The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Memory” is a poem of ten quatrains, divided into five sections. The lines in French are twelve syllables, cut with pauses and run on at unpredictable intervals. The stanzas rhyme in a regular abba pattern. “Memory” does not capitalize the initial letter of each line. Most probably composed in the spring of 1872, it remained unpublished until the posthumous Poésies complètes.

Formed around a riverside scene, perhaps drawn from memory of the August day in 1870 when Arthur Rimbaud first ran away to Paris, “Memory” is precise in its reference yet vague and fluidly suggestive in its language and imagery. The first line invokes “Clear water,” an opening followed by two distinct sets of images. The first set gathers around concepts of purity, as in children’s tears, white flesh, silk, and exalted emotion, with references to the old French monarchy and angels. An abrupt “No” cuts this thread and introduces a series of less abstract images: impressions of the river, moving gold, with cool, heavy plant arms; and a bed canopy of blue sky and bed curtains of shadow.

In the second section, the river frames little girls in green, who act the part of willow trees from which birds spring. A marsh marigold, qualified as a coin, an eyelid, and a mirror, rivals the heat-hazy sun. The exclamation—“Your conjugal vow, o Spouse!”—is tied to the next quatrain and the figure of Madame. It compromises the glowing...

(The entire section is 486 words.)