Rimbaud in Douai

from Arthur Rimbaud: A Douai et à Charleville by Georges Izambard
tr. Allison Vanouse

A Poet's Leisure

One might wonder what, in Douai, was the nature of Rimbaud's existence, how he passed his time there during the two periods of three weeks each during which he was my guest, or rather the guest of the Gindre women, my aunts. . .

"My aunts", in a manner of speaking, since no degree of familial relation existed between "my aunts" and myself. I was simply their adopted child—though my father was still living. It is a noble story, and not unrelated to my subject. Before I came into the world, my parents had lived for a long time in Douai, where they had a close friendship with the Gindre family. My father was a commercial traveler. He came to reside with his wife and three children on rue du Mail, Paris. I was born there, the fourth child, on 11 December 1848. In April of the following year, my parents' young friend Caroline Gindre, then sixteen and a half years old, came from Douai to spend a few days with them, when three hours later my mother was taken in the middle of the night by a fatal attack of cholera. My father was left alone with his four children. Who would stay with them, with his professional obligations demanding frequent and prolonged absences? Yet Caroline was there: she had made a quick decision. The very next morning she packed up the four children, brought them to Gare du Nord, loaded them onto the first train, and returned with them to Douai without having taken the time to ask an opinion, so sure was her action to meet with approval. . . her family knew the right way to live, with hard work. My father, when he could, took my older brother back, then one after another my two sisters; but I, who at the time of my mother's death in 1849 was just five and a half months old, I was cut off, and enveloped in the most tender care; the Gindre family's attachment to me grew because of the pains I cost them, and finally, in agreement with my father, it was decided that they would keep me. Their mother became my mother, and I had four extra mothers, not counting their elder brother, my godfather, who was killed while serving as an artillery officer during the Crimean War. In 1870, the Gindre mother was in the cemetery, the eldest daughter was married to the sculptor René Fache. The three who remained lived communally in their modest but pleasant house on rue de l'Abbaye des Prés. . . I said earlier that Deverrière, my colleague at Charleville, found himself there as a guest the first time Rimbaud came to stay, fresh out of Mazas. The latter was installed in a cheerful room with a well-appointed library, which came from my godfather, and of which we were allowed to make liberal use. Among the classics there was a Montaigne, on which Rimbaud immediately set his intentions: one afternoon, returning home, I saw him waiting for me in front of the house, our Montaigne in his hand, an amused look on his face. As I joined him he put the book under my eye, marking with his finger a sentence that he recited breathlessly, as I read along. It was about the question of poetic inspiration. To define it, the clever essayist chose his metaphors, or so it seemed, in such a way that he allowed a comical sense of the first rate to transpire beneath the artifice of an identical, well-put phrase: read it once, then re-read it, between the lines:

The poet, seated on the tripod of the muses, in his fury pours out everything that comes to into his mouth, like the gargoyle on a fountain, and from him escapes matter of many colors, of conflicting substances, by a well-worn channel.1

This posture, these regurgitations, these jolts, greatly amused Rimbaud—not that his spirit was very much given to gross bawdiness, but childishness could not scare off the inventor of Degueulare superbos. All that day, and the following days, he played that tune for me at every opportunity, and I myself—were we not schoolboys on vacation?—I entered into his game. . . Was it not a kind of refrain? We had a lot of practice with this sort of sport, so much so that today I can write the citation from memory without having to consult the original text.

And, if I have trotted out this minutia, this puerile anecdote, it’s because Rimbaud seems to have remembered the joke in the triplets of Cœur volé:

Mon pauvre cœur bave à la poupe
Mon cœur est plein de caporal.

He sent me these verses in a letter of 13 May 1871: “I see that you have been reminded of our old Montaigne”, I wrote him in my reply. . . It is not in vain that one returns to the classics.


Rimbaud, national guardsman

I have said that in Douai Rimbaud did nothing but write verse; of that we have seen the proof.

Here is another fact: he was a national guardsman. If he could not enlist in due course, he was (and this is more commendable) a “volunteer” national guardsman—the only one, perhaps, ever to be found. . . And if I add that he went to enlist on the same day as I in the combatant army, it will be thought that I am going a bit too far with this uncontrollable story: Patience, you will see if I exaggerate.

