Arthur Rimbaud
Copyright Michael D. Robbins 2005

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I invented the colors of the vowels!—A black, E white, I red, O blue, U green—I made rules for the form and movement of each consonant, and, and with instinctive rhythms, I flattered myself that I had created a poetic language accessible, some day, to all the senses.

There shall be poets! When woman’s unmeasured bondage shall be broken, when she shall live for and through herself, man—hitherto detestable—having let her go, she, too, will be poet! Woman will find the unknown! Will her ideational worlds be different from ours? She will come upon strange, unfathomable, repellent, delightful things; we shall take them, we shall comprehend them.

But, truly, I have wept too much! The dawns are heartbreaking. Every moon is atrocious and every sun bitter.

I believe that I am in hell, therefore I am there.

Eternity. It is the sea mingled with the sun.

Life is the farce which everyone has to perform.

I saw that all beings are fated to happiness: action is not life, but a way of wasting some force, an ennervation. Morality is the weakness of the brain.

And again: No more gods! no more gods! Man is King, Man is God!— But the great Faith is Love!

One evening I sat Beauty on my knees—And I found her bitter—And I reviled her.

What a life! True life is elsewhere. We are not in the world.

I am the slave of my baptism. Parents, you have caused my misfortune, and you have caused your own.

When you are seventeen you aren’t really serious.

Idle youth, enslaved to everything; by being too sensitive I have wasted my life.

Only divine love bestows the keys of knowledge.

“I have stretched ropes from steeple to steeple; garlands from window to window; golden chains from star to star, and I dance.”

“Romanticism has never been properly judged. Who was there to judge it? The critics!”

“Misfortune was my god.”

“In the dawn, armed with a burning patience, we shall enter the splendid Cities.”

“I'm intact, and I don't give a damn.”

“Genius is the recovery of childhood at will.”

I accustomed myself to simple hallucination; I saw quite deliberately a mosque instead of a factory, a drummer's school conducted by angels, carriages on the highways of the sky, a salon at the bottom of a lake; monsters, mysteries, a vaudeville poster raising horrors before my eyes.


Arthur Rimbaud

Born October 20, 1854
Charleville, France
Died November 10, 1891
Marseille, France
Occupation Poet

Early life and work
Arthur Rimbaud was born into the provincial middle class of Charleville (now part of Charleville-Mézières) in the Ardennes département in northeastern France. As a boy he was a restless but brilliant student. By the age of fifteen he had won many prizes and composed original verses and dialogues in Latin.

In 1870 his teacher Georges Izambard became Rimbaud's literary mentor and his original French verses began to improve rapidly. He frequently ran away from home and may have briefly joined the Paris Commune of 1871, which he portrayed in his poem L'orgie parisienne ou Paris se repeuple (The Parisian Orgy or, Paris Repopulates). He may have been raped by drunken Communard soldiers (his poem "Le cœur supplicié" ["The Tortured Heart"] suggests so). By this time he had become an anarchist, started drinking and amused himself by shocking the local bourgeoisie with his shabby dress and long hair. At the same time he wrote to Izambard and Paul Démeny about his method for attaining poetical transcendence or visionary power through a "long, intimidating, immense and rational derangement of all the senses" ("Les lettres du Voyant" ["The Letters of the Seer"]). He returned to Paris in late September 1871 at the invitation of the eminent Symbolist poet Paul Verlaine (after Rimbaud had sent him a letter containing several samples of his work) and resided briefly in Verlaine's home. Verlaine, who was married, promptly fell in love with the sullen, blue-eyed, overgrown (5 ft 10 in), light-brown-haired adolescent. They became lovers and led a wild, vagabond-like life spiced by absinthe and hashish. They scandalized the Parisian literary coterie on account of the outrageous behaviour of Rimbaud, the archetypical enfant terrible, who throughout this period continued to write strikingly visionary verse.

Rimbaud's and Verlaine's stormy love affair took them to London in 1872, Verlaine abandoning his wife and infant son (both of whom he had abused in his alcoholic rages.)

In July 1873, Rimbaud committed himself to journey to Paris with or without Verlaine. In a drunken rage, Verlaine shot at him, one of the two shots striking the 18-year-old in the left wrist. Rimbaud considered the wound superficial and at first did not have Verlaine charged. After this, Verlaine and his mother accompanied Rimbaud to a Brussels train station where Verlaine "behaved as if he were insane". This made Rimbaud "fear that he might give himself over to new excesses", so he turned and ran away. In his words, "it was then I (Rimbaud) asked a police officer to arrest him (Verlaine)." Verlaine was arrested and subjected to a humiliating medico-legal examination, including his intimate correspondence with his lover and the accusations of Verlaine's wife about the nature of their relationship.

