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This review is taken from PN Review 104, Volume 21 Number 6, July - August 1995.

UN PEU DE FRAICHEUR ARTHUR RIMBAUD, A Season in Hell and other Poenzs. Translated by Norman Cameron, with a preface by Michael Hamburger (Anvil Press)

Norman Cameron spent a great deal of his comparatively short life studying, translating and writing about Rimbaud. He probably knew even more about him and effected an even closer relationship with him than did Enid Starkie or Edgell Rickward in England or early French biographers such as Pateme Berrichon or Delahaye, who had their own axes to grind. At certain points, the translations in this bi-lingual edition of Une Saison en Enfer other Poems almost physical intensity. When Valery Larbaud was discussing the general problem of translation in his Sous 'Evocation de Saint Jerônze, he wrote of 'the humble, meticulous task of the translator', but added that it also entails a journey into the unknown, an almost erotic experience 'like the loves of an explorer with the daughter of some savage king'. Cameron at his best reveals the pent-up violence exploding through Rimbaud's unfailingly acute observation and despairing humour. I remember how, when I was choosing translations to publish in my Mirror for French Poetry in 1946,I came on his version of Le Coeur vole. It was indeed like a voyage of discovery to find that 'au gouvernail on voit des fresques/lthyphalliques et pioupiouesques', could become: 'The rudder's carved with witty scraps/By sturdy-tooled, foot-slogging chaps'. This suggests both rape and restitution. It is the reliving of an apparently untranslatable verse while preserving both its meaning and its essential form.

Cameron had the constant courage to preserve the original rhymes and rhythms of the verse-poems. Yves Bonnefoy, perhaps ...


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