April 23, 1991
A Day in Paris
Copyright © 2016 by
The Moving Map Storybook Co.
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Cover Illustration Copyright © 1991 by A Day in Paris
The Moving Map Storybook Co.
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Published all over the world
First Published, 2016
Twenty-five years ago tomorrow, on April 23, 1991, on Shakespeare’s 427th birthday (and the 375th anniversary of his death) a Parisian maiden scribbled on a brick wall near a vintage park an eye’s reach from a tall tower:
“Here words writ by a young god and warrior-poet, here kernel and seed of soul not born in common hour; by such words the title of man became, and were it not for these and those like these, savage would man remain. . . .”
She was speaking for dead poet Arthur Rimbaud. Born four days after Oscar Wilde, on October 20,1854, and dead of cancer on November 10, 1891, he had, by the age of 20, given a young rebel’s assay that may yet be seen in quiet and thoughtful places. His recorded poetic genius began in response to his mother’s constrictive upbringing. After he decided to break free of her bonds, he wrote:
“The sufferings are enormous, but one must be strong, be a born poet, and I have recognized myself as a poet.”
Born a year before the first publication of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass and dead a year preceding Whitman’s completion of the Song of Himself—a poem almost 73 years in the making—Rimbaud expressed in his teen-aged person what Whitman did throughout his life: that blazing bright appreciation of life which epitomizes the poet’s fire. Beginning his sixteenth year, Rimbaud’s behavior turned riotous: he drank intoxicating beverages, spoke impolitely, produced dirty poems, robbed bookstores of their questionable literature, and did away with his tidy appearance. As his hair grew long, he turned Bohemian. If these reports are true, Rimbaud became all that is best defined by the French. Like Joan of Arc, he heard his own voices and saw his own visions, and lived by them. A little revolution now and then is necessary to progress and Rimbaud lived his own resistance, doing away with his despotic Queen. He accomplished with his poetry what all wish for but few seek to do; he made himself king of his own being.
Rimbaud’s early burn and quick flame-out was the late nineteenth century’s precursor of the rebellious teenager, which the twentieth century saw come to being in the persona of James Dean. Born seventy-seven years before Dean, that twenty-something American who made the discontented teenager famous, Rimbaud, like all prototypes who stand as the first representative of something, made those to come ersatz models; the sheer numbers of his imitators preclude their chance at originality. Rimbaud was that young, unquiet soul determined on finding heaven within himself by extinguishing the hell.
For the sixteen years he lived after his poverty and poetry, he traveled over three continents before death stopped him at 37. So it was: Rimbaud began early and ended the same, transforming his genius by the age of 21 toward a worldly career of exporting coffee and guns, and in-between, exploring. But all the greatest poets die young; not because they may be greater in rhyme or reason, but because to live beyond youth is to frustrate the greatest reason behind poetry.
Willingly or otherwise, early-bird deaths catch the first worm and so, by the untimely and premature expiry of the poets their peers are given example by which to inform themselves of their own mortality. By the dire portrait of death the living are given better chance to make of their living portrait something more resembling precious stones than ordinary rubble. Dying ahead of one’s time is the final heroic couplet the most sincere poets write. Without giving the supreme example to the rest of man that life is but a day, the old poets surrender themselves to being critics and idle evaluators of societal issues like war, profit and exploitation—as if the wise warnings from the poet’s quiet corner ever set a dent in any of that.
To recognize the truest poets, look to their date and destiny with death, which is to them far more troubling than with non-poets. One knows best a thing by understanding its opposite, so it is the prime duty of the poet to investigate the mystery. If the poet escapes early death it is as an at-large prisoner, each day looking over their shoulder until they finally come to a stale-mate peace with the knowledge their crime was just staying alive—not dying young—as martyrs to their work and race, but all the while their work being informed by a death-while-living. The ironic and second-most tragic quality of Rimbaud’s life was that he set himself away from the tragedy of his kind and sought a more sensible life. Rimbaud wished to grow old. Despite his sound reasonableness, he ended up dying young anyway.
In effect, and arguably (which is the most practiced reason for literature, that it gives plenty of ammunition for ceaseless and useless argument by ceaseless and useless arguers), Rimbaud was the first new, true poet since the three Romantics, themselves preceded by poor Chatterton. By personal example he gave to the refined, stuffy sensibilities of the Victorian Age (which has continued, under numerous sobriquet and disguise, into the 21st century) the means by which other new poets would follow; straining out of himself a self-identified courage, that elixir of the free soul’s configuration and constellation, measured out in unequal cups, which gives the confidence by which turmoil may be managed, if not tamely, self-assuredly. But for that French Prince of Poets, Verlaine, and that configuration and constellation of the hoi oligoi—reputation—who create notoriety by slander, judgment and etc., Rimbaud may have lasted longer as poet—that, or perhaps he was just too smart and reasonable for poetry—and so burned it out of himself quick as possible in that fiery tempest from sixteen to twenty. Some bit of both, methinks.
