Versions of Rimbaud and Baudelaire

by Cliff Forshaw



A Mixed Bunch of Poet’s Flowers


after the French of Rimbaud’s ‘Ce qu’on dit au poète à propos de fleurs’


1. Lilies


On the poet’s list one bloom is top,

For trembling by the topaz seas:

O Lily, long the poet’s prop,

O enema of ecstasies!


But in this age of sago pud

And heavy labour on the farm,

Your lilies grow from soul, not mud,

Exuding an oddly pious charm.


Your lines are gilded with lilies, lilies,

Which, day-to-day, are rarely seen.

Farm-folk will find such verses silly:

Why do they tremble? So what’s that mean


When the Poet takes a shower,

His shirt’s on the line with his meagre kit:

A fluttering common or garden flower,

With yellow deodorant-stained armpits. 



2. Roses


And if the Poet decides on roses?

He pens them red, inflated, blown.

O laurel stem! The question posed is:

Where on earth are such roses grown?


The poet snows his roses down:

In bloody great red drifts they lie.

– Imagine the snow-red rosy ground!

Red snow? Red mists the reader’s eye.


French veg is ugly, gnarly, crabby

– Pissed on by weasels, rats and hounds.

French verse abhors the low-down shabby

Tubers prised from stony ground.


O Great White Hunter in the wild,

Tracking prey through the Fields of Pan,

You paint yourself as Nature’s Child

– But botanic ignorance reveals the man.


Sometimes even exotic species

Can’t outweird your mythical blooms:

Stuff that feeds on unicorn faeces,

Or craves the shade of Pharoahs’ tombs. 


Your verse turns over good French earth,

And weeds out all its native plants.

The poet’s now a floral flirt

Wearing orchidaceous fancy pants.



3. Green Shoots of Recovery


I know you’re taken by the tropics,

But try to be more down-to-earth.

Add economics to your topics:

Think what those foreign fields are worth!


Time now to praise the great plantations

– Sugar, cotton, coffee, tea.

No need for slavish imitations

Of Guardian leaders’ pieties


– Screw them and their sanctimony;

Freedom means the Market’s free.

What’s truly holy is the money.

The freshest growth is GNP.


The future’s here and tapping rubber

For Mackintosh’s waterproofs.

The whale at least gives up its blubber;

You blub liberally but stay aloof.


Your antique mythic scenery’s

(Asphodels gathered by Venus and Cupid)

Just creaky stage machinery.

It’s all about the economy, stupid!


Lose the amaranths, such plants

Obscure just what is really plain.

Your mystic visions are worn-out, pants.

The drowsy poppy’s for killing pain.  


Tradesman! Colonist or Medium!

Your rhymes now gutter pink and white.

Forget your midnight oily tedium:

Turn on the bud of electric light!


Sing of useful growing profits,

Laud workers set to tasks like ants.

Forget the floral; be the prophet;

Hymn the blooming industrial plant!


Our seasons now have all grown hellish.

This is what the future’s for.

Just describe it, don’t embellish,

The flowery rhetoric’s a bore.


The future’s bright, just listen to it:

Electric wires now start to hum,

Those old-style poets were deaf and blew it;

Think four-stroke metre and banged oil drum.  


From your dark poems, new lights must rise:

Illuminate those reds, blues, greens;

Pin swarms of acetylene butterflies;

Write now of things as yet unseen.


La Ville Lumière has banished night:

– No Baudelairean Flowers of Evil,

It’s time to rhyme potato blight

With noble rot and the flour weevil.


Lose the muse of bucolic lies,

The dawn’s new chorus trills alarms

As other horrible workers rise

To man the aisles at factory farms.


Progress means increasing yields.

Irrigation! Drain what’s sodden!

Bogs and deserts turned to fields!

One must be absolutely modern!



Vin Voudou


two variations on Baudelaire’s ‘Sed Non Satiata’


1. Vendange d’outre-mer 


Odd goddess, whose skin’s a smoky musk

still redolent of opium and Havana.

You may be some obi-man’s opus, some savannah

saviour’s ju-ju, or child of the Bayou dusk. 


Forget your Grands, your Premiers Crus, your Nuits;

for tenue, what lasts long on my tongue’s your mouth.

You are my full-bodied beaker of the South;

you slake, yet provoke thirst better than any Burgundy.


I note the rich robe, as you hold me with your eyes:

the worm goes through the cork, I’m mesmerised

to breathe the botánica’s bouquet and, as I taste


your voodoo vin gris-gris, too late, I’m lost; 

my palate echoes with santería; head 

with your blanc de noirs, those lives I never led.



2. Déjà-bu


No wine is fine enough; no drug can do 

the tricks you do (and turn), my wine-dark sea, 

my nest of mermaids, my girl in every port, 

the witchy Circe of this odyssey

who dulls all thoughts of fine Penelope.  

My mind’s your glass. You take my stem and twirl. 

I’m half a world away: moly, oily swirls

of sea-serpents, sargassos. Shipwrecked, all at sea,

washed up on some calypygian Aphrodite’s

shore, whose wily Calypso I discover to be you.

Have we lived and loved in other lives?

You always my stormy siren. Me, saoul

drunk, rudderless, compass-less, (compassionless 

for that good – still faithful? – wife.) Lost. Déjà-bu.



Cliff Forshaw has been a writer-in-residence in California, France, Romania, and Tasmania, twice a Hawthornden Writing Fellow, and guest poet at the 2016 Festival Internacional de Poesía de Granada in Nicaragua. His collections include Vandemonian (Arc, 2013) and Pilgrim Tongues (Wrecking Ball Press, 2015). cliff-forshaw.co.uk



Image credit: benmillett

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