Arthur Rimbaud at Scamblesby, 1873

John Burnside

There is no evidence that Rimbaud ever visited Scarborough.
Graham Robb

At times, it feels like someone else’s dream,
copious rain, when it comes, and the sense
of Paraclete in every tongue of flame
and hymnsong in the sky above the fen;

and nightfall, in the gaps between the hills,
is quick and unrelenting, like the mouth
that glides out from the ditch, no voice to tell
what symmetry it brings.

A new guest, he understands nothing:
the language; the parcelled food; the hands of the women;
the girl who serves breakfast, that coldwater light in her eyes
a death-threat, or an effort at flirtation.

The sheep watch him pass, like churchgoers watching the priest
as he mutters the corpus meum into his sleeve,
not quite convinced, but just for a moment, stirred
by a sense of occasion.

At noon, he walks away to where the gods
that used to rule this land still haunt the roads:
Wotan, with a jug of cider
sunk in the ample pocket of his coat,

a drunk, like any other,
but for the fret of light in his eye
and the longing he cannot conceal
for some kind of mother;

or Freyja, walking home
at evening, in her kestrel-feather gown,
a basket on her arm, of leeks and plums,
a summer-long

delirium, implicit in the bloom
of damsons, or that blatant stain
of mulberry,
like goose blood on her chin.

One night he finds he is lost
on a moonlit lane
that seems to run forever through a land
that looks like the land

he came from, empty and grey
and one spire much like another;
and all he can do is follow, the path leading down
and away, through a huddle of thorns,

to a windless sky,
far from the church gate,
forgotten in folk song and fable,
where nothing seems once and for all but the proximate gold

of the final extinction:
a slow burn of gristle and bone, like the slaughterhouse fire,
that once, on the road to perdition,
he traded for home.