(Charleville, 13 May 1871)
You are a teacher again. You have told me we owe a duty to Society. You belong to the teaching body: you move along in the right track. I also follow the principle: cynically I am having myself kept. I dig up old imbeciles from school: I serve them with whatever I can invent that is stupid, filthy, mean in acts and words. They pay me in beer and liquor. . — My duty is to Society, that is true–and I am right. — You too are right, for now. In reality, all you see in your principle is subjective poetry: your obstinacy in reaching the university through–excuse me–proves this. But you will always end up a self-satisfied man who has done nothing because he wanted to do nothing. Not to mention that your subjective poetry will always be horribly insipid. One day, I hope–many others hope the same thing–I will see objective poetry according to your principle, I will see it more sincerely than you would! I will be a worker: this idea holds me back when mad anger drives me toward the battle of Paris–where so many workers are dying as I write to you! Work now?–never, never, I am on strike.
Now, I am degrading myself as much as possible. Why? I want to be a poet, and I am working to make myself a seer: you will not understand this, and I don’t know how to explain it to you. It is a questioning of reaching the unknown by the derangement of all the senses. The sufferings are enormous, but one has to be strong, one has to be born a poet, and I know I am a poet. This is not at all my fault. It is wrong to say: I think. One ought to say: people think me. Pardon the pun.
I is someone else. It is too bad for the wood which finds itself a violin and scorn for the heedless who argue over what they are totally ignorant of!
You are not a teacher for me. I give you this: is it satire, as you would say? Is it poetry? Is it fantasy, always. — But I beg you, do not underline it with your pencil or too much with your thought:
Letters of the Seer; From Arthur Rimbaud to Paul Demeny.
(Charleville, 15 mai 1871)
‘Romanticism has never been properly judged. Who could judge it? The Critics! The Romantics! Who prove so clearly that the singer is so seldom the work, that’s to say the idea sung and intended by the singer.
For I is another. If the brass wakes the trumpet, it’s not its fault. That’s obvious to me: I witness the unfolding of my own thought: I watch it, I hear it: I make a stroke with the bow: the symphony begins in the depths, or springs with a bound onto the stage.
If the old imbeciles hadn’t discovered only the false significance of Self, we wouldn’t have to now sweep away those millions of skeletons which have been piling up the products of their one-eyed intellect since time immemorial, and claiming themselves to be their authors!
In Greece, as I say, verse and lyre took rhythm from Action. Afterwards, music and rhyme are a game, a pastime. The study of the past charms the curious: many of them delight in reviving these antiquities: – that’s up to them. The universal intelligence has always thrown out its ideas naturally: men gathered a part of these fruits of the mind: they acted them out, they wrote books by means of them: so it progressed, men not working on themselves, either not being awake, or not yet in the fullness of the great dream. Civil-servants – writers: author; creator, poet: that man has never existed!
The first study for the man that wants to be a poet is true complete knowledge of himself: he looks for his soul; examines it, tests it, learns it. As soon as he knows it, he must develop it! That seems simple: a natural development takes place in every brain: so many egoists proclaim themselves authors: there are plenty of others who attribute their intellectual progress to themselves! – But the soul must be made monstrous: after the fashion of the comprachicos, yes! Imagine a man planting and cultivating warts on his face.
I say one must be a seer, make oneself a seer.
The Poet makes himself a seer by a long, rational and immense disordering of all the senses. All forms of love, suffering, madness: he searches himself; he consumes all the poisons in himself, to keep only their quintessence. Unspeakable torture, where he needs all his faith, every superhuman strength, during which he becomes the great patient, the great criminal, the great accursed – and the supreme Knower, among men! – Because he arrives at the unknown! Because he has cultivated his soul, already rich, more than others! He arrives at the unknown, and when, maddened, he ends up by losing the knowledge of his visions: he has still seen them! Let him die charging among those unutterable, unnameable things: other fearful workers will come: they’ll start from the horizons where the first have fallen! ...............
I’ll go on:
So the poet is truly the thief of fire, then.
He is responsible for humanity, even for the animals: he must make his inventions smelt, felt, heard: if what he brings back from down there has form, he grants form: if it’s formless he grants formlessness. To find a language – for that matter, all words being ideas, the age of a universal language will come! It is necessary to be an academic – deader than a fossil – to perfect a dictionary of any language at all. The weak-minded thinking about the first letter of the alphabet would soon rush into madness!
This language will be of the soul for the soul, containing everything, scents, sounds, colours, thought attaching to thought and pulling. The poet would define the quantity of the unknown, awakening in the universal soul in his time: he would give more than the formulation of his thought, the measurement of his march towards progress! An enormity become the norm, absorbed by all, he would truly be an enhancer of progress!
This future will be materialistic, you see. – Always filled with Number and Harmony, these poems will be made to last. – At heart, it will be a little like Greek poetry again.
Eternal art will have its function, since poets are citizens. Poetry will no longer take its rhythm from action: it will be ahead of it!
These poets will exist! When woman’s endless servitude is broken, when she lives for and through herself, when man – previously abominable – has granted her freedom, she too will be a poet! Women will discover the unknown! Will her world of ideas differ from ours? – She will discover strange things, unfathomable; repulsive, delicious: we will take them to us, we will understand them.
Meanwhile, let us demand new things from the poets - ideas and forms. All the clever ones will think they can easily satisfy this demand: that’s not so! ....