his life “from top to bottom.”
Although I have visited Rimbaud’s verse in my long-lost mis-spent youth, I had forgotten all, and now re-read, and it is the voice of the BOAT that tells the tale. How wonderful that is !
The voice is that of the drunken boat itself. The boat tells of becoming filled with water, thus “drunk.”
Sinking through the sea, the boat describes a journey of varied experience that includes sights of the purest and most transcendent (l’éveil jaune et bleu des phosphores chanteurs, “the blue and yellow awakening of singing phosphorescence”) and at the same time of the most repellent (nasses / Où pourrit dans les joncs tout un Léviathan, “nets where a whole Leviathan was rotting”).
The marriage of exaltation and debasement, the synesthesia, and the mounting astonishment make this hundred-line poem the fulfillment of Rimbaud’s youthful poetic theory that the poet becomes a seer, a vatic being, through the disordering of the senses. To these attractions are added alexandrines of immediate aural appeal: Fermentent les rousseurs amères de l’amour! (“fermenting the bitter blushes of love”).
The boat’s (and reader’s) mounting astonishment reaches its high point in lines 88-89: Est-ce en ces nuits sans fonds que tu dors et t’exiles / Million d’oiseaux d’or, ô future Vigueur? (“Is it in these bottomless nights that you sleep and exile yourself / a million golden birds, oh future Strength? )
Afterwards the vision is lost and the spell breaks. The speaker, still a boat, wishes for death (Ô que ma quille éclate! Ô que j’aille à la mer! “O that my keel would break! O that I would go to the sea!” ). The grandiose aspirations have deceived, leaving exhaustion and the sense of imprisonment.
In this way, “Le Bateau Ivre” proleptically recapitulates Rimbaud’s poetic career, which dissipated when he discovered that verse could not provide the universal understanding and harmony that it had seemed to when he was younger.
Le Bateau Ivre remains one of the gems of French poetry and of Rimbaud’s poetic output.
So here’s a scholarly summary of Rimbaud’s contribution, made in just five years of writing poetry.
It would be difficult to overestimate the influence of Arthur Rimbaud’s poetry on subsequent practitioners of the genre. His impact on the Surrealist movement has been widely acknowledged, and a host of poets, from André Breton to André Freynaud, have recognized their indebtedness to Rimbaud’s vision and technique. He was the enfant terrible of French poetry in the second half of the nineteenth century and a major figure in symbolism.
And a translation of The Drunken Boat
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 colored 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.