I was reading Henry Miller’s The Air-Conditioned Nightmare when I came across this line from Rimbaud: “Puissance, justice, histoire: a bas!” Down with power, justice, history! It comes from the poem What does it matter to us, my heart…
Jean Nicolas Arthur Rimbaud was born in 1854 in Charleville in the northeast of France. His first poem was published when he was just 15. At 16, as the Franco-Prussian war began, Rimbaud ran away from home and did those things that poets do: drinking absinthe, smoking hash, stealing, fucking inappropriate partners, getting shot, and writing poems. He died when he was 37 but stopped writing when he was just 21.
His poetry loses a little something in translation, but don’t we all?
What does it matter to us, my heart, for the sheets of blood
And coals, a thousand murders, and the long cries
Of rage, sobs of all hell overturning
All order; and the north wind blowing over the debris;
And all vengeance? Nothing!… – Nonetheless
We want it! Industrialists, princes, senates,
Perish! Down with power, justice, history!
That much you owe us. Blood! Blood! the golden flame!
All to war, vengeance, and terror,
My soul! Turn in the jaws: Begone,
Republics of the world! Emperors,
Regiments, colonists, nations, enough!
Who would stir the furious fiery whirlwinds
But ourselves and those we imagine our brothers?
It’s our turn, romantic friends: it will please us.
Never will we work, o waves of fire!
Europe, Asia, America, disappear!
Our avenging march has occupied it all.
Cities and countries! – We’ll be overwhelmed!
Volcanoes will explode! The ocean shall be smitten…
Oh my friends! My heart, I’m sure they’re brothers
Black strangers, what if we began! Let’s go! Let’s go!
Oh misfortune! I tremble, the old earth over me
More and more yours! The earth melts,
It’s nothing! I’m here! I’m still here.