A Season In Hell

Arthur Rimbaud

translated by Nick Sarno


A new translation of the groundbreaking work of French Symbolism. Includes the French and English and features color plates by artist Gerald Bacasa. All proceeds will be donated to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Printed in an edition of 500 with silkscreen covers by Nadine Nakanishi of Sonnenzimmer . 2009

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Did I not at one time have a pleasant youth: heroic, fabulous, to be written on leaves of gold—too much luck! Through what crime, through what error, have I deserved my present weakness? You who claim that animals cry with grief, that the sick despair, that the dead have nightmares: try to relate my fall and my slumber. Me, I can explain myself no better than the beggar with his endless Pater and Ave Maria. I no longer know how to speak! And yet, today, I think I have finished the account of my hell. It really was hell: the ancient hell, whose gates were opened by the son of man. From the same desert, in the same night, my weary eyes always awaken to the silver star, always without moving the Kings of life, the three magi: the heart, soul and mind. When shall we go beyond the beaches and the mountains to greet the birth of new work, new wisdom, the flight of tyrants and demons, the end of superstition: to be the first to adore Christmas on earth! The song of heavens, the march of men! Slaves, let us not curse this life.


This is the first part of an interview I conducted with Nick Sarno. The second part refers to his first book, God Bless The Squirrel Cage. You can read that by going here .

I remember having some conversations with your about Pound, among others, and how they contrasted the feeling of words vs. their literal meaning. How did you approach your process of translation? I had no solid theories on translation going into the project and just threw myself into it in the most workman-like way possible. I looked words up in dictionaries. I began to think of it, rather early on, as a way of demystifying the translation process. I didn’t feel as though I were channeling Rimbaud, or that I was trying to render as perfectly as possible his writing in another language. I was just some guy with a dictionary. That’s all translators are, people with dictionaries. What is your experience of Rimbaud, over the course of translating this work? Do you feel like you know him better? No. I don’t know if that’s possible. If it is possible, I failed. Maybe I understand A Season in Hell a little better. A long time ago, you loaned me (I probably should dig it up and return it, come to think of it) a copy of Henry Miller’s Time of the Assassins. As I recall it’s an incredibly autobiographical interpretation of Rimbaud’s life and work. Miller seems to make Rimbaud a kind of tuning fork with which to interprete his own (Miller’s) life. In your introduction, and by calling Rimbaud a mystic, you seem to suggest that Rimbaud is easily used or examined with this kind of mystical/super-personal power. In some way it also reflects your reasons for translating the book in the first place….I guess I wanted to see if you’d be up for talking about that a bit. Most writing, most art, attempts to describe, in one way or another, consciousness. Every once in a great while, an author or artist comes around who attempts to change it. The authors of the Bible, for example, or the Upanishads, want to absolutely tear down any previous notions the reader has about life and the cosmos and replace it with something entirely new. Rimbaud hoped to do that as well, to create a fundamental shift in how we think and live and love. His failure, his realization that he was just another writer, is what led him to abandon literature. But for most of his short career he thought of himself as a mystic and he should be read in that light. While it’s possible to read the Bible as literature, to do so misses the point. It’s meant to be read in faith. And faith always turns you inward. The death of a dear friend stands in the center of both your books, A Season in Hell and God Bless The Squirrel Cage. How do feel those centers differ, if at all? I began and shelved A Season in Hell in 2002, and started working on what was to become God Bless the Squirrel Cage a year later. At times I worked on the two simultaneously. I suppose they’re both two different ways of dealing with the same thing. I revised A Season in Hell on and off for seven years, so it’s certainly less immediate. Why did you wish to include the french? It kind of comes back to the guy with a dictionary thing. I didn’t think I was creating a “definitive translation” or “a translation for our time” or a “translation” at all. I was pushing words around on a page, trying to make a birthday gift for my friend. Anybody can do it. The French is there so that anybody who wants to attempt it can. What do you feel your expectations as a writer are, and how would they compare to your expectations as a 18-20 year old? I don’t have any expectations as a writer. Hopes, maybe. I’m not sure I had any expectations fifteen years ago, either. What do you think Rimbaud’s expectations were? Rimbaud expected to reinvent love, recreate our senses and be the herald of a new age for humanity. It didn’t work out so good.

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About the Authors

Arthur Rimbaud

Jean Nicolas Arthur Rimbaud: 20 October 1854 – 10 November 1891) was a French poet. Born in Charleville, Ardennes, he produced his best known works while still in his late teens—Victor Hugo described him at the time as "an infant Shakespeare"—and gave up creative writing altogether before the age of 21. As part of the decadent movement, Rimbaud influenced modern literature, music and art. He was known to have been a libertine and a restless soul, traveling extensively on three continents before his death from cancer less than a month after his 37th birthday.

translated by Nick Sarno

Nick Sarno lives in San Francisco.