“Women arrested as Arsonists/’pétroleuses’ in massacres of  the Paris Commune

‘Sartre says Abel is the most intelligent man in New York City. Kenneth Rexroth, the poet-critic, says Abel is the most intelligent man in New York City. Abel himself will not say that he is the most intelligent man in New York City. But he will say that Sartre and Rexroth are both magnificent judges of intellect’. Dick Schaap, The New York Herald Tribune,

Those of you who have been  reading this blog for two years or more may recognise the quotation from Dick Schaap from a post on Abel and the Italian novelist, Silone. {Lionel Abel on Silone, October 15, 2016} Its the sort of thing people circulate about whiz-kids within the conventions of a coterie of like-minded  intellectuals. And of course, the quotation is scratchy around its edges… but now that I am back in London, after 10 days in New York and then a week of the flu, its a pleasure to be reminded of the bon-mots of the later 1930s.

We are still in 1939, still waiting, as it were, for the Second World War to begin, and our next item in the Spring issue is a translation of Rimbaud’s poem “Les Mains de Jean-Marie,”  Rimbaud’s poem of solidarity with the Paris Commune of 1871, when from March 18 -May 28, 1871, Paris’s workers established a proto-socialist city within Paris. After the siege of Paris that ended the Franco-Prussian War, and before the French regular army massacred over 25,000 Parisians in the streets around the Commune, the ideas and debates about how to live were as alive as they had been in the Revolution of 1789, and women figured prominently in the legends of the Paris Commune, as the myth of female arsonists at the end of the Commune were circulated and many were arrested.

Lionel Abel translated a volume of Rimbaud’s poems Some Poems by Rimbaud, Exiles Press, 1939. And the same year, Delmore Schwartz translated A Season In Hell.  With the March of Hitler, the Moscow Trials, and the debates around Communism and Fascism, it is not surprising that the Paris Commune would be a common reference point for anti-Fascists and anti-Stalinists.

Wallace Fowlie has written of “The Hands of Jeanne-Marie,”:
“Of all the Rimbaud poems directly inspired by the Commune, Les Mains de Jeanne-Marie is perhaps the most successful and the most moving. In it Rimbaud describes the struggle of the communards with the Versaillais, and recalls the action of women from the working class who literally fought in the streets during the terrible week of May 21-28, when they
helped defend the barracks on the Place Blanche, the Place Pigalle and the Batignolles. The poet contrasts the beautiful delicate hands of women in love, as celebrated by various parnassian poets (cf. Etudes de mains by Theophile Gautier) with the rough hands of women who fought in the streets of Paris. Rimbaud is intent upon exalting revolutionary violence and he does it by pointing out this contrast between the white hands of
noble ladies and the dark hands of the typical communarde women.
The last three stanzas of Les Mains de Jeanne-Marie contain very precise allusions to the Commune and especially to the repression that followed the “bloody” week of May 21-28. The hands of the communards are apostrophized as being sacred: o Mains sacres. The “chain” named in the next-to-last stanza is undoubtedly a reference to the long line of communard prisoners who were sent to Versailles, and who numbered from one hundred and fifty to two hundred each day. They were bound hand to hand, in ranks of four. On the way they were insulted and derided by the crowds watching them.”

Here follows Abel’s translation:

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