Ik zal op pad gaan in het zomers avondblauw,
Geprikt door korenaren over dun gras lopen:
Verdroomd zal ik mijn voeten drenken in de dauw
En ik zal door de wind mijn haren laten dopen.
Elk woord, elke gedachte zal me dan vergaan:
Maar weidse liefde zal zich in mijn ziel verbreiden
En als een vagebond zal ik ver, heel ver gaan
Door de Natuur verblijd alsof een vrouw me leidde.
Vertaling: Paul Claes
This poem in 60 seconds
Arthur Rimbaud was 16 years old when he wrote Sensation. He looks ahead at the sensations of a summer stroll: bright colors, his feet tingling, the wind in his hair. It is the feeling of freedom he misses. When he thinks about it, he can imagine his whole life: roaming the earth like a true bohemian. Exactly how it would play out after he decided to leave for Paris that same summer.
Want to know more? On this website you can listen to the poem, discover its origins and its author and find out what the poem means to the people of Leiden.
Charleville-Mézières 1854 - Marseille 1891
Arthur Rimbaud started writing poems in French and Latin when he was a young adolescent. At the age of fifteen, he was introduced to books of contemporary French literary figures by a teacher friend. Rimbaud decided to become a poet too. His first poems were published in newspapers and in August 1870, he traveled to Paris by himself.
Rimbaud’s ambition was to ‘daunt Victor Hugo’, but he quickly ran into problems in Paris and even spent a short while in jail. Nevertheless, he rose to national fame in no time. This was also because of his personal life. He openly enjoyed a long-lasting homosexual relationship with another poet, Paul Verlaine. During an intense fight in Brussels in 1873, Rimbaud got gravely injured when his partner shot a bullet in his wrist. The poem Une saison en enfer sprang from this, which is considered a masterpiece.
Parting from poetry
For Rimbaud, parting from Verlaine meant parting from literature; he never wrote poetry again. He did continue to live as a bohemian. He used an abundant amount of alcohol and drugs and traveled a lot. That is how he ended up as a soldier in the colonial army in the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia), where he soon deserted. Rimbaud settled in Abyssinia, the current Ethiopia, where he was a trader of hides, ivory and weapons. He died of cancer when he was 37 years old.
What's this poem about?
Sensation is about freedom. In this poem, the young poet sees himself going out on the nearing summer nights. He walks along sentiers, paths - the word is derived from the Latin sentire, meaning ‘feeling’. The walk yields all kinds of sensory experiences: his eyes will enjoy all the blue, he will be pricked, will discover coolness at his feet and his head will be immersed in the wind. All those sensations contribute to a feeling of freedom and happiness.
In this poem, nature itself is not that important to Rimbaud, but it is about the feeling that it gives him. Nature represents freedom: there is no need to speak, to think. The walk represents much more than a stroll around the block, Rimbaud even describes it as a long journey during which he blossoms as a bohemian. Remarkable, because that is exactly how he would develop himself not much later.
Rimbaud was sixteen years old when he wrote this poem. He was inspired by famous French poets. For example, his choice for the future tense (‘I will go’) seems to be inspired by a famous poem of Victor Hugo, Demain, dès l’aube. At the same time, the poem bears a type of playfulness characteristic of Rimbaud’s work. The sound é or ai (pronounced as in ‘hey’) often returns in remarkable places, giving the poem a special rhythm and a pleasing sound.
Sensation is one of Rimbaud’s first poems. He wrote it in March 1870, when he was sixteen years old. The reader can easily recognize the autobiographical elements: the poem was written in spring, it talks about the approaching summer which heralds a liberation for the student. The young poet felt restricted in Charleville, a town he later described as utterly gray and flat. The romantic theme of the awakening of nature, central to this poem, played a role in his own life as well. Less than half a year after writing this poem, he left for Paris.
Stories from Leiden
The TEGEN-BEELD foundation painted another poem of Rimbaud’s on a wall. Not in Leiden, butin Paris. Hetty Leijdekkers tells us more about it.
Video: Leendert Beekman, Michiel Keller.
Share your story
Does this poem hold a special place in your heart? For example, do you remember when you first read the poem? Or did you come across it someplace unexpected? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org! We would love to add your story to our website.
