'The Dialectic of "force" and "faiblesse" in Rimbaud's Illuminations

Gerald Macklin

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    The paper looks at the duality of "force" and "faiblesse" in Rimbaud's poetry with particular reference to the Illuminations. This duality is an organic element in the poetry and can be seen in imagery from the earliest verse poetry and again in the Derniers vers. Rimbaud, as seen in une Saison en enfer, is fascinated by work and action and we see strong figures like the Baker in 'Les Effarés', the Epoux infernal in 'Délires II' and the Vampire in 'Angoisse'. The child in 'Les Poètes de sept ans' is full of contained strength waiting to explode and in 'Le Bateau ivre' the drunken vessel goes on a dynamic imaginative jhourney before expending all its energies and ultimately stagnating. This is true as well of the rampaging Prince in 'Conte', a poem that illustrates Rimbaud's predilection for a pattern of impressive force followed by exhaustion. In the Illuminations we frequently find explosive finales where the elements combine is a spectacularly destructive performance ('Angoisse', 'Nocturne vulgaire', 'Barbare'). Again, in 'Génie' we have a demonstration of the power of universal love and in 'A une raison' another potent divinity is worshipped. Yet the corollary of these displays of power and focre is the sense of weakness as in 'Conte' where the Prince dies and the one-line finale expresses impotence ("La musique savante manque à notre désir"); in 'Jeunesse' where the poet talks of his own "impuissance"; and in 'Ouvriers' where "force" is lamented as an absence. The finale of 'Métropolitain' with all its colours celebrating "ta force" represents one pole of this duality while the Vampire who controls the poet in 'Angoisse' reflects the other. Richard points out how energy often explodes ascensionally in the Illuminations and the lust for force is expressed through orchestral energies in the collection as it is through colour. The poems in the Illuminations often represent an explosion of verbal and artistic power on the part of Rimbaud in an enthralling artistic performance.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)24-35
    JournalNottingham French Studies
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - Oct 1978

    Bibliographical note

    Reference text: Rimbaud, Oeuvres ed. S.Bernard, Garnier, Paris, 1960

    Baudelaire, Oeuvres complètes I, texte établi, présenté et annoté par Claude Pichois, Gallimard, Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, Paris, 1975

    J.-P.Richard Poésie et profondeur, Seuil, Paris, 1955


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