Translating Rimbaud (An Excerpt from ‘A Season in Hell)

by Nathan J

The following passage is my favourite from A Season in Hell:

Quant au bonheur établi, domestique ou non… non, je ne peux pas. Je suis trop dissipé, trop faible. La vie fleurit par le travail, vieille vérité : moi, ma vie n’est pas assez pesante, elle s’envole et flotte loin au-dessus de l’action, ce cher point du monde.


I immediately knew I wanted to use it as an epigraph for my current script. But I didn’t want to use somebody else’s translation. But I also don’t speak/read French. So, using the help of a literal translation thanks to Google, some other translations as guidelines, and the wisdom of some French-speakers on Facebook, I managed to come up with something of my own (a transcreation or bastardisation is probably the best way to describe it):

As for established happiness, domestic or otherwise… no, I cannot. I am too wasted, too weak. Life blossoms through labour, an old truth. Me, my life is weightless, it flies and floats far above action, that dear point of the world.

Not perfect. No translation ever is. But I think it captures the very things I liked about the passage when I first read it, as well as staying true to Rimbaud and myself.

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