There have been no fully satisfactory translations of the brilliant modernist forerunner Jean-Nicolas-Arthur Rimbaud (1854–1891): the rather flat Wallace Fowlie version (Univ. of Chicago) is the most reliable, while the error-ridden Penguin volume by Oliver Bernard and the wildly improvisational try by U.S. poet Paul Schmidt (HarperPerennial) take riskier poetic licenses, with uneven results. After Graham Robb's coarse and insensitive, yet energetic and well-received biography of the poet last year (Norton), more attention is being drawn to Rimbaud's actual writings. Mason is a translator of Pierre Michon (Masters and Servants) and Dante's Vita Nuova, and is senior editor of artkrush.com ("a Website about art," says their banner). He offers a tremendous amount of Rimbaudiana, including "schoolwork," essays and drafts, miscellaneous poems and Rimbaud's two longest works, A Season in Hell and Illuminations. The poems, unfortunately, are inexactly rendered, extending what Rimbaud wrote merely to force a rhyme (Rimbaud's couplet "My hunger, Anne, Anne/ Flee on your mule" is extended by Mason to "Flee on your mule if you can," for example), and sometimes mistranslated altogether. In the famous opening of A Season in Hell, "Bad Blood," Mason renders the French verb injurier as "to hurt" rather than "to insult" at the point when the poet has beauty across his knees. Fragmentary drafts of unpublished material, complete with crossings out, are included, along with a small-type appendix of all the poems in French, but Mason's versions do not surpass previous efforts. (Mar. 26)
Forecast:Rimbaud purists will remain with Fowlie, who offers a selection of letters and French versions of the poems (which the Bernard has but Schmidt lacks). For those in search of a "complete" poet's version, Schmidt is still the choice. Yet the Modern Library imprimatur should bring readers to Mason's work, and Mason is preparing a companion volume of Rimbaud's letters for Counterpoint.
Release date: 03/01/2002