(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

“The Drunken Boat” is perhaps one of the poems that Rimbaud presented to the poet Paul Verlaine as an introduction upon arrival in Paris in 1871. There is no manuscript in the hand of the poet, but the work was no doubt written shortly before being given to Verlaine. It was first published in a journal, Lutèce, in 1883 and then in Verlaine’s Poètes maudits in 1884. “The Drunken Boat” is a work upon which Rimbaud counted to make his reputation. It is mysterious and remains so even after generations of scholarly readings. Many people see it as a succession of images noted by a youngster who had been reading adventure stories such as those of Jules Verne and James Fenimore Cooper. Other readers have discovered metaphysical intentions and esoteric symbols.

Some of the obscure images in the poem become clearer if one rereads Edgar Allan Poe’s The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym (1838) and “The Manuscript Found in a Bottle,” as well as Jules Verne’s Vingt Male Lieues sou les mers (1869-1870; Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, 1873). Rimbaud had not been to America, nor had he seen the ocean, when he created these images of shores haunted by Indians, of violet sunsets and phosphorescent waves. In spite of the fact that many of the strange images in the poem are borrowed from Verne’s voyage of the Nautilus, “The Drunken Boat” has little in common with an adventure story. It is Rimbaud’s effort to render in poetic form his painful disillusionment during the winter of 1870-1871. The real literary point of departure for Rimbaud is no doubt Baudelaire’s poem “Le Voyage” (“The Trip”), which...

(The entire section is 687 words.)