Dawn by Arthur Rimbaud Summary

Summary (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

“Dawn,” one of the prose poems included in Rimbaud’s Illuminations (1886), is particularly representative of the concerns in most of his writing. Subjectivity, underlined by the use of a first-person speaker; erotic desire, rendered by the image of pursuit of the object; and a final depersonalization accompanied by fainting are the principal themes of the work.

The poem begins and ends with short declarative sentences, each of them forming its own paragraph or stanza. In between, the poet has arranged his dream-narrative in five brief paragraphs of approximately equal length. After the first sentence, “I embraced the summer dawn,” which in fact summarizes the entire action of the poem, the story is presented chronologically. The final sentence questions the reality of the action evoked.

Perhaps the most striking literary technique apparent in the first stanza is personification. The façade of the palaces is called a “forehead.” The water is “dead.” Shadows are “encamped,” and nature is “breathing,” while precious stones “watch” the speaker. By attributing life to the inanimate, the poet tends to make it more active than his speaker.

The next short paragraph reinforces the notion that the speaker is passive. “My first enterprise was, in the path already filled with cool pale glimmers, a flower that told me her name.” Not only is the flower personified, but the “enterprise,” a word that suggests action, is not really that of the speaker at all, for the only initiative belongs to the flower.

The fourth paragraph, or stanza, represents the center of the poem. It is a sort of climax as the speaker...

(The entire section is 689 words.)

Dawn Bibliography (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Cohn, Robert Greer. The Poetry of Rimbaud. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1999.

Evans, David. Rhythm, Illusion, and the Poetic Idea: Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Mallarmé. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2004.

Fowlie, Wallace. Rimbaud: The Myth of Childhood. London: Faber & Faber, 1946.

Frohock, W. M. Rimbaud’s Poetic Practice. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1963.

Hackett, C. A. Rimbaud: A Critical Introduction. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1980.

Houston, John Porter. The Design of Rimbaud’s Poetry. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1963.

Little, Roger. Rimbaud: Illuminations. London: Grant & Cutler, 1983.

Robb, Graham. Rimbaud. New York: W. W. Norton, 2000.

Starkie, Enid. Arthur Rimbaud. 3d. ed. London: Faber & Faber, 1961.

Whidden, Seth. Leaving Parnassus: The Lyric Subject in Verlaine and Rimbaud. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2007.