Rimbaud in Africa
in the character of the Damned Conjurer
Through my small town I roamed, a taunting ghost
out of a world like rock and wind to yours,
and counted friends and honour nothing lost
to feed the inner prde that burned my hours.
Faustus, whom your academy once crowned,
spent midnight oil on ill-spelt smutty books;
your approbation's dirty insult droned
in comradeship with idiots and crooks.
Beauty is epicene, whipped slave to show,
yet Helen swan-like glided to his bed,
whom he put scornfully away as though
he sought no pleasure in the life he led.
Such hot disdain scorched desert solitude
around him, where he practised magic art;
from elemental soul sublimed a crude
companion who would share no human heart;
all the devotion of his spirit yearned
on this frail vessel and refined its clay
till with slow eyes it answered him and turned
his pride to wings and went its lonely way.
Now Faustus in the desert trades for gold,
nations acknowlege his peculiar spell;
an utter silence feeds the pride grown old;
respect is mockery and sharpens hell.
from Collected Poems (Carcanet 1991), copyright © Edgell Rickword 1991, by permission of Carcanet Press Ltd. Recordings used by permission of the BBC.