Most of my translations from the years between 1973 and 1982 are fundamentally faithful to the letter of the original French texts, but others are sometimes more wayward adaptations “covering” those originals. While I was attempting to render the French into English loyal to the meanings of the thought, I was also trying to re-present a tone of voice equivalent to that expressed in the original. For instance, in the case of the slangy, punk-like lingo in my version of Rimbaud’s “Visionary Letters,” the results seem to me to ring true to the essence of both the ideas and the tone of what Henry Miller brazenly called the 17-year-old Rimbaud’s “nigger French.” In no case have I been disloyal to the original intentions of the authors, whose words are often posted here so that readers with sufficient knowledge of French language and literature can make their own judgments and draw their own conclusions. May editors and critics make their own versions and see how they sound!

Published Translations


[An earlier version of this translation was printed and disseminated by KUSH of CLOUD HOUSE in 1976]

To Georges Izambard in Douai
                                                                                                                                                         Charleville, May 13, 1971

Dear Sir!

You’re a prof again. We owe Society something, you told me; you’re part of the teaching corps: you’re back in the groove. —Me too, I’m following the principle: I get myself taken care of, cynically; I dig up imbeciles from schooldays: everything I can make up that’s stupid, dirty, bad, in acts and in words, I give it to them: they pay me in shots and chasers. Stat mater dolorosa, dum pendent filius. —I’m indebted to Society, that’s right,—and I’m right. —You too, you’re right, for today. Basically you see only subjective poetry in that principle of yours: your being so set to get back to the university feeder—sorry!—proves it. But you’ll always end up satisfied with having done nothing, having wished to do nothing. Not to mention that your subjective poetry will always be awfully uninteresting. One day, I hope,—lots of others do too,—I’ll see objective poetry in your principle, I’ll see it more sincerely than you’ll make it! —I will be a worker: that’s the idea keeping me here when insane rage pushes me to join the battle of Paris,—where so many workers are still dying even while I’m writing to you! To work now, never, never: I’m on strike.

Now I get as wasted as possible. Why? I want to be a poet, and I work to make myself visionary:

You’ll understand nothing, and I almost wouldn’t know how to explain it to you. It’s a matter of reaching the unknown by the disordering of all the senses. The sufferings are enormous, but you have to be strong, to be born a poet, and I recognize myself a poet. It’s not at all my fault. It’s wrong to say: I think. One should say: I am thought. Sorry for the play on words.

I is another. Too bad for the wood that finds out it’s a violin, and forget the unaware, who quibble over they know not what!

You are not instructive for me. I’ll give you this: is it satire, as you would say? Is it poetry? It’s fantasy, always. —But, I beg of you, don’t underline or mark it with a pencil, or too much thought:


That does not mean nothing.

ANSWER ME: care of Mr. Deverrière, for A.R.

A hearty hello.



To Paul Demeny
Rue Jean de Bologne, Douai

                                                                                                                                                       Charleville, May 15, 1871

I’ve resolved to give you an hour of new literature. I’ll start below with a timely psalm:

PARIS WAR CHANT [enclosed]

—Here’s some prose on the future of poetry:—

All ancient poetry ends with Greek poetry, harmonious Life. —From Greece to the Romantic movement,—middle ages,—there are lettered men, versifiers. From Ennius to Theroldus, from Theroldus to Casimir Delavigne, it’s all rhymed prose, a game, flab and glory of innumerable idiotic generations: Racine is pure, strong, great,—his rhymes blown away, his hemistiches scrambled, the Divine Fool would be as unknown today as the first come author of Origines. —After Racine the game got moldy. It lasted two thousand years!

No joke, no paradox. Reason inspires me with more certainties on the subject than any angers a Young-France ever had. Besides, newcomers are free to loathe their ancestors: we’re at home and have time.

Romanticism has never really been judged. Who would have? The Critics!! The Romantics? who prove so well that the song is rarely the work, that’s to say the thought sung and understood by the singer.

Because I is another. If brass wakes up a bugle, it’s not its fault. This is obvious: I am present at the budding of my thought: I watch it I listen to it: I let fly an arrow: the symphony stirs in the depths, or bursts onto the stage.

If the old imbeciles had found something in the Ego besides its false significance, we wouldn’t have to sweep away those millions of skeletons which, for an infinite time, have piled up the products of their cockeyed intelligence, while claiming they are the authors!

In Greece, as I said, verses and lyres rhythmically accompanied Action. Afterwards, music and rhymes became mere games, relaxations. The study of this past charms the curious: several delight to restore those antiquities:—that’s their business. Universal intelligence has always thrown up its ideas naturally; men gather a part of those fruits of the brain: we follow through, we write books about them: that’s how it went, man not working himself, being not yet awake, or not yet in the full measure of the grand dream. Some functionaries, some writers: author, creator, poet, that man has never existed!

