Wyatt Mason has translated five books by Pierre Michon, including The Origin of the World and Masters and Servants, a finalist for the French-American Foundation Translation Prize. He is at work on translations of Dante's La Vita Nuova and Rimbaud's letters, both for the Modern Library. His writing has appeared in Harper's, The Nation, and other publications.
There have been no fully satisfactory translations of the brilliant modernist forerunner Jean-Nicolas-Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891): the rather flat Wallace Fowlie version (Univ. of Chicago) is the most reliable, while the error-ridden Penguin volume by Oliver Bernard and the wildly improvisational try by U.S. poet Paul Schmidt (HarperPerennial) take riskier poetic licenses, with uneven results. After Graham Robb's coarse and insensitive, yet energetic and well-received biography of the poet last year (Norton), more attention is being drawn to Rimbaud's actual writings. Mason is a translator of Pierre Michon (Masters and Servants) and Dante's Vita Nuova, and is senior editor of artkrush.com ("a Website about art," says their banner). He offers a tremendous amount of Rimbaudiana, including "schoolwork," essays and drafts, miscellaneous poems and Rimbaud's two longest works, A Season in Hell and Illuminations. The poems, unfortunately, are inexactly rendered, extending what Rimbaud wrote merely to force a rhyme (Rimbaud's couplet "My hunger, Anne, Anne/ Flee on your mule" is extended by Mason to "Flee on your mule if you can," for example), and sometimes mistranslated altogether. In the famous opening of A Season in Hell, "Bad Blood," Mason renders the French verb injurier as "to hurt" rather than "to insult" at the point when the poet has beauty across his knees. Fragmentary drafts of unpublished material, complete with crossings out, are included, along with a small-type appendix of all the poems in French, but Mason's versions do not surpass previous efforts. (Mar. 26) Forecast: Rimbaud purists will remain with Fowlie, who offers a selection of letters and French versions of the poems (which the Bernard has but Schmidt lacks). For those in search of a "complete" poet's version, Schmidt is still the choice. Yet the Modern Library imprimatur should bring readers to Mason's work, and Mason is preparing a companion volume of Rimbaud's letters for Counterpoint. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
"The definitive translation for our time." --Edward Hirsch
"Wyatt Mason has located and tapped into Rimbaud's voice as it swings from gnarled to straight-ahead to mystic to raucous." --Roger Shattuck "An important introduction of Rimbaud to another generation of readers." --Booklist "The best opportunity thus far to experience Rimbaud as fully as possible in English. Here is Rimbaud uncensored: the savage maker, the scathing satirist, the rigorous Alchemist of the Word, the master of metrics and innovator of the prose poem, the figure who made himself absolutely modern, the poetic visionary whose work systematically disorders the senses and resonates with a strange beauty, an exultant splendor." --Edward Hirsch "A welcome addition to the shelf of Rimbaud in English. Mason's tireless zeal and endless inventiveness compel unfailing admiration." --Arthur Goldhammer
The quintessential Symbolist pote maudit, Rimbaud has achieved a legendary, almost mythic reputation, yet he left behind a relatively small body of work, all of it written before the age of 20. The chronological arrangement in this retrospective includes all of Rimbaud's creative works, not only his most famous ones the synesthetic "Vowels," the allegorical "Drunken Boat," the psychically oneiric "Season in Hell," and all the innovative prose poems of "Illuminations" but also almost 100 of previously untranslated materials: fragments, reconstructions, lyrical juvenilia, and school compositions. Despite the editor's claim to comprehensiveness, however, the collection contains only five letters, a mere fraction of his extant correspondence. The visionary, imaginative verse precludes both a literal translation and convincing English meter; Mason fares no worse than any of his predecessors in that regard. A bilingual index of titles and first lines would have facilitated access for those unfamiliar with the sequence of composition. Nevertheless, this is an important new rendering of a major poet and is recommended for all collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 11/1/01.] Lawrence Olszewski, OCLC Lib., Dublin, OH Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.