It’s long since Ciaran Carson established his reputation as a masterful, protean poet and an adept, inventive translator. His versions of The Inferno of Dante Alighieri, The Táin and The Midnight Court are the yields of thrilling raids on other cultures, times and languages. The Alexandrine Plan (1988) included translations of sonnets by, among others, Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891).
In the Light Of flourished from his response to an invitation to translate seven of Rimbaud’s prose poems. The originals of these were collected in Illuminations, most of which first appeared in 1886 in the Symbolist review, La Vogue.
Ciaran Carson’s adaptations of prose into rhyming verse ‘are not conventional translations’, as his Author’s Note explains. They are engagements and experiments with the work of a poet who was ‘avant garde before the Avant-garde; a surrealist before Surrealism; and, environmentalist avant la lettre, his critique of industrial society is still relevant today. In all those senses he was indeed a seer.’ And in this exchange the French precursor has met his match.
Carson does seem well equipped. First, he has form for translating Rimbaud, having previously brought across his sonnets – along with those of Baudelaire and Mallarmé – in The Alexandrine Plan (1998). More importantly, Carson is the protean shapeshifter of Irish poetry. Rather than retreat into mannerism or self-imitation, he has always tried on new ideas for size . . . there is a sort of numerical, doubling pun in the fact that he chooses to render 22 of the poems into couplets, that these 22 versions are split into two groups of 11 and, headscratchingly, that the book features three prose poems as “intro”, “interlude” and “coda”. . .
Carson proves equal to the challenge of Rimbaud’s tonal variety: his interest in the language of balladry allows him to carry across the kind of archaism and high poetic abstraction otherwise long absent from poetry in English . . . Carson’s versions are also alive to the feverish and comic sensuality of La Bête (Bottom) . . . can also present another side again of Rimbaud as his couplets re-create the beautiful, eerily poised meditation of On the Road (Enfance) . . .
Rimbaud’s readers have spent more than a century reconstructing the poetic oeuvre that he abandoned. Carson’s brilliant new edition of the poems of Illuminations should grip the imagination of Rimbaud’s English-speaking readers as well as new readers of these strikingly contemporary, modern writers, Arthur Rimbaud and Ciaran Carson.
— John McAuliffe, The Irish Times
The title of Ciaran Carson’s latest volume of poetry is in itself telling: rather than viewing his work as being ‘in the shadow’ of Rimbaud’s Illuminations, Carson sees his reinterpretation of the late nineteenth-century prose verse as being nurtured by its predecessor, a distinct advantage and positive spin on his translation. Certainly, the task he sets himself is laid out in opaque and simple terms from the outset: as delineated in his introduction . . .
. . . The varied textual history of Rimbaud’s Illuminations is testament to its nature as a timeless work, indicative of a text which is at once elusive yet all-encompassing, foreign yet familiar. Carson offers an exquisite contribution to the continuing evolution of this liminal text, with his distillation of the form to its essential parts, a triumphant feat of language and skilful style.
— Tower Poetry
Year Published: 2012
ISBN PBK: 978 1 85235 541 8
ISBN ebook: 978 1 85235 556 2