The first study of the man who wants to be a poet is self-knowledge, all of it; he searches his soul, he inspects it, he tempts it, he learns it. As soon as he knows it, he must cultivate it; this sounds simple: a natural development occurs in every brain; so many egotists claim to be authors; there are plenty of others who take credit for their intellectual progress! —But it’s about making the soul monstrous: after the fashion of the comprachicos, huh! Imagine a man transplanting warts onto his face and growing them there.

I say you have to be visionary, to make yourself visionary.

The Poet makes himself visionary by a long, immense and disciplined disordering of all the senses. All forms of love, of suffering, of madness; he searches himself, he exhausts all poisons within himself, in order to keep only their quintessence. Inexpressible torture where he needs all faith, superhuman strength, where among all he becomes the great sick one, the great criminal, the grand damned one,—and the supreme Savant!—Because he reaches the unknown! Since he has cultivated his soul, already rich, more than anyone else! He arrives at the unknown, and when, driven crazy, he finishes by losing the intelligence of his visions, he has seen them! Let him die in his leaps through unnameable and unheard of things: other horrible workers will come; they’ll start from the horizon where the other collapsed!

—six minutes later—

Here I’ll insert a second psalm, out of context: kindly lend an ear,—everyone will be charmed.—I’m raising my bow, I begin:

MY LITTLE LOVES [enclosed]

There. And note well that, if I weren’t afraid of making you spend more than 60 centimes in postage,—poor petrified me who, for seven months, hasn’t held a chunk of change in my hand!—I’d also be sending along my Lovers of Paris, 100 hexameters, Monsieur, and my Death of Paris, two hundred hexameters!

—I’m off again:

So the poet really is the thief of fire.

He is entrusted with humanity, with animals even; he must make his inventions felt, touched, heard; if what he reports from down there has form, he gives it form; if it’s formless, he gives it formlessness. To find a language; —Besides all speech being idea, the time of a universal language will come! You’d have to be an academician,—deader than a fossil,to perfect a dictionary, whatever the language. Dim wits would start pondering the first letter of the alphabet, which could quickly lead to insanity!

This language will be of the soul for the soul, including everything, perfumes, sounds, colors, thought linked to thought and pulling. The poet would take the full measure of the unknown waking in the universal soul of his time: he would give more—than the formula of his thought, of the notation of his march toward Progress! Enormity become the norm, absorbed by all, he would truly be a multiplier of progress!

This future will be materialist, you see;—Always full of Number and Harmony, these poems will be made to last. —Basically, it’d still be a little like Greek Poetry.

Eternal art would have its functions, since poets are citizens. Poetry will no longer accompany action; it will be ahead of it.

These poets will be! When the infinite servitude of women will be broken, when she will live for herself and by herself, man,—until now abominable,—having let her go her way, she will be a poet, she too! Woman will find the unknown! Will her world of ideas differ from ours? —She will find strange things, unfathomable, repulsive, delicious; we’ll take them, we’ll understand them.

Meanwhile, let’s demand something new from poets,—ideas and forms. All the bright boys will soon think they’ve measured up. —That’s not it!

The first romantics were visionaries without really realizing it: the culture of their souls started up by accidents: abandoned but burning locomotives sometimes taking to the tracks. —Lamartine is sometimes visionary, but strangled by the old form. —In the last volumes, Hugo, too obstinate, did see well. Les Misérables is a true poem. I have Les Châtiments at hand; Stella pretty much gives the extent of Hugo’s vision. Too much Belmontet and Lamennais, Jehovahs and columns, old broken enormities.

Musset is fourteen times as detestable for us, pained generations seized by visions,—how his angelic laziness has insulted! O! the insipid tales and proverbs! O the Nuits! O Rolla, o Namouna, o la Coupe! It’s all French, that is hate-able to the highest degree; French, not Parisian! More products of that horrible genie that inspired Rabelais, Voltaire, Jean La Fontaine, with commentary by M. Taine! Spring-like, the spirit of Musset! Charming, his love! There, painting on enamel, solid poetry for you! French poetry will be savored for a long time to come, in France. Every grocery boy can rattle off a Rollaesque apostrophe, every seminary student carries the five hundred rhymes in a secret notebook. At fifteen these flights of passion sent the young into rut; at sixteen, they are already contented just to recite them with heart; at eighteen, even at nineteen, every student with the means plays at Rolla, writes a Rolla! Maybe some still die of it. Musset didn’t know how to do anything; he had vision through a curtain of gauze: he closed his eyes. French, [panadis], dragged from café to study hall, the beautiful corpse is dead, and, from now on, we don’t take the trouble to wake it with our loathing!

The second romantics are very visionary: Théophile Gautier, Leconte de Lisle, Théodore de Banville. But since inspecting the invisible and listening to the unheard is something other than taking up the spirit of dead things, Baudelaire is the first visionary, king of poets, a true God. Still he lived in too artsy a milieu; and the form so praised in him is trivial: the inventions of the new demand new forms.

