Even Rimbaud, as a young poet, fearlessly experimental in his vocabulary, imagery and poetic structure, could be perfectly at home writing a sonnet – one more demonstration of the almost universal appeal of the 14 line poem. But this sonnet has other reminders that Rimbaud was writing his poetry as a young man – this is about his enjoyment at going to the pub, having a beer and a ham sandwich and flirting with a buxom barmaid. Sounds good to me…
Au Cabaret Vert, cinq heures du soir
Depuis huit jours, j’avais déchiré mes bottines
Aux cailloux des chemins. J’entrais à Charleroi.
– Au Cabaret-Vert : je demandai des tartines
De beurre et du jambon qui fût à moitié froid.
Bienheureux, j’allongeai les jambes sous la table
Verte : je contemplai les sujets très naïfs
De la tapisserie. – Et ce fut adorable,
Quand la fille aux tétons énormes, aux yeux vifs,
– Celle-là, ce n’est pas un baiser qui l’épeure ! –
Rieuse, m’apporta des tartines de beurre,
Du jambon tiède, dans un plat colorié,
Du jambon rose et blanc parfumé d’une gousse
D’ail, – et m’emplit la chope immense, avec sa mousse
Que dorait un rayon de soleil arriéré.
Arthur Rimbaud, Cahier de Douai
In fact, the title refers to a specific bar at a specific time, The Green Cabaret at Charleroi at five o’clock in the afternoon. so we can easily picture this as a real experience, not just poetic imagination. Perhaps Rimbaud wrote this poem there and then, while drinking in that bar at that time.
The poem begins by the poets arrival at this bar after having walked a week in the cobbled roads of northern France which have ripped holes in his boots. He is evidently poor, but carefree. On going into the bar he orders bread, butter and ham, and sits back to enjoy the scene. The big-breasted barmaid brings his food and Rimbaud clearly imagines going further with her than a simple kiss. The scene is rounded off with the barmaid filling his glass with foaming beer, lit up by a ray of sunlight coming through the window.
This is indeed an idyllic, joyful scene, and captures wonderfully a carefree young man, enjoying the good things of life.
The Poetry Dude