A New Translation of Rimbaud’s Illuminations

W.W. Norton will publish a new translation of Rimbaud’s Illuminations by the poet John Ashbery in April. The New York Review of Books features one of them, Tale, in its current issue (January 13, 2011).

In the interest of textual comparison, I have reproduced below the first paragraph of Ashbery’s translation, followed by that of Louise Varèse, from the revised New Directions edition of 1957.


From Rimbaud’s Tale

A Prince was annoyed at always being occupied with perfecting vulgar generosities. He foresaw amazing revolutions in love, and suspected that his wives could come up with something better than complacency adorned with sky and luxury. He wished to see the truth, the hour of essential desire and satisfaction. Whether or not this was an aberration of piety, he wanted it. He possessed at the very least a rather broad human power.

(John Ashbery)


A Prince was vexed at having devoted himself only to the perfection of ordinary generosities. He foresaw astonishing revolutions of love and suspected his women of being able to do better than their habitual acquiescence embellished by heaven and luxury. He wanted to see the truth, the hour of essential desire and gratification. Whether this was an aberration of piety or not, that is what he wanted. Enough worldly power, at least, he had.

(Louise Varèse)

4 thoughts on “A New Translation of Rimbaud’s Illuminations

  1. I have to say very interestingly the top reading is what princes actually thought back in the day. In the early 1800 the royals ruled and us as people had little say – how times have changed.

  2. It is amazing to think that all these years after history has taken place, we know what the princes thought and the kind of mannerisms they used towards their people and women.

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