A few hours before dying, paralysed in his hospital bed in Marseille, far away from that harsh, dry and mysterious land he so much hated and so much loved, Rimbaud dictated the following delirious letter to his sister Isabelle (see footnote for French original):
To the Director of the Messageries Maritimes
Marseille, 9 November 1891
ITEM: 1 TUSK ONLY
ITEM: 2 TUSKS
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ITEM: 2 TUSKS
M. Le Directeur,
I should like to ask whether I have left anything on your account. I wish to change from this service today. I don’t even know its name, but whatever it is, let it be the Alphinar line. All those services are there all over the place and I, crippled and unhappy, can find nothing – any dog in the street could tell you that.
Please therefore send me the tariff of services from Aplhinar to Suez. I am completely paralysed, and so I wish to embark in good time. Tell me at what time I must be carried on board. (1)
This letter brings back to mind a poem I have loved so much I used to keep it beside me in my bed. It is called Ulysses, by Alfred Tennyson:
It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Matched with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.
I cannot rest from travel; I will drink
life to the lees. All times I have enjoyed
Greatly, have suffered greatly, both with those
that loved me, and alone; on shore, and when
Through scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vexed the dim sea. I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known—cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honored of them all—
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
I am part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough
Gleams that untraveled world whose margin fades
Forever and forever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end.
To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!
As though to breathe were life! Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains; but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.
This is my son, my own Telemachus,
To whom I leave the scepter and the isle—
Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfill
This labor, by slow prudence to make mild
A rugged people, and through soft degrees
Subdue them to the useful and the good.
Most blameless is he, centered in the sphere
Of common duties, decent not to fail
In offices of tenderness, and pay
Meet adoration to my household gods,
When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.
There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail;
There gloom the dark, broad seas. My mariners,
Souls that have toiled, and wrought, and thought with me—
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads—you and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honor and his toil.
Death closes all; but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks;
The long day wanes; the slow moon climbs; the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends.
‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
the sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down;
It may be that we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are—
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
‘What do you want, I have become tremendously stubborn in adoring free freedom […]’
(Rimbaud to Izambard, 2 November 1870)
(1) Au directeur des Messageries maritimes
Marseille, 9 novembre 1891.
UN LOT : UNE DENTSEULE.
UN LOT : DEUX DENTS.
UN LOT : TROIS DENTS.
UN LOT : QUATRE DENTS.
UN LOT : DEUX DENTS.
Monsieur le Directeur,
Je viens vous demander si je n’ai rien laissé à votre compte. Je désire changer aujourd’hui de ce service-ci, dont je ne connais même pas le nom, mais en tout cas que ce soit le service d’Aphinar. Tous ces services sont là partout, et moi, impotent, malheureux, je ne peux rien trouver, le premier chien dans la rue vous dira cela.
Envoyez-moi donc le prix des services d’Aphinar à Suez. Je suis complètement paralysé: donc je désire me trouver de bonne heure à bord. Dites-moi à quelle heure je dois être transporté à bord.