Napoleon III, who after 2 December had eliminated the national guard, had thought it good as soon as the war began to re-establish this outmoded institution. I, unarmed as I was2, was required to participate; Rimbaud no, because he had not reached the age of conscription. Everywhere new militias were being created; the Sedan catastrophe that left our north-east frontier wide open had totally changed the initial sense of the war; from a dynastic war it had become a defensive war: Pro aris et focis. I decided to serve for as long as it lasted. When I went to enlist, Rimbaud offered to accompany me on my little hygenic promenade. On the way he told me, tout de go, "that he was going to enlist at the same time I did". I told him that, not being an adult, he could not dispose of himself without the consent of his mother. He refused to believe that "énormité" and, when the enlisting officer vetoed him with a peremptory "no", he walked out, holding the spinelessness of bureaucracy in contempt. I maintain the exactitude of these remarks.

Those who would like to take my word on this matter will find a singular discrepancy between Rimbaud's letter of August 25, in which he displayed an exuberant antimilitarism, and these dense patches of heroism that I put not three weeks later. . . to which I might respond that his ferocious "joke" never applied to real courage, but only to false vaingloriousness: "This sanctimonious population gesticulates, prudhommesquely gallant, quite differently from the besieged at Metz or Strasbourg."

And then, I have not committed myself to serving the reader a stabilized Rimbaud in a single attitude. Do you not know his customary versatility? We have to take it as it is.

One could also say that he was playing a comedy for me, or even that he was playing it for himself. This I have never believed, and still don't believe, despite all his later transformations. His rebellious, anti-jingoistic attitude, his disdain for dead language, for "patroliotism" as he said, would more likely have incited him to play the inverse comedy, of detachment and cockiness, as he does in his letter of August 25: "My country is taking a stand, I prefer to see it sitting: don't fidget in your boots, that's my principle", and other gibes of questionable drollery. . .

Yes, but as this letter was being carried by the post, something shifted in the air: the national spirit was taken up again; with the insult inflicted on France by the arrogance of her adversaries, the slap struck on the face of her "defeat", of which some feigned ignorance, at that moment everyone felt the sting on his own cheek. The republicans, yesterday's pacifists, repudiated the sterile motto "Peace at any price" as incompatible with the heavy blows that were raining down upon us. Did we repudiate it? no, but we enlarged it. You smash me; I smash you. Turn the other cheek? no. The enemy calls me back onto the field—so to war! . . . Since "Paix à tout prix" also means, does it not, that we will pay whatever price it takes.

Simple and innocent truisms! Like all truisms. From whom did they emanate? From him, from me? We played opposite one another. Perhaps you forget that the obsidional fever had come down on all of France: it allowed for all nonsense, excused all panic, created mirages, made prodigies acceptable. Even the skeptics were taken in. The "Jusqu'au bout" desperadoism, the move for "immediate" revenge or at least "very imminent", all this was entering into our skulls, as if it had been driven in by mallet-blows in the vehement, fateful proclamations of a Gambetta.

I confess also, to get things straight, that our enthusiasm was mixed with a wisp of literature. We had, during the previous June and July, worked ourselves to the bone, in my rooms at Charleville, over the Prometheus Bound of Aeschylus, so much so that in Douai we were haunted by snippets of the Greek text at every moment. The famous appellation of the opening (ô dios aither . .), which we knew almost by heart, fed our revolt against the fait accompli, against the vœ victis of Bismarck, against the blows from every which way, against cowardice and the baseness it engenders. We felt the rages of Prometheus, the beneficent giant, his flesh torn by the bite and talon of the vulture: blind rage, yes, and apparently demented, as it seems to be when he invokes, as if asking their protection, the encircling air, the passing wind, the sea that smiles with all the smile of her waves, the maternal earth, the sun "that wills everything", and even the sweet mermaids who fearfully approach him!. . . "Berserk rage?" No. He presents evidence for the remedy he demands, for a future that he foresees. Defeated, bound, he is feared by the gods, his executioners. He feels himself strong against them, with all the prescience of his divine gift, because above even the gods there is destiny, the logic of things. And there was not a little of this sort of thing, this "immanent justice"3, in the ideas, if not the formulae, that were already germinating in the manifestoes of 1870.

