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This review is taken from PN Review 117, Volume 24 Number 1, September - October 1997.

STILL, BUT STILL MOVING CHARLES NICHOLL, Somebody Else: Arthur Rimbaud in Africa 188091 (Jonathan Cape) £18.99

Yeats was of the view that man is forced to choose 'perfection of the life, or of the work', with the latter requiring one to 'refuse a heavenly mansion, raging in the dark'. The toil leaves its mark, he added, 'in luck or out', such that perfection of the life (should one choose it) is almost by definition unattainable, and necessarily so, since the poet's pursuit of perfection in art must be bought at very considerable cost. Yeats's 'The Choice', written in February 1931, is of course part of his prolonged and assiduous dialogue with himself, rather than - as it at first sight seems - a dictum, and a diktat, designed to convey a universal truth. Yet 'The Choice' is surely memorable in part precisely because it appears to tell a kind of truth, not least in its implicit acknowledgement that either one of the two 'perfections' possible, or necessary, is part of the story a man tells himself, a lifeline (or life-lie) always likely to fall foul of 'vanity' and 'remorse' even as it seeks to transcend them. The real task, it emerges, is to keep alive the chance that there might be a navigable channel between the rag-and-bone shop and the stars.

Forty years earlier, on the 10th of November 1891 in the Hôpital de la Conception, Marseille, Arthur Rimbaud died a death, having already lived a life, the product of a choice akin to that proposed, and in a sense disavowed, by Yeats ...


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