A Season in Hell
A Season in Hell (French: Une Saison en Enfer) is an extended poem in prose written and published in 1873 by French writer Arthur Rimbaud. It is the only work that was published by Rimbaud himself. The book had a considerable influence on later artists and poets, including the Surrealists.
According to some sources[who?], Rimbaud's first stay in London in late 1872 and early '73 converted him from an imbiber of absinthe to a smoker of opium. According to biographer, Graham Robb, this began "as an attempt to explain why some of his [Rimbaud's] poems are so hard to understand, especially when sober". The poem was by Rimbaud himself dated April through August 1873, but these are dates of completion. He finished the work in a farmhouse in Roche, Ardennes.
There is a marked contrast between the hallucinogenic quality of Une Saison's second chapter, "Mauvais Sang" ("Bad Blood") and even the most hashish-influenced of the immediately preceding verses that he wrote in Paris.[need quotation to verify] Its third chapter, "Nuit de l'Enfer" (literally "Night of Hell"), then exhibits a refinement of sensibility. The two sections of chapter four apply this sensibility in professional and personal confession; and then, slowly but surely, at age 19, he begins to think clearly about his real future; the introductory chapter being a product of this later phase.
The prose poem is loosely divided into nine parts, some of which are much shorter than others. They differ markedly in tone and narrative comprehensibility, with some, such as "Bad Blood," 'being much more obviously influenced by Rimbaud's drug use than others, some argue.[need quotation to verify] However, it is a well and deliberately edited and revised text. This becomes clear if one compares the final version with the earlier versions.
- Introduction (sometimes titled with its first line, "Once, if my memory serves me well...") (French: Jadis, si je me souviens bien...) – outlines the narrator's damnation and introduces the story as "pages from the diary of a Damned soul."
- Bad Blood ("Mauvais sang") – describes the narrator's Gaulish ancestry and its supposed effect on his morality and happiness.
- Night in hell ("Nuit en enfer") – highlights the moment of the narrator's death and entry into hell.
- Delirium 1: The Foolish Virgin – The Infernal Spouse ("Délires I: Vierge folle – L'Époux infernal") – the most linear in its narrative, this section consists of the story of a man (Verlaine), enslaved to his "infernal bridegroom" (Rimbaud) who deceived him and lured his love with false promises. He treats quite transparently his relation with Verlaine.
- Delirium 2: Alchemy of Words ("Délires II: Alchimie du verbe") – the narrator then steps in and explains his own false hopes and broken dreams. This section is broken up much more clearly than many other sections, and contains many sections in verse. Here Rimbaud continues to develop his theory of poetry that began with his "Lettres du Voyant", the "Letters of the Seer".
- The Impossible ("L'impossible") – this section is vague, but one critical response sees it as the description of an attempt on the part of the speaker to escape from hell.
- Lightning ("L'éclair") – one critic[who?] states that this very short section is also unclear, although its tone is resigned and fatalistic and it seems to indicate a surrender on the part of the narrator.
- Morning ("Matin") – this short section serves as a conclusion, where the narrator claims to have "finished my account of my hell," and "can no longer even talk."
- Farewell ("Adieu") – this section seems to allude to a change of seasons, from Autumn to Spring. The narrator seems to have been made more confident and stronger through his journey through hell, claiming he is "now able to possess the truth within one body and one soul."
Meaning and philosophy
For Wallace Fowlie writing in the introduction to his 1966 University of Chicago (pub) translation, "the ultimate lesson" of this "complex"(p4) and "troublesome"(p5) text states that "poetry is one way by which life may be changed and renewed. Poetry is one possible stage in a life process. Within the limits of man's fate, the poet's language is able to express his existence although it is not able to create it."(p5)[need quotation to verify]
Academic critics[who?] have arrived at many varied and often entirely incompatible conclusions as to what meaning and philosophy may or may not be contained in the text.
Among them, Henry Miller was important in introducing Rimbaud to America in the sixties. He once attempted an English translation of the book and wrote an extended essay on Rimbaud and A Season in Hell titled The Time of the Assassins.[need quotation to verify] It was published by James Laughlin's New Directions, the first American publisher of Rimbaud's Illuminations.
Wallace in 1966, p5 of above quoted work, "...(a season in Hell) testif(ies) to a modern revolt, and the kind of liberation which follows revolt".
References in popular culture
New York Times best selling author Tom Robbins wrote a book called "Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates"(2000). This title is a line from A Season in Hell.
The book was featured in one Law & Order episode where it plays a vital part in solving the murder crime.
