“Sonnet of the Asshole” by Paul Verlaine & Arthur Rimbaud

Poetry, Translation April 1, 2014

Dark & puckered like a purple floret,
it breathes; it hides humbly amid the moss
still moist with love that trails the gentle floss
of snowy cheeks into the heart of its skirt.

Filaments like strings of milk are wept—
above, the cruel wind drives them across
the russet marl, along the little clots,
& they vanish, lured in by the gradient.

My Dream often kissed its suction cup;
my Soul, jealous of this corporal fuck,
made it its musky trough, its tear-filled nest.

This the ecstatic olive, this the tender flute,
this the tube down which falls the celestial fruit:
o womanly Canaan in moistures fenced!

translated from the French by Aditi Machado


You can read the French text here. You can read some other versions (all worse than mine, I’m happy to say) here, though I do like “palpable fuckery.”

I do practice translations every now and again, often in order to get closer to some work that matters a lot to me. Sometimes I do it just to work on my French. No one gets to see these exercises usually, but it’s APRIL. I thought I should celebrate. (Happy Poetry Month Day!)

Anyway, I’ve never translated a sonnet before, let alone parody. That’s not an excuse for anything. I had fun doing this and would welcome suggestions re: metrics and rhyme. I hardly ever, intentionally, write in iambics, nor do I use end rhyme. So bits of this felt like exercise. Other bits I’m hellishly proud of: rhyming “nest” with “fenced” and “cup” with “fuck”—and, forgive me, but that first line is excellent. I’m almost inspired to try a sonnet that is not a parody.

Mostly, I wanted to get the images exactly as I understand them from the French. The alternate translations threw me off track a few times, but I tried to get back to how I read the original. For some reason it’s very hard deciding whether love follows the white ass into the asshole or toward the thighs, but the asshole seemed more pertinent. I tried very hard to use the word “rim,” but couldn’t make it work with the rhyme scheme. “Skirt” is—visual, yes? It was also hard figuring out what was going on with the “filaments.” What the hell are clots doing in the picture? I don’t know. Should I know?

I’m aware of the whole let’s-not-even-attempt-meter-since-we-don’t-know-how theory of translation, and I did write a free verse translation, but you know . . . I’d rather do the parody justice and fail. The free verse version sounded so serious.

Oh, and the second link I gave provides some brief context for why Verlaine and Rimbaud wrote this poem:

This is the only poem known to have been jointly composed by Rimbaud and Verlaine. Parnassian poet Albert Mérat had published a book of sonnets called L’Idole, in which each poem extolled a part of the body of his mistress -with one omission, which the two young iconoclasts proceeded to rectify. This sonnet appeared in the “Album Zutique,” a book of scabrous parodies by the literary circle who called themselves Les Zutistes.

Thank you for reading. Compliments and vitriol may be fashioned below.

Comments 2

  1. Damien says on February 11, 2016

    Utterly stellar translation! Parody can occasionally eclipse sincerity and engender the fuckery more palpable.

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