Thursday, October 20, 2011

Drunken Boat II

(Best Garrison Keillor Voice)

It's the birthday of Gaullic assfucker Jean Nicolas Arthur Rimbaud. Born somewhere in rural France, nobody really gave or gives a shit where (least of all him), he lived a life of putrid fakery until he began writing poems, at which point he realized that keeping this up would force people to forgive him everything. So he did, and they did, and the rest is history. Read his poems if you want to find out at exactly what it means to be an adolescent, because really, no one was more of one than him (hence his enduring appeal with adolescents, serial killers, and rock and roll singers). Imitate him if you want to die of leg cancer in your mother's barn.

Back when he was still writing things that looked like poems, he wrote a mini-epic called Le Bateau Ivre, which is always translated as The Drunken Boat, but which I like to call The Ship, Shitfaced. It starts like this. 

The Ship, Shitfaced

I was going down
river when suddenly I realized that everyone was dead! Redskins 
had stapled their pale faces to my boards, which were red too now. 

Then the suitors showed up: wogs with cotton 
and the butter-boxes. They 
wanted me, but I told them to fuck off: 
I had a man already. His name was River 

and he was a drunk. 
He called me kid-stuff because of the way my ass hugged
his peninsula. He lashed me so hard I screamed.

We danced all night. Ten nights straight. By 
the time we made it to sea I knew 
I wasn't his first, but you better believe 
I didn't look back for a lighthouse. 

He tasted like apples. Kid-stuff! he cried. 
It didn't matter, 
he made me clean, 
no more wine and puke. Just green green apples. 

From then on I took a bath
every morning. I was milk and stars.
Sailors the color of old fish passed
us with electric blue smiles on their faces. I waved.

Then things went red. 

...And so on and so on, for 24 unbelievable stanzas. One of modern poetry's greatest monuments. After it, nothing was the same. Of the extant translations, I've found some accurate (Fowlie), beautiful (Schmidt), or confusing (Eshlemann). Probably my favorite is by early Nabokov, who turned it into Пяный Корфбль. 

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