Rimbaud was seized: he, yesterday's rebel, he who brooded on all revolts, all mysticisms, all lyricisms. He had discovered the soul of a poet and not a vulgar politician. Reflect, I beg you, rimbaudistes mes frères, that September 4 was not only an episodic date, marked for us by a picturesque footnote (Mazas) "les bohémienneries" of a Rimbaud, but a formidable date—as Rimbaud himself said—in the destinies of a great nation.4 And you would ask that the poet of Forgeron, of Dormer du Val and of Morts de Valmy,

Hommes extasiés et grands dans la tourmente,

had passed, frivolous or reticent beside this epic that was filling our eyes and hearts. . . . Yes, when it's all finished, when we have recuperated, we joke, we grouse, we go in for dandyism: "horreur de ma bêtise".5

My voluntary enrollment in the infantry did not demand an immediate departure, since rifles could not be found—or uniforms, or the rest. (The uniforms not for parades, but because the Prussians would shoot every civilian prisoner that fell into their hands). Everything had to be improvised. While I waited, I remained enrolled in the Douai National Guard, and I was required to participate in its exercises. I had to absorb all the rudiments of basic training "une, deusse. . . Portez, arme, etc." We were armed—in a manner of speaking—with old muskets, the kind with firing-pins; in fact, there were no more than two or three of them per squadron, and these were always distributed among the officers. As sub-officer we had an old toothless veteran, called sergeant because of his expertise: he could not read, but he had a deep knowledge of the charge en douze temps,6 which was only possible with the gun that he was holding. We, "his men", provided with broomstick handles—which were marvelously like real chassepots—we obeyed him passively, docilely, and attentively to reproduce his grimace, to make a simulacrum of pulling out ette (an imaginary baguette, firing-pin), to return it dexterously between our fingers, to push in ouche (the absent cartouche, cartridge) into the sluice of a non-existent gun barrel. These powerful lessons were given to us, sometimes on the ramparts, sometimes on the "Berce Gayant"7, a grassy place, hidden in the buffer zone of the exterior fortifications.

Rimbaud went there with me, followed our maneuvers with an envious eye, and, affirming his vocation, he begged me to solicit his admission as a "volunteer national guardsman", which I did without restraint, and I obtained him a supplementary broomstick from the choice available in our armaments depot. This first success encouraged him, and an ambition was born within him to possess his own real rifle, even if it were an archaic model. If this wish could not be fulfilled, it was not due to a lack of insistence, as may be seen in his petition to this purpose, which surfaced in 1911 in the conditions I have described. The text, all of it in his hand in a very careful script, occupies two and a half pages of a large sheet of papier écolier.8 There would be no great interest in replicating the whole of this manuscript; it should suffice to know that it exists, in what circumstances it was drafted, and that I guarantee the authenticity, which is also attested by the writing. Here is the document:

We, the undersigned, members of the legion of the sedentary national guard of Douai, protest the letter of Monseiur M___,9 mayor of Douai, brought to the agenda of 18 September 1870.
To respond to the numerous complaints of unarmed national guardsmen, M. Mayor sends us back to the instructions given by the Minister of War; in this insinuating letter he seems to accuse the Minister of War and the Minister of the Interior of a lack of conviction or of improvidence. Without naming ourselves the defenders of a righteous cause, we have the right to remark the improvidence and the lack of conviction of the deposed government, of which we still suffer the consequences. We must all understand the motives that have compelled the ministers of the National Defense to reserve whatever arms are left to it for soldiers in the active army, as well as mobilized guards: these, obviously, must be armed by the Government before the rest of us. Is this to say that we cannot give arms to three-quarters of the national guardsmen, who are still determined to defend in case of attack? not at all. They do not want to remain useless; arms must be found for them. It is to the municipal councils, elected by the guardsmen themselves, that the responsibility of procuring weapons belongs. The mayor, in a parallel case, must take the initiative, and as has already been done in numerous communities in France, he must spontaneously implement the means at his disposal for the purchase and distribution of arms in his community.
We must vote next Sunday in the municipal elections, and we want to lend our voices only to those who have shown themselves, in their words and actions, to be devoted to our interests. For us, however, the letter from the Mayor of Douai, read publicly last Sunday after the Revue, tends, intentionally or no, to cast discredit on the National Defense, and to sow discouragement in our ranks, as if there were nothing left to do on the municipal front; this is why we believe we must protest against the apparent intentions of this letter.

