Rimbaud in Africa
I am sending you a bird’s head in a steel box filled with alcohol. I believe this
bird is unique to the Harar area; it is known here as koumou.Perhaps you
saw it when you were here. It is the size of a large turkey, and is completely
Forgetting for a moment the dangerous imprecisions of the spirit. On the
docks, in Harar, where the ships drift. On the docks. In Harar
finding the spirit seeking new directions. Avalanches of books (soul
asleep). Dear Paul, a feeling comes (once in a while) of falling—
having really disappeared— though imprecisely, though imperfect,
as we must when. Leafing through my copy of Guide du Voyageur,
numbers descending in clear lines; realising, imperfectly , the sounds
of sleep: steel box filled with heads—unique and black, large and
completely. In sleep, in drifting I have found, I have not found what I
Some verdigris. Some weeks aboard the Wandering Chief, cargo and
the salt waves, bravely, towards the sun. The year 1876 saw a very
strange adventure. Here—“among the delinquents and the fugitives
and outcasts”. Among the fugitives, at the funeral, along steel
railings with head shaved, railing against. Come back, come back, dear
friend, one friend, come back. Bravely, patiently, weeping. Passing, in
darkness, the desolate harbours, “great peninsulas unmoored”. Salt
waves. Here, my friends—turning, weeping, once more—into the
desert where Once more, he disappears from all record.
The arrival, at A long, low building set back from the sea, of the former
poet. In Aden, to be confused with Eden, I met a porter who
recalled the blue eyes, tousled hair. It was spring in the interior, and
with great ceremony, having lost ourselves among the blue, having
lost, we repaired to the foyer of the GRAND HOTEL DE
L’UNIVERS. In the evening with the dining chairs set back against
the long, low crescent (the road, the sea). Eleven arcades, boxed
gardens. Strolling to a clearing in the circle of trees (forest beneath
the palace, the sea). Dear , in Arcadia I too—. But the sea, the
long, the low, said the porter, said: “this gamin, with his little felt
Dear Sir, I am interested in developing the market for precision
instruments in the East. Mathematical, optical, astronomical, electrical,
meteorological, pneumatic, hydraulic, mineralogical. Only, remove
surgical—remove: meat on the blade, the old/the blind assassins.
Measure, with precision, so that to remove so to avenge, avenge
completely. That bright vision, the East, once in corridor of dream:
flight of the dove in flight. Along roads, through temples in fright.
Unique bird (that setting, the hour) in madness and hope; wheeling
from door to door until. At the inn, something seized by the blood
of the throat.
Sotiro “bristles with cartridges”. Sotiro “holds an unlit cigarette in
his left hand”. Sotiro advances and smiles. Carries a Winchester
repeating repeating rifle. Sotiro strides and the dust lifts gently.
Riding boots, spurs; children gathering in clouds about. Dear
Sotiro—black cloud of smoke and behind the camera R, chiefly
engaged in portraiture, chiefly aperture and shutter. Closing on the
long, dark avenue of the shore; along quiet boulevards falling,
advancing—darkly, quietly, rampantly—“banana trees flourish”.
Footsteps in the hall. In autumn, my last ship, where outside the
sun, the weather. Recalling again how many I had read, so often
blind: I wish you good health and prosperity, fine weather and a
good time. Curious fact, to come back—to pay, so dearly, in sleep so
to bury. Along railings brief chaos, forgetting, for a moment,
footsteps sounding in the interior: dining chairs / those blonde, grand
arcades set back against. (Long paths, and low.) We had repaired,
drifting into blue some vault; through childhood, white tomb,
boxed walls—D: “When will you leave again?” A: “As soon as
Those winter nights on the road. Little Rimbaud, from door to door
on its hinge. In the wind, the past walking itself—bridge to— Across
sullen star: red path and the child returned by way of flight, by way
of shadow, to itself. In night, In the shadow of the corridors, by dark
edges illumined: “passes through his life like a meteor”. Dear lights
disappearing, one by one along the bridge my star, passing,
In Paris, “the crowd surges around the Hôtel de Ville”.
Nicholls, Charles. Somebody Else: Arthur Rimbaud in Africa 1880–91. London: Jonathan Cape, 1997.
Rimbaud, Arthur. A Season in Hell and The Drunken Boat, translated by Louise Varèse. New York: New Directions, 1961.
Rimbaud, Arthur. Illuminations, translated by Louise Varèse. New York: New Directions, 1957.
Rimbaud, Arthur. Selected Poems and Letters. London: Penguin, 2004.
- Bella Li reads 'Rimbaud in Africa'