Arthur Rimbaud’s “Democracy”

Posted on January 11th, by nicholas in contributors, creativity, ministry, poets, rod dixon, rumination, vocation, writing. No Comments

Arthur Rimbaud’s “Democracy”

{Rod Dixon reflects on Rimbaud’s Democracy, the world we are born into and our tendency to forget what’s important.}


Translated by Louise Varèse


The flag goes with the foul landscape, and our jargon muffles the drum.

In great centers we’ll nurture the most cynical prostitution. We’ll massacre logical revolts.

In spicy and drenched lands! — at the service of the most monstrous exploitations, industrial or military.

Farewell here, no matter where. Conscripts of good will, ours will be a ferocious philosophy; ignorant as to science, rabid for comfort; and let the rest of the world croak. This is the real advance. Marching orders, let’s go!


Never underestimate the power of a great opening line. I remember the first time I came across this poem, reading, “The flag goes with the foul landscape…” I knew this was going to be a great poem.

Beside its power as a wonderful hook, Rimbaud’s opening subtly clues the reader into what lies ahead as well as how to interpret the title of the poem. It flips two commonplace symbols on their heads. The flag, typically a sacred representation of a people, is now an emblem of their impurity. Words—the ultimate symbol—no longer clarify, but obscure the forces actually propelling a people forward. “Democracy” is clearly meant here not as the pinnacle of political systems, but a mob loosed on the world.

The imagery is militaristic, but the spirit of the poem is economic. What more cynical prostitution is there than to perpetuate a system we know carelessly destroys environments, thrives on the exploitation of its labor, and degrades the very personhood of the people it is alleged to benefit—the consumer? The very term sums it up.

We are not defined by the unique abilities and value endowed upon us by a divine Creator. We are defined by our desires. Our ability to manifest lusts is the clearest measure of our worth.

Our social lives, like our businesses, become primarily a concern for the bottom line. What does this action, this friend, this lover do for ME?

We sense the gaping spiritual holes in our systems. Few of us would choose for things to be this way. We are born into it, “conscripted” as Rimbaud puts it, but who dares revolt? The market is ever-present; everything can be bought, sold, degraded to a commodity. Worst of all, when you’re at the top of the food chain, the market usually works. Rimbaud is right: ours is a ferocious philosophy, rabid for comfort. We’re fat—happy. To Hell with the rest. We’re on top.

For now.


Rod Dixon is a member of the Religious Society of Friends (Quaker), though he often gets mistaken for an old order Mennonite. His short-stories have appeared in several journals, most recently Red Rock Review, Euphony, and Edge. For fun he is the non-fiction editor of Ontologica: A Journal of Art and Thought. For money he researches and develops manufacturing procedures for a non-profit serving the blind and visually impaired.  He lives in Kentucky with his wife and two children.

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