I did not collaborate on this masterpiece or ask Rimbaud to write it. But he had assisted, as punctual walk-on actor, in the parade where the mayor did us the honors of his letter. And he had, en r'venant d'la r'vue,10 heard the reflections exchanged by the malcontents, among them myself; I had been asked to draw up a protest that everyone would sign. Back at rue de l'abbaye des Prés, I set myself to writing it, but Rimbaud had beaten me to it. When he showed me his version, I didn't find anything to correct; I even felicitated him on his first go at journalism—for it really was that—to have so quickly assimilated the babbling jargon, the clichés and redundancies of polemic journalists, "this insinuating letter". . . "Without calling ourselves the defenders of a righteous cause. . ."

National guardsman jusqu'à gauche, he also didn't want to think about the imminent letter from his mother that would tear him away from the martial itch: he lived in the present; carpe diem. Her reply arrived nevertheless, too early for his propaganda to have had the time to produce an effect; one signature, one alone, was affixed at the bottom of his factum.

For the rest, the conflict between the mayor and ourselves was perfectly insoluble. We demanded arms from him, he didn't have any: very valid reasoning empowered our opposition, he preferred, to make a spectacle of the Ministry of Defense. . . but what am I narrating here? It doesn't concern M. Mayor, but Rimbaud, the momentary quatre-septembriste who would be, less than a year later, the verbose, objurgatory, and theatrical Communard of Paris se repeuple:

O lâches, la voilà!. . . .

After 18 March,11 as after 4 September, he still goes for the cowards, and this fidelity to his aversions hangs like a sort of unity in his most disturbing inconsistencies.


Rimbaud, journalist

I have said that journalism had a very lively attraction for us. For me, I should say, no less than for him. We had so many things to say, things that would seem novel to novices of our type, so many things that had been repressed in us under the old regime, perhaps more inquisitive and more meddlesome than would have been wanted. . . But there are always zealous subordinates. We were steeped in Paul-Louis Courier,12 and we made a fairly well-matched pair dreamers.

Since the surrender of Sedan, the newspaper game had been riding high, in Douai as elsewhere. Criers ran through the city hawking hastily-printed matter, butterflies with a few lines, telegrams that had arrived half an hour before. A local printer launched a small, atonal newspaper, entitled Journal de Douai, publishing the daily dispatches, haphazardly, with no commentary at all. I decided to find him; I proposed my collaboration in the form of modest leading articles, accompanied by some short items meant to give his paper a little apparent life, with a very discreet political note conforming with the new public spirit. That's what propaganda is: opportunism, which this was. . . As I never asked him for anything in return, he accepted, installed me in a little furnished room with a table, one or two chairs, and "what one needs to write": it was my newsroom. I didn't receive any visitors there except my friend Deverrière and, of course, Rimbaud, who came to read the rare papers that were at my disposal. Printer's ink has a sweet perfume, Rimbaud swelled with it. . .

It had been agreed that our paper would take a new title before long, a little less bland: Le Libéral du Nord. I knew that a newspaper of the same name had appeared twenty years earlier, under the second republic, very well-edited by the Douaisien Emile Dupont, who was an old friend of the Gindre family. The earlier newspaper had been done away with after December 2,13 Emile Dupont had been tied up in Paris, and only very rarely was there any news of him. . .

Over the next few days I put my heart into the paper, dressed up in its new title, and one morning I found an unknown trespasser waiting for me in my typically-empty cubby-hole. His name was: Emile Dupont. I understood that he had come to take his place in the fight, and, consequently, I admitted my defeat with deference. He invited me to continue my collaboration, working for him; then Rimbaud was suddenly there, and I made a regulation introduction, omitting to speak of him as a possible collaborator though I knew of the desire that tortured him, and I could have given him the innocent satisfaction. But the dreaded reply from the Rimbaud mother would be coming soon; it was bound to arrive at any minute, and I didn't want to offer any shadow of a pretext for the resistance that this recalcitrant youth could make out of anything at all. You see, he developed fantasies from whatever was available: when I finally put him on the train he said, with a proud contempt for circumstance, "My work is here, I have a mission to fulfill, the cause needs me, I must stay! . . . Even if you slam your door in my face, I will stay here, even if I must live on the spirit of the age!" . . . one must not tempt the Devil.