The art world curator and fundraiser Bette Porter, a fictional character on The L Word, references a piece of artwork titled "A Season in Hell," supposedly one of the most important pieces of the last half-century, during a board meeting with her museum in Season 2 of the series.
The book was referenced in the Felt song, "Sunlight Bathed the Golden Glow" from their 1984 album, The Strange Idols Pattern and Other Short Stories, with the lyric "you're reading from A Season in Hell but you don't know what it's about".
Spanish band Fangoria titled their 1999 album "Una Temporada en el Infierno" (Spanish for Une Saison En Enfer).
In Pollock (film) (2000), Lee Krasner (played by Marcia Gay Harden) reads a quote from A Season In Hell, written on the wall of her studio, when she first receives a visit from Pollock (played by Ed Harris):
- "To whom shall I hire myself out?
- What beast must I adore?
- What holy image is attacked?
- What hearts must I break?
- What lie must I maintain? In what blood tread?"
Peruvian Rock Band La Liga del Sueño used part of the "Bad Blood" section as lyrics in the eponymous song "Mala Sangre" featured in their album Mundo Cachina.
The experimental metal band The Ocean have a song named "Une Saison en Enfer" on the 2006 album Aeolian.
The extreme gothic metal band Theatres des Vampires have a song named "Une Saison en Enfer" on the 2001 album Bloody Lunatic Asylum. They also have one sentence from "Jadis, si je me souviens bien . . ." in the booklet of their first album Vampyrìsme, Nècrophilie, Nècrosadisme, Nècrophagie and in a song of their second album The Vampire Chronicles.
Moby's 2008 album Last Night includes the track "Hyenas" in which a female voice reads the first several lines of A Season in Hell in the original French.
In the game Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World, an antagonist, named Alice, has attacks that are all named after famous literary works. (e.g. The Red and the Black is a historical French novel, A Season in Hell is a French poem etc.)
A Season in Hell is quoted in the novels The Ghosts of Watt O'Hugh by Steven S. Drachman and As Simple As Snow by Gregory Galloway. Watt O'Hugh is a 2011 novel that features J.P. Morgan as a principal character. In the novel, Morgan reads Une Saison on Enfer in his study, moments before being visited by the ghost of his first wife. The novel was named one of the best of 2011 by Kirkus Reviews.
The book is referenced numerous times in the 1983 movie Eddie and the Cruisers and its sequel, and lends its name to the fictitious band's second album. The first movie gives a very brief account of Rimbaud's life as an artist (albeit without any mention of the affair with Paul Verlaine or other pertinent historical details).
The 1983 musical film Eddie and the Cruisers referenced Rimbaud's inner turmoil in a story about a musician that was trying to complete the perfect album and disappeared when the record company rejected it. Eddie Wilson, the lead character in the story, is introduced to Rimbaud by a young man who joins his band. In an argument among the band about a song that Eddie doesn't think sounds quite right and can't exactly explain why, the young man quotes the English translation of Rimbaud's long form poem, demonstrating an example of a Cesure, or meaningful silence, which puts into words the explanation that Eddie cannot. The album that is rejected by the record label, which Eddie was inspired to make after being impressed by Rimbaud's work, is called "A Season In Hell." After a fight with a record label executive, Eddie tears out of the studio angrily, ends up driving his car over a bridge guardrail and is presumed to be dead. This leads to rumors that he faked his death, effectively shunning his art as Rimbaud did.
In the comic series Spawn issues 117–120 are entitled "A Season in Hell."
During one of her lengthy hospitalizations in Switzerland, Zelda Fitzgerald translated Une Saison en Enfer. Earlier Zelda had learned French on her own, by buying a French dictionary and painstakingly reading Raymond Radiguet's Le Bal du Comte d'Orgel.[need quotation to verify]
- Robb 2000, p. 201
- Arthur Rimbaud: Une Saison en Enfer/Eine Zeit in der Hölle, Reclam, Stuttgart 1970; afterword by W. Dürrson, p. 105.
- Arthur Rimbaud: Une Saison en Enfer/Eine Zeit in der Hölle, Reclam, Stuttgart 1970; afterword by W. Dürrson, S. 106.
- Una Stagione all'inferno at IMDB
- Drachman, Steven S. (2011). The Ghosts of Watt O'Hugh. Chickadee Prince Books. p. 153. ISBN 978-0-578-08590-6.
- Galloway, Gregory (2005). As Simple As Snow. Putnam,.
- "Review, The Ghosts of Watt O'Hugh". Kirkus Reviews. Retrieved 2012-02-19.
- Une Saison en enfer at abardel.free.fr (French)
- Drafts of Une Saison at abardel.free.fr (French)
- English translation