"If we are absolutely modern—and we are—it's because Rimbaud commanded us to be."—John Ashbery, from the preface
First published in 1886, Arthur Rimbaud’s Illuminations
―the work of a poet who had abandoned poetry before the age of twenty-one―changed the language of poetry. Hallucinatory and feverishly hermetic, it is an acknowledged masterpiece of world literature, still unrivaled for its haunting blend of sensuous detail and otherworldly astonishment. In Ashbery's translation of this notoriously elusive text, the acclaimed poet and translator lends his inimitable voice to a venerated classic.
W. H. Auden recognized the strong affinities between Ashbery's poetry and Rimbaud's Illuminations
in his 1956 introduction to Ashbery's first book, Some Trees
, noting that "the imaginative life of the human individual stubbornly continues to live by the old magical notions." And it is here, in the "crystalline jumble" and "disordered collection of magic lantern slides" of Illuminations
, as Ashbery writes in the Preface, that we can rediscover this essential lineage. "Absolute modernity" was for Rimbaud "acknowledging the simultaneity of all of life, the condition that nourishes poetry at every second. [...] If we are absolutely modern―and we are―it's because Rimbaud commanded us to be."
Ashbery's idiomatic and lyrical translations of these forty-four texts convey the originality of Rimbaud's vision to English-speaking readers of a new century.