'"Finding the Formula": Perspectives on the One-Liner in Rimbaud's Illuminations'

Gerald Macklin

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    This paper considers Rimbaud's predilection for one-line statements in the Illuminations, particularly - but not exclusively - at the end of many of the prose poems. This proclivity is to be found passim in the earlier verse and very conspicuously in Une Saison en enfer. This brings Rimbaud into the tradition of great French writers who have expressed philisophical insights via this very technique - Pascal, La Rochefoucauld, Montherlant, Malraux. The paper begins with a sprinkling of illustrations of the one-liner in the early verse such as 'Soleil et chair', 'Roman'and 'Le Bateau ivre'. It is again seen in operation in the Derniers vers and the famous "lettres du voyant' and is everywhere present in Une Saison en enfer. The expression "Il faut être absolument moderne" in the last chapter of that collection 'Adieu' is typical of Rimbaldian sententiae and the pattern is heavily confirmed in the Illuminations. Here the one-liners can have a philosophical import; can involve self-definition; can be statements of mystery or menace; and can be structural agents in the middle of a poem. The paper considers 'Conte', 'Parade', 'Enfance', 'Vies', 'Matinée d'ivresse', 'Vagabonds' and 'Guerre' to illustrate this variety of functions of the one-liner in the collection. Maxims, moralités, slogans, threats, prophecies - all are versions of the one-liner in these prose poems.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)329-342
    JournalForum for Modern Language Studies
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - 1996


    • one-liner
    • philosophy
    • structure
    • maxim


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