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Available on Amazon
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Rimbaud, Arthur

Category: Poet

Painting by Fank Brangwyn

Jean Nicolas Arthur Rimbaud (1854 –1891) was a French poet born at Charleville in the Ardennes.

When he was 6, his father, a captain in the army, left them and never returned. 

His mother, a strict Catholic, brought all the children up herself. 

Theirs was described as a ‘stern and religious household’.  "Widow Rimbaud" would punish her sons by making them learn a hundred lines of Latin verse by heart and if they gave an inaccurate recitation, she would deprive them of meals. 

Rimbaud was both clever and sensitive as a child.  He was small, and pale with "eyes of pale blue irradiated with dark blue—the loveliest eyes I've seen".  He was head of his class in all subjects but science and mathematics.   But aged 15, he ran away to Paris with no money for his ticket,  was subsequently arrested and imprisoned for a week, and restored to his home by his schoolmaster.  And from 1870, he rebelled in a major way.  The second time he ran away, he sold his watch to pay for his railway ticket.


Arthur Symons – The Symbolist Movement in Literature

This time he threw himself on the hospitality of Andre Gill, a painter and verse-writer, of some little notoriety then, whose address he had happened to come across. The uninvited guest was not welcomed, and after some penniless days in Paris he tramped back to Charleville. The third time (he had waited five months, writing poems, and discontented to be only writing poems) he made his way to Paris on foot, in a heat of revolutionary sympathy, to offer himself to the insurgents of the Commune. Again he had to return on foot. Finally, having learnt with difficulty that a man is not taken at his own valuation until he has proved his right to be so accepted, he sent up the manuscript of his poems to Verlaine. The manuscript contained Le Bateau Ivre, Les Premieres Communions, Ma Boheme, Roman, Les Effares, and, indeed, all but a few of the poems he ever wrote. Verlaine was overwhelmed with delight, and invited him to Paris. A local admirer lent him the money to get there, and from October 1871, to July 1872 he was Verlaine's guest.  He was 17 years old.

And it is at this time that Rimbaud developed his methods for attaining spiritual experience.  He wrote that he did this through “a long, intimidating, immense and rational derangement of all the senses. The sufferings are enormous, but one must be strong, be born a poet, and I have recognized myself as a poet."

Frank Brangwyn

Derangement wasn't the only thing that sparked Rimbaud's inspiration, however.  Rimbaud and  Paul Verlaine, who was by this time an eminent Symbolist poet himself, had a short and torrid affair during which time “ they led a wild, vagabond-like life spiced by absinthe and hashish”.  Rimbaud thus drank absinthe and took drugs, mostly cannabis and marijuana.

Arthur Symons – The Symbolist Movement in Literature

Paul Verlaine et Arthur Rimbaud. 1873

The boy of seventeen, already a perfectly original poet, and beginning to be an equally original prose-writer, astonished the whole Parnasse, Banville, Hugo himself.

On Verlaine his influence was more profound.

The meeting brought about one of those lamentable and admirable disasters which make and unmake careers.

Verlaine has told us in his Confessions that, 'in the beginning, there was no question of any sort of affection or sympathy between two natures so different as that of the poet of the Assis and mine, but simply of an extreme admiration and astonishment before this boy of sixteen, who had already written things, as Fenelon has excellently said, "perhaps outside literature."' This admiration and astonishment passed gradually into a more personal feeling, and it was under the influence of Rimbaud that the long vagabondage of Verlaine's life began.

The two poets wandered together through Belgium, England, and again Belgium, from July 1872 to August 1873, when there occurred that tragic parting at Brussels which left Verlaine a prisoner for eighteen months, and sent Rimbaud back to his family.  He had already written all the poetry and prose that he was ever to write, and in 1873 he printed at Brussels Une Saison en Enfer. It was the only book he himself ever gave to the press, and no sooner was it printed than he destroyed the whole edition, with the exception of a few copies.

Frank Brangwyn - Ostrich farm in Africa

Verlaine, in a fit of anger had actually shot Rimbaud, although he did him no permanent damage.  Despite the fact that Rimbaud insisted he did not want any charges pressed, charges were brought and Verlaine was sent to gaol.

By 1875, the love affair was over and Rimbaud turned to travel and 'normal work'.  And  after that his poetry and his inspiration ceased. 


Arthur Symons – The Symbolist Movement in Literature

He became a merchant of coffee, perfumes, ivory, and gold, in the interior of Africa; then an explorer, a predecessor, and in his own regions, of Marchand.  After twelve years wandering and exposure in Africa he was attacked by a malady of the knee, which rapidly became worse.
He was transported first to Aden, then to Marseilles, where, in May 1891, his leg was amputated. Further complications set in. He insisted, first, on being removed to his home, then on being taken back to Marseilles. His sufferings were an intolerable torment, and more cruel to him was the torment of his desire to live.
He died inch by inch, fighting every inch; and his sister's quiet narrative of those last months is agonising. He died at Marseilles in November, 'prophesying,' says his sister, and repeating 'Allah Kerim! Allah Kerim!'


Rimbaud was just 37 years old when he died.

I say that one must be a seer, make oneself a seer. The poet makes himself a seer by a long, prodigious, and rational disordering of all the senses. Every form of love, of suffering, of madness; he searches himself, he consumes all the poisons in him, and keeps only their quintessences. This is an unspeakable torture during which he needs all his faith and superhuman strength, and during which he becomes the great patient, the great criminal, the great accursed – and the great learned one! – among men. – For he arrives at the unknown! Because he has cultivated his own soul – which was rich to begin with – more than any other man! He reaches the unknown; and even if, crazed, he ends up by losing the understanding of his visions, at least he has seen them! Let him die charging through those unutterable, unnameable things: other horrible workers will come; they will begin from the horizons where he has succumbed!



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