“Barbarian” is a free-verse poem included in the volume Illuminations. The structure of the poem is a loose one in which repetition seems to abolish temporal reference. The poem functions as a tension between two networks of images, one of them agreeable and feminine and characterized by softness, the other violent and threatening. The jumble of imagery has often been seen as revealing Rimbaud’s experimentation with drugs to induce vision.
In the French title, “Barbare,” with its repetition of two identical syllables, producing an echo effect, several elements of the poem are introduced. The word “barbarian” can function either as an adjective or as a noun. The reader does not yet know who or what is qualified as barbarian. The barbarian suggests first of all that which is not civilized. A certain violence may be implied, along with the notion of otherness.
The free-verse form of the poem, consisting for the most part of noun clauses, presents a high degree of repetition, but no apparent structure. Ending as it does with the beginning of a repetition followed by three dots, the poem seems unfinished. Several temporal indications are present from the start of the poem. The first line begins “Long after,” while the third begins with “Delivered” and continues with “far from.” If verbs are present in the text, they tend to be there in participle form, that is, functioning as nouns and thereby losing their active role, as well as their temporal value. The open nasal sound is very frequent. It is found in many words but especially in the present participle ending: “viande” (“meat”), “saignante” (“bleeding”),...
(The entire section is 700 words.)