Arthur Rimbaud: “Ophelia”



On the calm, black water, white Ophelia sails,
Drifting like a lily among sleeping stars.
She floats on slowly, wrapped in long veils …
– And the woodland hunter sounds his horn from afar.

For thousands of years, Ophelia in her sadness
Has crossed this black river, a phantom in white.
For thousand of years, her gentle madness
Has whispered its ballad to the breezy night.

The wind kisses her breasts and quietly billows
The veils that bob on the whirling streams;
Upon her shoulder weep shivering willows,
And the rushes lean over her face as she dreams.

The bed of bent lilies around her sings;
At times, she wakes, among sleeping birch limbs,
A nest of twigs sending out flutters of wings;
– And the gold stars unleash their mysterious hymns.


O pale Ophelia, beautiful as snow!
You died, sweet child, and were carried to the sea.
– The Norwegian hill winds started to blow,
Whispering their promises of bitter liberty.

It was that breath of air, that, twisting your hair,
Carried strange rumors to your wandering brain;
Your heart heard the call of Nature’s dark prayer
In the sighs of the night and the trees that complain;

It was that sound of crazed oceans, a roar so frenetic,
That it broke your child’s breast, too human and weak,
On an April morning, when a pale and pathetic
Knight sat on your knees, unable to speak …

Heaven! Love! Freedom!  Crazy girl, what confusion!
Like a flame to a snowflake, he melted you;
Your words became strangled by the strength of your delusion
– And Infinity cast terror into your eyes of blue!


– And in the starlight still, say the poet’s tales,
You search for the flowers you once amassed.
The bard has seen, on the water, wrapped in veils,
White Ophelia, like a lily, floating on past.

Arthur Rimbaud

Translated from French by Paul Weinfield, © 2014

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