As for reputation, he needed only to stick around for that to turn. If but for the calumny of his esteemed generation, who always and everywhere run out of town on a rail, or hang by their feet and hands, the saviors who seek to despoil their beloved and timid status quo, no great soul would ever amount to much; defamation is often the greater portion of future fame and immortality is not infrequently in inverse proportion to the great soul’s contemporaries shame of them. It was much later, long after he burned his manuscripts and the world burned him; long after his poetic clay turned to dust, that a student of his work said of him:
“His genius, its flowering, explosion and sudden extinction, still astonishes.”
The germination of Rimbaud’s poetic seed came via his autocratic mother, who insisted, soon as he was able to read, that he learn his classics. The expressive bloom came by his soul’s idiosyncratic inclination. The abrupt extinction was at least part product of his critical contemporaries; that common, ordinary, and typical friend & fiend who followed then as now reputation closer than the art they speak well or ill of. It was the failure of his time and the success of himself which caused the fulminant flowering, and as sudden extinction. The teenage years, being an impermanent condition, must end; so the poetry ended for Rimbaud by 1874. The poet is the perfect flaw in the flawed imperfect system; and in the blemished and broken system, the poet seeking his perfection for the sake of others, if not knighted soon, and if wise, will eventually right the wrong and extricate himself from the thankless serving of the impoverished race he is heir to. Poor chance for the system to gain another light; yet, so far, it always does. The ungrateful unappreciation of his world & peers is the poets best chance to gain back himself and save his own life; to unhinge himself of a thankless service. It is rare for the light to shine in total darkness, unless it is given some bread to burn.
The rebel’s art is the collision of the status quo with radical individualism; the impact of the present with the future—and the rough encounter of fate with destiny. Rimbaud’s running toward bohemian and libertine tendencies expressed the human tendency to seek destiny while being hemmed in by fate. Rimbaud drank, smoked, cursed and grew his hair long, not from the vapid need of a personal therapy by which to forget his fate, but in his seeking of a greater destiny, one beyond and bigger than his fate. In the muted soul, the tendency toward forgetting one’s fate is sought by mass conventions: marriage, money, and medication; while the true artist never does what is proper or conventional for proper convention’s sake. Rimbaud used the bohemian means as springboard, not as crutch, and there is the vast difference. By bohemian means he sought within him what he could discover to set without him. He sought to serve the world by educating the soul within. The true artist is selfless.
Art need not be physically beautiful to be art. The true literature is that same seeking of achievement as Icarus, who flew too high in his joy, burned himself and fell back to earth—but he flew. True literature is the marriage of the celestial and the terrestrial; the perfect, or near perfect, amalgamation of ethereal and earthly ideals. The greatest literature is based in complexities and is the melding of common clay with sublime air. In his seeking of revolutionary ideas about life and poetry, Rimbaud wrote:
“I’m now making myself as scummy as I can. Why? I want to be a poet, and I’m working at turning myself into a seer. You won’t understand any of this, and I’m almost incapable of explaining it to you. The idea is to reach the unknown by the derangement of all the senses. It involves enormous suffering, but one must be strong and be a born poet. It’s really not my fault.”
Rimbaud’s Lettre du Voyant (“Letter of the Seer”) written May 15, 1871, expounded his revolutionary theories about poetry and life. Seeking for new poetic forms and ideas, he wrote:
“I say that one must be a seer, make oneself a seer. The poet makes himself a seer by a long, prodigious, and rational disordering of all the senses. Every form of love, of suffering, of madness; he searches himself, he consumes all the poisons in him, and keeps only their quintessences. This is an unspeakable torture during which he needs all his faith and superhuman strength, and during which he becomes the great patient, the great criminal, the great accursed—and the great learned one!—among men.—For he arrives at the unknown! Because he has cultivated his own soul—which was rich to begin with – more than any other man! He reaches the unknown; and even if, crazed, he ends up by losing the understanding of his visions, at least he has seen them! Let him die charging through those unutterable, unnameable things: other horrible workers will come; they will begin from the horizons where he has succumbed!”
