Sem 02 | Form and Experience

Space, Meaning, Experience, and Arthur Rimbaud

Apurva Talpade

In a decidedly  / somewhat audacious turn, the Semester 2 module on Form and Experience undertook certain poems of Arthur Rimbaud from which to draw out associative and later spatial encounters. Rimbaud is no easy text. He writes with the frenetic energy of a 17 year old at odds with all aspects of the world. The poems are built as sediments, harnessing immediate imagery and  symbolism along with a distaste of religion, a mistrust of society, a scathing indictment of colonial enterprises, as well as of softer, closer experiences - an outgrowing from provincial life, love and longing, of empathy. A familiarity with the text took several readings to establish, they (the poems) were read out, discussed, agonised over, interpretations adopted and discarded in equal measure.

Equally delicate and difficult is locating the self in a poem of this extent and originality. The module requires that you find an anchor in the text and make use of it as a tool for translation - turning an experience of the poem into a material and eventually spatial experience. You interrogate and you use your own memories, a collection of your objects and images, building metaphors as bridges between the text and the space.

What do the poems of Rimbaud provoke? Personal associations, contentious recollections, self assessments, powerful landscapes, oblique verisimilitudes? How are the experiences of all of these able to turn into provocations to experiment with material, scale, spatial configurations, to give a sense of space that is able to hold dear and closely translate the quintessence of the experience?


On summer nights, before the shining shop windows,
When the sap pulses beneath the tarnished halos
Formed by the grillwork at the feet of fragile elms,
Leaving black gatherings, gay groups or stay-at-homes,
Who light up cheap cigars and pipes and puff away,
Into this narrow, half-stone stall I wend my way.
While overhead hangs a poster-I bled, it states
I imagine that winter also inundates
Tibet in running water, washing the yellow tide,
And that the winter wind spares nothing left outside.

Kids jumping around the class, no one in the right attire, absolutely creating a ruckus, not behaving, climbing on tables. Frustrated, the teacher scolds everyone. She couldn't get over it the whole day.

They're ugly, those churches in country towns
Where fifteen stupid kids smear up the wall
And listen to an ugly priest as he drones
Away-his shoes and rotting stockings smell
But through leafy branches the sun shines
In the old colors of the crude stained glass.
The stone always smells of the soil outside.
You see those piles of boulders that retain
The solemn motion of the rutting countryside,
Divide the ripening wheat from yellow lanes,
Support blue plums in trees the sun had dried,
Black knots of mulberries, and sticky vines.
Those barns have stood untouched for centuries;
Their dark interiors are cold and dank:.
The walls are hung with grotesque mysterie
Our Lady, or a martyr's bloody flanks
Still, stinking stable flies and kitchen flies
Devour old wax spilt on the sun-stained planks.

She inquires about these stains only to talk about her own stories. She cleans up the old closet while looking at you eat your food. The dust hiding what those objects once were, creates a whole world of moments, people and places in her mind. Scenarios upon scenarios start forming in her head, for after a certain point, her thoughts aren't even related to those dusty artefacts anymore. It's a rabbit hole she falls so deep into that she forgets her son is done eating.

In the woods there is a bird;
His singing stops you, and you blush.
There is a clock that never strikes.
There is a little swamp, with a nest of pale animals.
There is a cathedral that sinks, and a lake that rises above it.
There is a little ribbon-covered cart, abandoned in the hedge
Or rolling away down the path.
There is a troupe of tiny strolling players all dressed up,
Seen on the road at the edge of the woods. .
And when you are hungry or thirsty,
There is always someone to chase you away.

And when some other object catches her attention, the whole scenario in her mind has already metamorphosed. This continues over and over again, and in the end, she has over a dozen made up scenarios in her mind. Them not being related to each other, doesn't sit well with her,  but she still allows them to float in her mind’s ocean.

It is a high, carved sideboard made of oak.
The dark old wood, like old folks, seems kind;
Its drawers are open, and its odors soak
The darkness with the scent of strong old wine.
Its drawers are full, a final resting place
For scented, yellowed linens, scraps of clothes
For wives or children, worn and faded bows,
Grandmothers' collars made of figured lace;
There you will find old medals, locks of gray
Or yellow hair, and portraits, and a dried bouquet
Whose perfume mingles with the smell of fruit.
O sideboard of old, you know a great deal more
And could tell us your tales, yet you stand mute
As we slowly open your old dark door.

The objects which once belonged to you are taken out. A blanket, from the infant years, is still stored like an old bottle of scotch. A pair of socks, stretched to its fullest capacity, some toys, the kitten and the dinosaur. Once, your life revolved around these objects, which were then collecting dust in the different corners of the house along with the other familial things and then locked up in a closet.

Nobody's serious when they're seventeen.
On a nice night, the hell with beer and lemonade
And the cafe and the noisy atmosphere!
You walk beneath the linden trees on the promenade.
The lindens smell lovely on a night in June!
The air sweet that your eyelids close.
The breeze is full of sounds-they come from the town
And the scent of beer, and the vine, and the rose ...


You look up and see a little scrap of sky,
Dark blue and far off in the night,
Stuck with a lopsided star that drifts by
With little shivers, very small and white ...
A night in June! Seventeen! Getting drunk is fun.
Sap like champagne knocks your head awry ...
Your mind drifts; a kiss rises to your lips
And flutters like a little butterfly ...

In fact, he bragged about the amount of construction materials the two stole (50, 51).  Willy allowed the boys to steal, which could be considered an immoral act, worse yet, Willy's praise for their actions prohibited Biff and Happy from knowing stealing was an immoral act.  Studies have shown that at a very young age children were extremely impressionable.

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.

Unlike the rest of the things in the closet which have a history of more than a century, they just belong to a small slip of time.

Kankana Chaudhary

Aditya Bhoite

Janvi Gupta
Nishadh More

Neha Mhadolkar