Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

If the image of a “blackcurrant river” evokes a vagabond’s paradise, the development of the poem expands that image by coupling it with medieval, fairy-tale commonplaces and a little faintly ironic advice to the timid hiker. This pastoral thematic is, however, accompanied by hints of violence. The wind, for example, is not always a tame breeze, but sometimes a violent one. In the first stanza, the movement of the fir thickets is produced by several winds “plunging.” In the second stanza, the wind is set in contrast to the enclosed atmosphere of revolting mysteries, ancient campaigns, dungeon keeps, important parks, and dead passions. It is “salubrious,” healthy and unconfined.

Also important in “blackcurrant river” are the ravens or crows, harsh-voiced birds of ill omen, which frequently devour dead heroes in traditional ballads. Within a poem that stresses the theme of medieval romance, this link cannot be denied, yet the birds are addressed positively as the forest’s soldiers, sent by the Lord, “deardelicious.” Rimbaud’s poem “Les Corbeaux” (“The Ravens”), published in September of 1872, deals directly with crows as scavengers of the battlefields of the Franco-Prussian War. He uses the same positive language, calling the birds “deardelicious” and addressing them as “saints of the sky.” In both poems, the use of quasi-religious vocabulary is ironic. Nature’s imperative of decay and destruction is carried out by scavengers, and the carrion birds fill this role. They are addressed positively in...

(The entire section is 636 words.)