I forgot to say that the day before the interview with Emile Dupont, a public meeting had taken place, a rare incident in the placid city. I was there with my two accomplices. . . Some people who were very well known to me had taken part in the discussion, among others a M. J__ , co-director of an important factory; an engineer; a staid man, with an acerbic tone; and a painter, renowned in town for his easy and entertaining talk.

I had a copy of the first edition of the paper to appear with a leading article by Emile Dupont. That paper bears the date 25 September 1870. As I tore off the band, Rimbaud followed my movements with a detached air that intrigued me. On the third page, in the "Local News", I came across the following short item. You will guess why I have reproduced it.

Public meeting, rue d'Esquerchin
The session began at 7 o'clock: the order of the day was the formation of an electoral register. The presiding citizen gave a reading of two electoral registers, then two conciliation registers.
Citizen J__ finds the idea of the conciliation register very charming, he calls it the devils' register. He brought up the point that certain citizens, well-known for their reactionary opinions or for their inanity, have the immense advantage of appearing on two, even on three registers. Naturally, the serious and committed candidates appear on only one register. This remark, made in a neat and vivid fashion, obtained the approval of the audience. The presiding citizen, in order to compose a new electoral register, proposed a vote to accept or reject each of the candidates named on the first three registers.
One of the seated citizens recited the rosary of the conciliabules, almost all of them were rejected with splendid enthusiasm.
New names were proposed. Citizens J__, P__, and several others declined the honor of appearing on the register. A small, agreeably farcical clarification was made by Citizen S__. He raised a judgment from beyond the grave, pertaining to the old city council, and recounted its adventures with a certain resonance.
The session finished with the composition of the new register. It is entitled: Register Recommended to Republican Democrats. A citizen remarked that all French citizens today must be Republican Democrats, and that consequently the title of this list recommends it to all citizens. The meeting dissolved at ten o'clock.

This, from Rimbaud?, you will say. . . It oozes the ennui, the petty and stilted self-importance, the professional platitudes of an illiterate sub-reporter who gazes at himself in his inanities! . . . And he the fine connoisseur, who knew his language . . . No! He knew nothing! For the moment, he was waiting for compliments, pink with modesty like a young virgin after her first kiss, the kiss of the muse . . . of the journalist.

—This is how you abuse my trust! I told him, laughing.
—Bah! your friends will be happy.
—I don't guarantee that. Yes, the painter S__ , maybe; if he remembers having been an apprentice himself and isn't intimidated by a touch of publicity. But the others, but this M. J__ . . .
—Well, there! didn't I save him a few compliments?
—Will they be to his taste? He is a serious person, not at all prudhommesque, but with a position in the community, in short "un monsieur", and you throw around this "Citizen", as if his name were Marat or. . . Carrier, at the drownings at Nantes.
—But no, that's the name that applies to everyone under the republic. It was done that way in '93, in '48. . .
—Let's not get drunk on the words:
The past is the past; this republic has better things to do than ape its predecessors, or terrify the timid with outmoded expressions. The opposition calls us "des rouges", we shouldn't give them pretexts for this comedy of fear. This M. J__ is the head of an important interest group: laborers, employees, partisans of ideas like himself. Suppose that, in their daily reports to him, some of them want to use your slogan, some thinking it's the right thing to do, others for a laugh; his factory will run amok, there will be a lot of bother of which we will be the primary cause. And I doubt that he will know that we had anything to do with it.

The same day, I went to the Circle—called "The Professors' Circle" even though many members were not teachers. There I found "father Nicolas", my ancien maître—always more than a friend, for me. Near him, M. J__ , "Citizen J__", who stopped me immediately: "Are you the author of the city council minutes that appeared in the Libéral?"

—Me? no. —Then who? . . . You are editor-in-chief of the paper, so you must be au courant as to what it publishes. —You are mistaken: I've given my powers over to M. Emile Dupont; the leading article by him is proof, and only he would be able to answer you.

This M. J__ wasn't a wicked devil; I knew him to be learned, intelligent, but temperamental and gruff. I had mostly been on good terms with him, but I had to keep my guard up to avoid disclosing the identity of that damned Rimbaud.

"You're playing dumb," he continued, "but the article came from someone who attended the meeting on Friday. If it isn't by you, it's by one of the ones I saw there with you. Now understand, I forbid that anyone should concern himself with me, or cite my name in a newspaper."

