A Season In Hell, Second Delirium: The Alchemy of the Word


Rimbaud, Arthur




Jean Nicolas Arthur Rimbaud was born in France in 1854 and published his first poetry when he was only 16 years old. He became famous for his dreamlike, hallucinative poetry in which he explored subjects such as audition colorée (colored hearing). Although he was hailed as one of the most remarkable poets of the nineteenth century, Rimbaud stopped writing at the age of 19, giving up the life of a poet for that of an African explorer, trader, and gun runner. "The Alchemy of the Word" is taken from his Une Saison en Enfer (A Season in Hell). It opens with the intriguing statement, "I began it as an investigation," and sets forth the narrator's own beliefs about the established world around him. The poem continues to metaphorically explore issues of similarity, superiority, solitude, and the human need for comfort.

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Arthur Rimbaud: Complete Works, Arthur Rimbaud, trans. Paul Schmidt (Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2000).


Reading - Short Enough to Read Aloud.


Connection and RelationshipCrisis and ConflictKnowledge and UncertaintyServing and Volunteering

Big Questions

What makes it possible for us to connect to others? What gets in the way?Why is connection important? What does it enable? What does it impede?How should we respond to crisis?Is crisis a destructive force or an opportunity for renewal?How do I know that I am making a difference? Is it possible to know?Why do we reflect? What makes reflection difficult?Is my service changing the world or only myself? Is that enough?Is my service effective? How do I know?Why do we serve?

Sample Discussion Questions

  1. How does the speaker feel at the beginning of the poem?
  2. What does the speaker mean by "investigation"?
  3. What changes throughout the poem?
  4. Why does the speaker's mind turn "sour" toward the world?
  5. Have you ever felt "sour" toward anything in your professional life or service work?
  6. How can we negotiate our service work with the problems in the world?
  7. How can we build connections with others in the world to "know how to celebrate beauty," as the speaker claims at the end of the poem?
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