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A Season in Hell

Duration:
30 minutes
First broadcast:
Saturday 14 November 2009

"Une Saison en Enfer" was written between April and August 1873 in London and France, when the eighteen-year-old Rimbaud was in the throes of an intense, transgressive and destructive relationship with Verlaine. It's one of the most remarkable pieces of prose poetry ever written; a mixture of autobiography and enigmatic dream sequence in which Rimbaud looks back in despair over his life as a poet. It combines lucid self-appraisal with demented vision and moves with extraordinary agility between hyper-realism and hallucinatory surrealism; in its synthesis of sounds, colours, odours and intensely visual images it one of the highest achievements of symbolist writing. The twenty-five pages of 'A Season in Hell', here cut to a third of its length, are both a staggering testimony to and a tortured recantation of Rimbaud's poetic credo, the 'disordering of all the senses'. Narrated by Carl Prekopp.
Composer Elizabeth Purnell has created a soundscape for the work which includes composed music, field recordings and processed sound in a raw response to the words. She set the poems specifically for Robert Wyatt whose voice in its high, delicate register suggests a beyond-the-grave alter-ego to the young Rimbaud. This version is a fierce abridgement of the original, but offers a startling insight into its power and beauty. It contains some language that might now give offence. Producer Sara Davies.

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