Tripped up on the old forms,—among the innocents, A. Renaud,—made his Rolla;—L. Grandet,—made his Rolla;—the Gauls and the Mussets, G. Lafenestre, Coran, Cl. Popelin, Soulary, L. Salles; the schoolboys, Marc, Aicard, Theuriet; [es corts] and the imbeciles, Autran, Barbier, L. Pichat, Lemoyne, les Deschamps, les Desessarts; the journalists, L. Cladel, Robert Luzarches, X. de Ricard; the fantasists. C. Mendès; the bohemians; the women; the talents, Léon Dierx, Sully-Prudhomme, Coppée,—the new school, called Parnassian, has two visionaries, Albert Mérat and Paul Verlaine, a true poet. —There. —So I’m working to make myself visionary. —And let us close with a pious song.

SQUATTINGS [enclosed]

You would be despicable not to respond: quick, because in a week I’ll be in Paris, maybe.



L’HOMME APROXIMATIF by Tristan Tzara (1896-1863)

[Translation published in The Third Rail, 1982]


sunday heavy lid on the boiling of blood
weekly weight crouched down on its muscles
fallen into itself refound
the bells ring without reason and so do we
ring reasonless bells and we too
will rejoice at the noise of the chains
we’ll make ring within us with the bells


what is this language whipping us we leap into the light
our nerves whips in the hands of time
and doubt arrives on a single colorless wing
clamping enclosing crushing itself within us
like the crumpled paper of an unwrapped package
gift from another age to the gliding fishes of bitterness


the bells ring without reason and so do we
the eyes of fruit watch us attentively
and all our actions are surveilled nothing’s hidden
the water has so washed its riverbed
it carries the gentle threads of gazes which have trailed
along the baseboards in bars licked lives
the weak enticed temptations tied ecstasies exhausted
dug to the depths of the old variations
and unleashed the spring of prisoner tears
springs enslaved by daily suffocations
gazes which take with dried out hands
the bright product of day or shadowy apparition
which give the worried richness of the smile
fixed like a flower in the buttonhole of morning
those who ask for rest or the voluptuous
touches of electrical vibrations the leaps
adventures fire certitude or slavery
gazes which crawled the length of specific torments
the paving stones of cities worn out the many lownesses of alms expiated
follow themselves squeezed around ribbons of water
and flow toward the seas carrying in their course
human waste and mirages


the water has so washed its riverbed
that even light slides on the smooth waves
and sinks to the bottom with the thud of stones


the bells ring without reason and so do we
the worries we carry with us
every morning putting on our outfits within
that night undresses with the hands of time
ornamented with unnecessary metallic signs
purified in the bath of circular landscapes
in cities prepared for carnage for sacrifice
near seas of sweeping perspectives
on mountains of anxious severities
in villages of painful nonchalance
hand weighing on head
the bells ring without reason and so do we
we leave with the departures arrive with the arrivals
let’s leave with the arrivals and arrive when the others depart
without reason a bit dry a bit severe
bread food more bread which accompanies the savory song on the spectrum of the tongue
the colors deposit their weights and think
and think or scream and rest and feed
on fruits light as the gliding smoke
that thinks of the warmth speech weaves
around its core the dream called we


the bells ring without reason and so do we
we walk to avoid the swarming routes
with a flask of landscape an illness one alone
one illness we cultivate death
I know I carry the melody in me and I’m not afraid of it
I carry death and if I die it’s death
which will carry me in its imperceptible arms
fine and light like the scent of thin grass
fine and light like the senseless departure
without bitterness debts regret without
the bells ring without reason and so do we
why look for the end of the chain linking us to the chain
ring bells without reasons and we too
we’ll ring within us the broken glasses
coins of silver mixed with counterfeit coins
the debris of celebrations exploded in laughter and in storm
to the gates where the gulfs may open
the tombs of air the mills grinding arctic bones
those celebrations carry us heads held high
and spit on the muscles the night of molten lead


I speak of who speaks who speaks I am alone
I’m only a little noise I have several noises in me
an ice-cold noise bruised thrown down on the wet sidewalk at the intersection
beneath the feet of hurrying men running with their deaths
around death which extends its arms
on the dial of the hour alone alive in the sun


the obscure breath of night thickens
and along the veins the maritime flutes sing
octaves transposed across levels of diverse existences
lives repeat themselves to infinity to atomic scarcity
and high above so high we can’t see
and with those lives on the side we don’t see
the ultraviolet of so many parallel ways
those we might have taken
those which might not have let us come into the world
or to be already gone out if a long time ago long ago
we might have forgotten the times and the earth which would have nursed our flesh
salts and liquid metals limpid at the bottom of the well


I think of the warmth speech weaves
around its core the dream called we