This man was more than twice my age. I made an effort to contain myself, but this "I forbid", articulated that way, made me lose my patience: "Excuse me, sir! If you speak in public, you give the press the right to concern themselves with you. And I don't see, incidentally, that any malice has been directed at you."

You don't see, you don't see . . . !"

And his irritation grew and grew, until it was so great that he couldn't admit the real cause, this qualifier "Citizen" that was weighing on his heart. So, with one word from him that bristled with menace, that would have to be met with a response in kind, père Nicolas rose: he was the oldest of the teachers at the high school, he had the authority to intervene: "Quiet, Izambard," he said "and you, J__, listen to me." He proceeded to calm him, to force him to take a seat, and to indicate another place for me, closer to his own, as if he was going to play the buffer state if we got the idea of devouring one another. The citizen maintained his hostile air.

I didn't return to the Circle the next day, and when I did come to shake hands with my friends, avoiding the enraged one, it was he who extended a hand to me: "Monsieur Izambard," he said, "it's my turn: come raise a glass with us". This said with his jovial mask, in the tone of a drunk in the estaminet on his best behavior. The gesture had some elegance, considering the difference in our ages. Peace was established—but it had been a hot scare.


Qu'il vienne, qu'il vienne

I can recall without much trouble plenty of other, second-order facts: time may have deformed them or even erased them—like the painter's brush erased Rimbaud's goodbye verses, penciled on our door—if I hadn't from time to time had the opportunity to relive the memories in the intimacy of conversation. By these interviews, which bring the past closer to the present, the facts have reclaimed their original features, with their reliefs, tones, and values. But they will be, for others, of such minimal interest that I will abstain from recording them here.

Here is one, however, that I want to save from oblivion, because I suspect that there was some reason for it to have appeared in the famous Chanson de la Plus haute tour, an object of special dilection, as it seems, because the poet made a place for two repetitions of it in his oeuvre.

He himself, and after him Delahaye and Verlaine, told of his refined taste in old, simplistic poems with a puerile and touching clumsiness , "simple refrains, naïve rhythms", which he translated into "romances, of a kind".

So one day in September as we walked outside the city, still encircled with its old ramparts, we arrived at a view of the Château de Wagnonville; we had followed a straight path—a pied-sente as they say there—bordered on one side by a pretty little stream, l'Escrébieu, and on the other by a field of oats, growing into the middle of the path, seeming to stop our passage. Rimbaud went ahead, light and quick with his stick en bataille, and decapitated them with a sharp stroke.

—Like Tarquin the Superb, he said to me. Then, happy to have dazzled me with his recollection of de Viris, he gathered up the sheaves had fallen to the ground, and set off again, happily singing the following verses to a tune that was unknown to me:

Avène, avène,
Que le beau temps t'amène . . .

I didn't retain the tune that he sang, but I was interested in the old-fashioned charm of the verse: I caught up with him to ask the provenance, but we were already talking about something else.

A long time afterwards, I was at the Bibliothèque Nationale, in the midst of a study—for myself—of the various regional songbooks, where the tune appears together with the words, when I came across the two verses I quoted. The author gave them as originating from a very ancient round, and left it at that. I had quickly copied the music. . . and I lost it, along with the title of the book and its author. But the tune, this time, stayed in my ear—the tune in the songbook—and I wrote it out later on a staff.

Is this really the tune that Rimbaud knew, the one he sang near Château de Wagnonville? I tend to believe that it is. Did he also know the other verse of the round, with the complete melody? It's somewhat probable.

If this melody were known in full—to others or to me—and if it were compatible with the strophes of Rimbaud, I think that the proof would be made, and we would be justified in joining the tune to his song. Who will tell us the tune? Who will bring us the proof?

. . . Because the short musical phrase that I give is nothing but a refrain. But as it fits perfectly, my hypothesis seems to me powerfully supported . . . , insofar as it concerns the refrain.

An objection can be made to this, and I can see it coming. I present it as follows:

Yes, this Chanson de la plus haute tour appears twice in his œuvre, but with significant differences: the first time, in Illuminations, with this refrain:

Qu'il vienne, qu'il vienne,
Le temps dont on s'éprenne! . . .

the second time in Saison en Enfer:

Ah que le temps vienne
Où les cœurs s'éprennent! . . .

The refrain, which has six feet in the primitive version, has only five in the new version.

