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"Seer" Letter #1 - To Georges Isambard

Translated by Wallace Fowlie

To Georges Isambard
Charleville, 13 May 1871

Cher Monsieur!

          You are a teacher again. You have told me we owe a duty to Society. You belong to the teaching body: you move along in the right track. I also follow the principle: cynically I am having myself kept. I dig up old imbeciles from school: I serve them with whatever I can invent that is stupid, filthy, mean in acts and words. They pay me in beer and liquor. Stat mater dolorosa, dum pendet filius. -- My duty is to Society, that is true--and I am right. -- You too are right, for now. In reality, all you see in your principle is subjective poetry: your obstinacy in reaching the university through--excuse me--proves this. But you will always end up a self-satisfied man who has done nothing because he wanted to do nothing. Not to mention that your subjective poetry will always be horribly insipid. One day, I hope--many others hope the same thing--I will see objective poetry according to your principle, I will see it more sincerely than you would! I will be a worker: this idea holds me back when mad anger drives me toward the battle of Paris--where so many workers are dying as I write to you! Work now?--never, never, I am on strike.

          Now, I am degrading myself as much as possible. Why? I want to be a poet, and I am working to make myself a seer: you will not understand this, and I don't know how to explain it to you. It is a questioning of reaching the unknown by the derangement of all the senses. The sufferings are enormous, but one has to be strong, one has to be born a poet, and I know I am a poet. This is not at all my fault. It is wrong to say: I think. One ought to say: people think me. Pardon the pun [penser, "to think"; panser "to groom"].

          I is someone else. It is too bad for the wood which finds itself a violin and scorn for the heedless who argue over what they are totally ignorant of!

          You are not a teacher for me. I give you this: is it satire, as you would say? Is it poetry? Is it fantasy, always. -- But I beg you, do not underline it with your pencil or too much with your thought:

My sad heart drools at the stern...
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

          This means nothing.

          Answer me care of M. Deverrière, for A.R.

                    Warm greetings,
                              Arth. Rimbaud

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