Arthur Rimbaud in Leiden
Photo: Anoesjka Minnaard
The wall poem Sensation by Arthur Rimbaud can be found at Rembrandtstraat 27 in Leiden since 1999. It was the 69th poem that was realized by the TEGEN-BEELD Foundation.
Rimbaud and France
The world has been fascinated by Rimbaud for generations. Especially the French are captivated by him. In France, a new book about Rimbaud is written almost every year, and French singers are eager to interpret the poet’s texts, such as Léo Ferré in the sixties or Jean-Louis Aubert today. What remains remarkable in France, is that Rimbaud is studied in a normalizing manner in school, but French society still views him as the poet for tough boys.
- The TEGEN-BEELD Foundation realized a poem of Rimbaud’s in Paris as well: Le bateau ivre (The drunken boat). The poem is as long as one hundred lines and is painted on the blind wall of the tax office at Rue Férou, nearby Place Saint-Sulpice, in the sixth arrondissement of Paris. Do you want to know more? Click on ‘Stories from Leiden’ and watch the video.
- The English word ‘feeling’ can be translated into French as sensation and sentiment. The first, sensation, is about sensory perceptions, while sentiment refers to love and emotion. This poem might be called Sensation and might discuss stimuli that nature offers, but the last line speaks of love and a woman. Could Rimbaud also have alluded to the pleasure of love?
- Arthur Rimbaud joined the Dutch colonial army in 1876 when he came to Harderwijk to enlist as a soldier at the Colonial Recruiting Base (Koloniaal Werfdepot). On 10 June, he left Den Helder and on 23 July, the newly minted fusilier disembarked in Batavia. He was stationed at Salatiga, but the colonial army could only briefly enjoy the poet soldier’s duty. After only three weeks, on 15 August 1876, he deserted and two weeks later he set off to Africa with the British ship The Wandering Chief.
- In the poem Roman, Rimbaud also wrote about youth and summery nights. The duality of feeling is central there as well. On the one hand, the poet feels that he is walking in the summery nature, but at the same time, he realizes that he is experiencing something special, something much bigger. These two things are found to be inseparable.
- During the last months of 1870, Rimbaud suffered an artistic crisis. He was suddenly interested in the ‘color’ of vowels. His opinion was that it was necessary for a poet to attempt to create the right ‘feeling’ by means of the colors and rhythm of the vowels. He therefore strived for poetry that, with the aid of ‘colored’ words, ‘can touch regions in ourselves deeper than the clear conscious ever could’. Sensation might be an early reflection of this thought.
- Rimbaud was in a relationship with Paul Verlaine for some time. One of his poems can also be found on a wall in Leiden: Chanson d’Automne.
The French singer Jean-Louis Aubert (1955) was one of the chansonniers that set this poem to music. You can listen to it here.
In summer evenings blue, pricked by the wheat
On rustic paths the thin grass I shall tread,
And feel its freshness underneath my feet,
And, dreaming, let the wind bathe my bare head.
I shall not speak, nor think, but, walking slow
Through Nature, I shall rove with Love my guide,
As gipsies wander, where, they do not know,
Happy as one walks by a woman's side.
Translation: Jethro Bithell
On a blue summer night I will go through the fields,
Through the overgrown paths, in the soft scented air;
I will feel the new grass cool and sharp on my feet,
I will let the wind blow softly through my hair.
I will not say a word, I will not think a thing,
But an infinite love will set my heart awhirl,
And I will wander far, like a wild vagabond,
Throughout Nature - happy as if I had a girl.
Par les soirs bleus d'été, j'irai les sentiers,
Picoté par les blés, fouler l'herbe menue:
Rêveur, j'en sentirai la fraîcheur à mes pieds.
Je laisserai le vent baigner ma tête nue.
Je ne parlerai pas, je ne penserai rien:
Mais l'amour infini me montera dans l'âme,
Et j'irai loin, bien loin, comme un bohémien,
Par la Nature, - heureux comme avec une femme
This entry was written by Het Taalmuseum in collaboration with Giulia Boosten. The translation into English is by Emma Knapper. The following sources were consulted:
- Arthur Rimbaud, Œuvres complètes, prefaced by A. Adam, Parijs, Gallimard, 1972.
- Arthur Rimbaud, Gedichten. Een seizoen in de hel. Illuminations., translated by Paul Claes, Amsterdam, Athenaeum, 2012.
- Gedichten, translated by Paul Claes, Polak & Van Gennep.