The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“First Communions” is a long poem which is cut into nine sections of one to seven stanzas. The first two sections are composed of six-line stanzas and the last seven sections of quatrains, but the rhyme scheme remains a consistent alternation of rhymes. The poem is dated July, 1871, and Arthur Rimbaud included it among the poems sent to Paul Verlaine before their first meeting in September, 1871. Like other early poems of Rimbaud, including “Seven Year Old Poets,” “The Poor in Church,” and “The Drunken Boat,” it is written in Alexandrine verse, a formal verse line of twelve syllables, which is traditionally reserved for serious subjects. The poem is centered on the preparation for first Holy Communion and its effects on a girl from a country town, a theme treated with heavy irony and hostility by the young poet.

The first two sections set the context and present the Priest and the Child. The tone is set by the first phrase, “Really, they’re stupid, these village churches.” The Priest is presented as a grotesque black figure in fermenting shoes, surrounded by ugly children who befoul the pillars they lean against. The church, built of native stones, is part of the countryside; it is a “barn” and attracts flies that smell of stables. The patron saint is stuffed with straw. The parents pay the Priest so that he will leave their children free to work in the sun.

The sun and nature are presented positively; life vibrates in the countryside. Families are dedicated naïvely to...

(The entire section is 624 words.)