Le Bateau Ivre (The Drunken Boat)

Le Bateau Ivre (The Drunken Boat)
an extract

Sweeter than the flesh of sour apples to children, the green water penetrated my pinewood hull and washed me clean of the bluish wine-stains and the splashes of vomit, carrying away both rudder and anchor.

And from that time on I bathed in the Poem of the Sea, star-infused and churned into milk, devouring the green azures where, entranced in pallid flotsam, a dreaming drowned man sometimes goes down...

Arthur Rimbaud

translated by Oliver Bernard

read the complete poem in French with a prose translation in English in Rimbaud: Collected Poems, introduced and edited by Oliver Bernard (Penguin Books, 1962)

Arthur Rimbaud

Arthur Rimbaud, born in the Ardennes, was one of the most revolutionary 19th-century poets in any language.

Read more about this poet
About Le Bateau Ivre (The Drunken Boat)

Introduced by a variety of writers, artists and other guests, the Scottish Poetry Library’s classic poem selections are a reminder of wonderful poems to rediscover.

Poor Edward on 'The Drunken Boat':

My first experience of Rimbaud's poetry occurred at a friend's flat when I was very drunk.

At that time I was feeling pretty bad about the fact that I was drunk. Not bad about the drunken experience itself but the knowledge that I had managed to maintain this level of drunkenness for a good few days (I hope my Mum doesn't read this!).

Just then, I spotted an Arthur Rimbaud: Collected Works on the coffee table. My knowledge of Rimbaud prior to that evening was limited to: he was a dead French poet, that Bob Dylan liked him, and that he wrote all his major works very young, wild and drunk. With no expectations, other than hoping to find something drunken yet brilliant to alleviate my guilt, I delved in.

'The Drunken Boat' (Le Bateau Ivre) has little to do with drunkenness, being an epic 100-liner (comprised of 25 alexandrine quatrains if we want to get technical… but let's not) detailing the exhilarating and at some points gruelling voyage of a strangely anthropomorphised ship drifting free of direction. This poem inspired and disturbed me in equal measures in the way it manages to create beauty in the most grotesque of images, even when mentioning (I think symbolically) winey vomit.

The horrific sights that this 'Drunken Boat' encounters are interspersed with sights of almost transcendental splendour, suggesting to me that one could not be without the other and that both are more beautiful by the direct contrast. Which I thought was very cool but didn't really absolve me of my drunken bummery. HOWEVER! I later found out that Rimbaud was big on the idea of synesthesia, of complete derangement of the senses in order to reach a higher state of poet-ness. Best excuse ever!

All jokes aside I find the poem to be exceptionally moving in the way that it makes me feel both exhilarated and completely doom-laden simultaneously. Not bad for a seventeen year old!

Poor Edward is the moniker of Edinburgh based singer-songwriter Sam Siggs. Lots of people don't realise this, causing mass confusion when some Sam-guy turns up to sound check and Edward is nowhere to be found… nightmare. When playing live Poor Edward consists not only of one person (not called Edward) but a second called (J), who can make his guitar sound like a cello, a seagull, an elephant…anything you want.

When not trying to write his own bio, Poor Edward likes to play gigs and has done so with an assortment of lovely people and bands, most notably Amanda Palmer of the Dresden Dolls, Billy Bragg, Roy Bailey, Y'all is Fantasy Island, White Heath and the list goes on. Poor Edward isn't very good at describing how his music sounds so he encourages you to listen instead. Poor Edward loves you all madly.