Arthur Rimbaud: “Seventeen”



Nobody’s serious when he’s just seventeen
on a beautiful night, with all the lemonade and beer
and the noisy cafes and the street lamps that gleam.
You walk beneath the lime trees in bloom along the pier.

On a night in June, the lime trees smell sweet!
Sometimes the air’s so soft, you can feel your eyes close.
The wind is filled with sounds, so close to city streets
that it carries the scent of wine and beer to your nose.


— And then suddenly you catch sight of a piece of a dress,
a deep blue color, pierced by dark starlight,
a fragment of fabric that quivers and sweats
in the frame of a branch, so slender and white …

It’s a night in June! You’re seventeen! You feel the bliss.
The sap is champagne and you let it fill your skull …
Your mind goes wandering, and on your lips forms a kiss
that lies there waiting like a wild animal.

Your heart goes careening through novels and books,
When suddenly, in the light that a street lamp has thrown,
there passes this girl with such sweet, tender looks,
standing in the shadow of her stiff chaperone.

And because she finds you so annoyingly naive,
as she passes in those boots, she turns and skips
and shoots you a look as she starts to leave
— And all your little love songs die upon your lips.


You’re in love. Taken (at least) till summer ends.
You’re in love. Your poems make her giggle and squawk.
You’re a mess. You’ve driven away all of your friends.
— And then, one night, she tells you, “Look, we have to talk …”

That night, you return to the cafes that gleam.
You order lemonade, or probably more than one beer.
You see, nobody’s serious when he’s just seventeen
and the lime trees are blooming, all out along the pier.

Arthur Rimbaud

Translated from French by Paul Weinfield, © 2014

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