Sunday, March 20, 2005


A noir, E blanc, I rouge, U vert, O bleu : voyelles,
Je dirai quelque jour vos naissances latentes :
A, noir corset velu des mouches éclatantes
Qui bombinent autour des puanteurs cruelles,

Golfes d'ombre ; E, candeurs des vapeurs et des tentes,
Lances des glaciers fiers, rois blancs, frissons d'ombelles ;
I, pourpres, sang craché, rire des lèvres belles
Dans la colère ou les ivresses pénitentes ;

U, cycles, vibrement divins des mers virides,
Paix des pâtis semés d'animaux, paix des rides
Que l'alchimie imprime aux grands fronts studieux ;

O, suprême Clairon plein des strideurs étranges,
Silences traversés des Mondes et des Anges :
- O l'Oméga, rayon violet de Ses Yeux !

Arthur Rimbaud

Why would Rimbaud write a poem about vowels? Was he just stoned? Or was he up late one night talking with his lover and, drunk on absinthe, they began to discuass how vowels are different from the others--how they seem at first glance to exist happily within the alphabet family, but if you look a little closer, you see trouble, you see how they don't really fit in.

Vowels are always forcing the mouth open, while the other letters work hard to close it, forming consonants. In essence, language is a war between the consonants and the vastly outnumbered vowels, and the battle ground is your tongue.

Maybe Rimbaud gave the vowels a poem all their own because he felt that, like poets, vowels needed an advocate, needed someone to stick up for them. After all, they are gallant and valiant letters, managing to hold off the other twenty-one letters by themselves (though they sometimes get help from that sneaky double agent, "y"). And let's face it, without the vowels language would be nothing but clicks and hisses, not to mention song, which couldn't exist without them.

So let's give it up for the vowels, and Rimbaud, who gave them a poem. It's somehow fitting that a poet, a misfit of society, would write a poem about vowels, those misfits of the alphabet. And yet both are drivers of language. Rimbaud probably felt a secret affinity for them.


H. W. Alexy said...

Ah, so vowels are the musicians, consonants the audience. Then language can't excape music, nor can poetry, since without the orchestra, there isn't a poem :).


Peter Garner said...

Couldn't have said it better myself (though your version is much shorter ;-))

paula said...

I love this poem by Rimbaud. have opften thought of languages were vowels are scarse, how the music becomes cacophonic. would define vowels the melody of language.

Erin B. said...

Sante! I didn't know others out there enjoyed French poetry. Rimbaud is good; do you know Mallarme? He's probably my favorite, though those things change all the time. Cheers.

Peter Garner said...


yes, vowels as melody, and French (and Italian!) certainly has enough of them.

Erin. Hey, thanks for stopping by and reading. Can't say I've gotten around to Mallarme. Mostly I've read Rimbaud, Baudelaire (of course), Quebec poets like Émile Nelligan and Anne Hebert, and, for something completely different, Pierre de Ronsard. Oh, and I almost forgot Prevert. I'll get around to Mallarme though. Any favourites by him to recommend?