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Rimbaud’s ‘Ophélie’

Tough to not heat to Rimbaud – a poet who can rhyme “Vénus” with “anus” and who, although gay, can relish “la fille aux tétons énormes”. He may very well be forthright. However he may be superbly indirect.

Valéry’s essay “L’Existence du symbolisme” (1938) declares that the phrase “symbolism” is “already an enigma for a lot of”, that the phrase “image” is “a bottomless pit”. Valéry continues in the identical vein to disclaim a unified aesthetic programme and to insist on particular person distinction. However the symbolist poets used symbols with out promoting them as symbols able to being money-changed – X = Y. They have been hid, disguised metaphors. Mallarmé’s letters to his pal Henri Cazalis are extra useful: “peindre non la selected, mais l’effet qu’elle produit”. Paint not the factor, however the impact it produces. What does this imply? It means the precise topic is occluded, however evoked obliquely. The studying of the poem, the identification of the true topic, relies on “une série de déchiffrements” – a deciphering.

Rimbaud’s “Ophélie” is a transparent instance. The poem’s obvious parameters are the rudiments of the Ophelia story – a damaged coronary heart, insanity, drowning. “Quel rêve, ô pauvre Folle!” (“What a dream, o poor mad woman!”) This narrative virtually is sensible of the poem, however there’s something domestically elusive. And the ultimate part can’t be accommodated by the Shakespearean narrative: “ – Et le Poète dit qu’aux rayons des étoiles / Tu viens chercher, la nuit, les fleurs que tu cueillis, / Et qu’il a vu sur l’eau, couchée en ses longs voiles, / La blanche Ophélia flotter, comme un grand lys”(And the poet says that underneath the rays of the celebs / You come at evening to search for the flowers you picked, / And that he noticed on the water, mendacity in her lengthy veils, / White Ophelia floating, like an incredible lily). It isn’t in Shakespeare, this spectral return to the scene of her drowning – although her well-known flowers are. Is the poet Shakespeare, although? Or is he Rimbaud? The latter.

The issue, the rupture with the Shakespearean narrative, can be the answer. Ophelia is claimed to return at evening, “aux rayons des étoiles”. It’s a clue. Ophelia isn’t Ophelia. She is the moon mirrored within the water. Peindre non la selected [the moon] mais l’effet qu’elle produit [the superimposition of the Hamlet story].

This explains, too, the attractive and succinct picture of the Hamlet-Ophelia tragedy: “Tu te fondais à lui comme une neige au feu”. You melted to him as snow to a fireplace: how dramatic, how operatic, how eloquent and romantic that is. Evaluate Flaubert in Madame Bovary Half Two, Chapter Eleven: “Quand Rodolphe, le soir, arriva dans le jardin, il trouva sa maîtresse qui l’attendait au bas du perron, sur la première marche. Ils s’étreignirent, et toute leur rancune se fondit comme une neige sous la chaleur de ce baiser”(“When Rodolphe arrived within the backyard that evening he discovered his mistress ready for him on the foot of the steps. They put their arms about one another, and all their bitterness melted away like snowflakes within the heat of that embrace”).

However its true that means has a larger, subtler magnificence: the disappearance of the moon because the solar dawns.

The poem is like taking a look at a stereopticon, the place the 2 photographs introduced collectively are completely different however inextricable: Shakespeare’s play, in its broad traces, and the sustained fiction that the moon’s reflection is the drowned lady. It’s a unhappiness repeated to infinity: “Voici plus de mille ans que la triste Ophélie / Passe, fantôme blanc, sur le lengthy fleuve noir” (“For greater than a thousand years unhappy Ophelia / Has handed, a white phantom, down the lengthy black river”).

Clear sufficient, you could assume. However there’s a puzzling stanza. By which Ophelia awakes: “Les nénuphars froissés soupirent autour d’elle; / Elle éveille parfois, dans un aune qui dort, / Quelque nid, d’où s’échappe un petit frisson d’aile: / – Un chant mystérieux tombe des astres d’or” (The ruffled water lilies sigh round her; / At instances she awakens, in a sleeping alder, / Some nest, from which escapes a slight rustle of wings; / – A mysterious track falls from the golden stars). In Hamlet Ophelia sings earlier than she drowns, dragged down by her clothes “heavy with their drink”. In Rimbaud’s poem the moon itself, not the reflection of the moon, is seen within the branches of the alder and the songbird provides the mysterious track falling from the golden stars.

However the rationalization of Rimbaud’s traces, saturated in thriller, can’t fairly escape the unique, unexplained enigma. We’re between senses. As we’re in Shakespeare, the place, because the Gentleman experiences, Ophelia “speaks issues doubtful, / That carry however half sense: her speech is nothing, / But the unshaped use of it doth transfer / The hearers to assortment; they purpose at it, / And botch the phrases up match to their very own ideas; / Which, as her winks, and nods, and gestures yield them…”

Winks and nods: the symbolist methodology.

Craig Raine is Emeritus Fellow in English at New Faculty, Oxford. His most up-to-date e-book is My Grandmother’s Glass Eye: A take a look at poetry, 2016

The put up Rimbaud’s ‘Ophélie’ appeared first on TLS.



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