To which I reply that in the Chanson populaire—which was originally oral, not written— such liberties can be taken unceremoniously and easily accommodated; the same syllable can be extended over two notes (which applies to a verse with one foot less); or one can be split and be used for two syllables (when there is an extra foot), without changing the meter. There is a linked note (legato) in the first case, and a held note (tenuto) in the second. This can be seen in the following notation, where the three versions may be seen, adapted to the music of the round:

a possible refrain

So the variation in question, far from disproving my hypothesis, seems to me to reinforce it: not that it breaks the rules of composition, but that it leaves the singer the job of getting through it as he may, which is absolutely right for the tradition of the popular song.


Izambard's text has footnotes, this website allows only end-notes: I provide a note wherever I found that I needed to look something up. Maybe they will spare someone trouble. My notes appear in square brackets, Izambard's without. No translation is given for the poems, but I give the title of the poem if Izambard doesn't. -AV

  1. [Essais III, ch. 9, "De la vanité" (Garnier, 1969, p. 235). The above is my translation of Izambard's slight mistranscription.]   // back
  2. I should have had to endure the draft in 1869: I was forgotten and I let them forget me, having no taste for barracks life. But the summons knew how to find me well enough a year later, at Charleville; I got, o joy!, a good number that exempted me from active service. But there was still the National Guard; I therefore appeared before the review board, dressed only in a pince-nez. My short-sightedness, duly established, immediately exempted me, new joy. That is to say, there wasn't a question of war at the time, and the absurd expedition to Mexico was not of the nature to develop our warriors' instincts. It is true that I could have shielded myself against these various hazards in advance, by establishing, like a university professor, a ten year contract; but if I enjoyed the occupation of teaching, I enjoyed my independence above all. And it was, from this point forward, reserved. . . I must excuse myself for intercalating here details that seem to concern nothing but myself. You may find that they have been necessary to understand what follows.   // back
  3. It was at the fêtes de Cherbourg [the naval review] (9 August 1880), that Gambetta delivered his famous phrase: "If our hearts beat it is not for the dream of bloody adventures: it is so that we can count on the future, to know if there is an immanent justice in things, that comes at its proper day and hour."   // back
  4. [4 September 1870: Emperor Napoleon III of France is deposed and the Third Republic is declared.]   // back
  5. ["Nuit de l'enfer", in Saison en enfer]   // back
  6. [A re-enactor's charge en douze temps, here.]   // back
  7. ["Giant's Cradle": Gayant is both the spelling in Picardie patois and the name for the Douai giant—a folkloric figure dating from 1480, when the town celebrated victory over the French army with a procession including a wicker giant. The giant's procession became an annual festival, until it was discovered in 1770 that Douai, now a French town, was celebrating the anniversary of a French military defeat. Gayant was considered profane, and was not allowed to appear again until 1801.]   // back
  8. [a sheet of papier écolier is 31 x 40 cm; in this case folded to create multiple pages on a single sheet. An image of the last page of the MS, here.]   // back
  9. The names are given in full in the original, as in the newspaper article reproduced below.   // back
  10. [Famous music-hall song created in 1886 by the singer Paulus (Jean-Paul Habans) who commissioned lyrics for the tune. It presents a satire of the petit-bourgeois family seduced by the militarism of General Boulanger (who advocated revenge against Germany); they go picnicking at a military review. A recording, here.]   // back
  11. [18 March 1871: Declaration of the Paris Commune; President of the French Republic, Adolphe Thiers, orders the evacuation of Paris.]   // back
  12. [French political writer and Hellenist, 1772-1825. Imprisoned for pamphleteering, he published a popular account of his own trial and conviction. A political motive was rumored for his murder. Many of his writings are available online (in French) at paullouiscourier.fr.]   // back
  13. [2 December 1851: Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte overthrows the Second Republic]   // back


GEORGES IZAMBARD was a schoolteacher at Collège de Charleville, where Rimbaud was one of his students. 

ALLISON VANOUSE is the Associate Editor of The Battersea Review. She is the editor of a critical edition of the poems of R.P. Blackmur, unpublished, and is currently working, under Christopher Ricks at the Editorial Institute, on a book about T.S. Eliot, James Joyce, Ezra Pound, Wyndham Lewis, Faber and Faber, and the design, advertising, and propaganda of modernism. Her translations of poems by Apollinaire appeared in the last issue of The Battersea Review.