I’ve been wishing I was un autre instead

A woman named Joni Mitchell is momentarily fatuous, her comments globally distributed,  and, in response, thousands of words go round and round. Let’s sail away from those tedious arguments in strange boats with more interesting characters. Our first boat is in trouble. In the captain’s tower, a grim, dry tussle goes on and on, and the unhappily self-reliant ship goes around in circles, exhausted by the tinny clamor and wondering if she’ll ever  reach a horizon, any horizon. No, scrap that one, it’s too much like the  noisy dreary land we want to get away from. I like another ungoverned boat. This one has lost its entire crew to the arrows of sporting and spirited Indians. Now, like the toy of a boy’s daydream, this boat reels all alone about the seas. It  snares us with amazing Floridas, and milk-white suspensions of stars,  and soon enough we believe it when it tells us, “What men have only thought they’d seen, I’ve seen.” What a short journey it is from that dream to the one where a boy sees a dozen dead oceans and then, abandoning all boats,  stands on the water till he starts sinking.

I hope you’ve been in that daydream boat, that drunken poem of the sea. I just took that trip myself for the first time very recently. The air there is so liquorish, you’ll want to stay a good long while, and if you’re steeped to the gills in Bob Dylan before you reach Rimbaud, you will find yourself living a very very peculiar dream.

These are the writings of a young man, a very young man, whose life has unfolded in no fixed place; no mother, no country no home.

“I was with the carnival off and on for about six years.”

Next stop, baptism, shirts and trousers, work.

Twenty years of schooling and they put you on the day shift.

I accustomed myself to simple hallucination.

With no attempt to shovel the glimpse into the ditch of what each one means.

To whom shall I hire myself? What beast should I worship? What holy image are we attacking? Which hearts shall I break? What lie                                          must I keep? In what blood shall I walk?

What will you do, my blue eyed son? I’ll know my song well before I start singing.

I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now. When Rimbaud reached the age at which Bob Dylan coined these  last words on the topic of maturity,  the French boy wonder had stopped writing poetry for all the rest of his fantastic and sorry life. There may be something about each young man’s awareness of his world that decided which would grow up with his art and which would not. Rimbaud started by making of himself a wild and foul creature in a world he saw ruled by lifeless custom  and hypocrisy.  His  principle was Violation (“I’m now making myself as scummy as I can), He turned himself into a walking id, and the language to translate himself appeared to him (“I want to be a poet and I’m working at turning myself into a seer”). We know his experiment was a success, but not enough of us made it back to 1874 in time to tell him. He stopped.  Perhaps the energies that he summoned  to make himself a crucible in that world would have made him a hypertrophic freak in adulthood. But Bob Dylan may have had the opposite problem. Perhaps he had to outpace a world that applauded, from comfy chairs, the energies he summoned for his rebellions and fine madnesses. He has had to invent a repertoire of strange new energies to grow up and outpace a world that  parrots and venerates Violations and fetishizes youth. Rimbaud maybe could not imagine a world where Seer may become wisdom–not the same as convention– and burn differently, but still burn.

Let’s take off in an old boat now.  Drift a little with an old man who’s thinking  thoughts in an old boat. I’m too far gone, too feeble. It’s just plain stupid to go out in any kind of wind. An old boy dredging from a moored barge. I’ve seen enough heartache and strife.  I belong to a distant race. They got out of here any way they could. I don’t know if they had any dreams or hopes. The man in this old boat, he most certainly has recorded the inexpressible. And often enough, with words most marvelously purloined.

Je suis un autre

I cannot say the word eye anymore.

(PS–I can’t read any more French than it takes to order a cheese omelette and a cup of coffee from a very patient waiter. Rimbaud here is taken from either the Jeremy Harding and John Sturrock translation in the Penguin Selected Poems and Letters, or from Graham Robb’s translations in his captivating biography. )


1 thought on “I’ve been wishing I was un autre instead

  1. These are the most interesting specific connections between Dylan & Rimbaud I’ve ever seen. I’ve always previously thought of Rimbaud as just a generic incitement to Dylan. The closest real connection I’ve previously felt is that reading Rimbaud for me has always been like reading Tarantula: I could never get into either of them, except in small doses. Rimbaud & Tarantula both have the metabolism of a hummingbird–and I don’t! So I read a verse/paragraph of each once a year, and love it, and quickly put them away.

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