The definition of the poet and literature—in a world with one zillion umpteen average books and billions of normal minds-in-this-world and not enough unique minds-out-of-it—is often misrepresented and always intensely debated. All are poets who are wise enough to love life and brave enough to laugh at power; all have forfeited poetry who are fool enough to laugh at life and debased enough to love power. So all are given the opportunity to become poets at some time; few decide to and fewer still possess the needed courage to remain them. Few even among the born poets remain poets; excepting those like Whitman, who remained young, brave and bold all his life. Poetry is belittled and condemned by the uneducated and made esoteric by the spiritually-unwashed; both seek by some heavenly or worldly religion to mask their smell, but it is simple what the poet and their literature is: the quest to impose some rhyme or reason into a world that is without either. Except one discovers it in themselves, no verse or reason may be imposed on a chaotic, irrational world. The knowledge of this truth becomes the rebellious poet’s final and deepest tragedy. Rimbaud consummated his personalized, introductory education when he wrote:
“Life is the farce which everyone has to perform.”
She said to me in the vespertine hour on a balcony a stone’s throw from a tall tower:
“What a life! True life is here! We are in the world! The wind rises, we must try to live!You must write for me the newest poem on earth, one full of delight and the best measure of mirth, and do not write in it any of the old allusions, but do keep the newest illusion, please. Make me the happiest, silliest, simplest poem in history, one full of joy and Paris mystery; one that makes me smile when you are not here; one to make me remember when you were near. Write me the simple and happy verse so in case, if I don’t see you later, I can remember your face; one which makes me know how you loved me. One that will, the test of history, stand; one which makes me remember your delicate hand. Do that and I will give the dime—for you to call and inquire the time—when closes the far-famed Guggenheim.”
I said to her,
“How else could I make it? Simple and unsophisticated is my middle name; casual and unconcerned is my claim to fame. My imagination is not so plain, though—it is vision of you, sitting pretty on a bough. If I don’t see you later I will see you later here, in uncomplicated words made dear, by this, our sweet and rare occasion. In manifest words and au naturel rhyme, I will wrap our memories of simpler time. But I do wonder—how could a dime make such a call? The Guggenheim closes at five forty-five—and there’s no possible way we could make it at all. There’s a wide ocean between us and it. We could not make it one little bit! For this is Paris and there is New York. Here is the Louvre, the River Seine and Violin—oh hell, go ring the bell, pop the cork, fill-up the Zeppelin!”
Now it is spring
And there is in us the Paris feel,
Let’s go ride the Ferris wheel
And at the top, one quick little kiss,
To seal the deal.
Now it is spring
And summer comes soon
When flowers and bugs bloom,
We will ride the Ferris wheel
And you will fall,
But be caught quick, after all.
The magic of Paris
Is in the spring of the year,
Where the lyrical sounds,
Of young chicks in eaves
And old winds whipping round
Renews the joie de vivre
And the hope of new poems
Is in the parvenu’s smoke.
The wonder of Paris
Is in the chirping of birds
As they flit through the air,
Making melody for spring-time affairs
Furthermore, there’s the sunrise and set,
That never-fading amaranth prize
And ours alone to get.
These Paris sights make for
sore-to-become happy eyes
And these endless flower-drinks
Dipped in white-cloud petals
Do inspire one to drink
From love’s honeyed kettle.
On a balcony of dragonflies, skeeter-hawks and rafters
We blew 1,001 bubbles from our perch
One-thousand-and-one wishes for happily-ever-afters
One-thousand happy bubbles to wander on winds
Some went that way and some went this
One fell by its own wish and stole your kiss.
Smooth sailers, fast flitters, idle floaters galore
Gallivanters, strollers, strays and tramps
All free-riders on winds toward the shore
Drifting on currents the warm evening air sent
Some were bright silver and some rainbow
And when each popped, whispered hello.
Wonder bubbles blown from the balcony
Gleaming spectacles of Parisian verse
The last two floated side by side,
Two globed versions of the universe
Looking like God with huge blue eyes
One then popped and one remained
A monocle-eyed god who smiled—then blinked,
Then faded from sight in a nod and wink
It was marvel wondered into being from your wish
Some sailed down and some soared high
On and on in endless supply
Some bobbed away and some hovered near
And every wish and love is so, it seems
To laugh just a moment, like in dreams.
Now it is Auld Lang Syne
Since you scrawled words in a squiggly line
There sat the smiling girl, and it was a cinch
To wrap your heart in my own so tight
And by nature’s uncommon decree
Made love more or less the reason for light
Normal it was not, and bright it was
And I knew then, as I know now
It was life’s most exquisite epitome
That day, that city, your love
And is my sweetest memory.
So what began well ends well, too
Love-dreams are wish-bubbles that never last
But here our remains, our remembered tale
And now what was, is past and through
How you loved Paris? Is how I loved you.