Arthur Rimbaud wrote this poem from the boat's point of view. The voyage is difficult and the boat takes on a great deal of water, which causes it to become "drunk," and lose its way. While sinking, the boat sees many wondrous, ugly and vivid sights such as a rotting whale, phosphorescent plants which seem to awake and sing.
Rimbaud was 17 when he wrote the poem; he had a youthful idealism about the value of poetry that is evident in this poem. He saw himself as a visionary, and portrays the boat as one who sees and understands the world in all of its ugliness, beauty and transcendance.
However, the poem ends bitterly with the boat wishing for death.