Rimbaud eventually withdrew the complaint, but the judge sentenced Verlaine to two years in prison. Rimbaud returned home to Charleville and completed his Une Saison en Enfer (A Season in Hell) in prose, widely regarded as one of the pioneering instances of modern Symbolist writing and a description of that "drôle de ménage" (odd partnership) life with Verlaine, his "pitoyable frère" ("pitiful brother") and "vierge folle" ("mad virgin") to whom he was "l'époux infernal" ("infernal spouse"). In 1874 he returned to London with the poet Germain Nouveau and put together his pathbreaking Illuminations, including the first-ever two French poems in free verse.

Later life (1875-1891)
Rimbaud and Verlaine met for the last time in March 1875, in Stuttgart, Germany, after Verlaine's release from prison and his conversion to Catholicism. By then Rimbaud had given up writing and decided on a steady, working life; some speculate he was fed up with his former wild living, while others suggest he sought to become rich and independent to afford living one day as a carefree poet and man of letters. He continued to travel extensively in Europe, mostly on foot. In the summer of 1876 he enlisted as a soldier in the Dutch Army to travel free of charge to Java (Indonesia) where he promptly deserted, returning to France by ship. At the official residence of the mayor of Salatiga, a small city 46 km south of Semarang, capital of Central Java Province, there is a marble plaque stating that Rimbaud was once settled at the city. He traveled to Cyprus and in 1880 finally settled in Aden as a main employee in the Bardey agency. He had several native women as lovers and for a while he lived with an Ethiopian mistress. Whether he had other types of love-interests has not, apparently, come down to us. In 1884 he quit the job at Bardey's and became a merchant on his own in Harar, Ethiopia. He made a small fortune as a gun-runner, but Rimbaud developed right knee synovitis which degenerated into a carcinoma and the state of his health forced him to return to France on May 9, 1891, where his leg was amputated on May 27. He was going to stay at his sister Isabelle's house to recuperate but never left the hospital. Rimbaud died in Marseille on November 10, 1891, at age 37.

His influence in modern literature, music and art has been pervasive. His life in Paris was dramatized in a film starring Leonardo DiCaprio called Total Eclipse (1995).

Rimbaud influenced the following artists, among others: French poets in general, the Surrealists, T. S. Eliot, the Beat Poets, Henry Miller, Anais Nin, William S. Burroughs, Bob Kaufman, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Hugo Pratt, Mário Cesariny de Vasconcelos, Sérgio Godinho, Klaus Kinski, Dwid Hellion of Integrity, Jack Kerouac, Philippe Sollers, Patti Smith, Bruce Chatwin, Penny Rimbaud, Jim Morrison, Van Morrison, John Hall, Bob Dylan, Richard Hell, Pete Doherty, Joe Strummer, John Lennon, Stephen Kasner, Rozz Williams, David Wojnarowicz, Alternative TV and many more. Horror writer Thomas Ligotti has shown a fondness for Rimbaud's work.

The Italian gothic band Theatres des Vampires sing (in the original language, French) a sentence of "Jadis, si je me souviens bien...", in their song "Cursed". They also sing a sentence taken from the poem "Nuit de l'Enfer" ("Night of Hell") in their song "Lunatic Asylum", but in English this time.

Crass co-founder and drummer Penny Rimbaud named himself as a tribute to Arthur Rimbaud, the 'Penny' being a pun on the phrase "arfer (half a) penny", referring to the long discontinued British Ha'penny coin.

Bob Dylan confesses his love for Rimbaud's poetry in his autobiography "Chronicles: Volume One". He refers to Rimbaud in his song "You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go" from Blood on the Tracks: "Situations have ended sad, / Relationships have all been bad. / Mine've been like Verlaine's and Rimbaud. / But there's no way I can compare / All them scenes to this affair, / You're gonna make me lonesome when you go."

Van Morrison was reading about Rimbaud during a period of time (mid-1970's) when, "I wasn't writing anything at all, and I really couldn't understand why." He said that after reading how Rimbaud had stopped writing at twenty-six, "ironically that sorta got me writing again". He started the song, "Tore Down A La Rimbaud", from A Sense of Wonder and didn't finish it for eight years. That's the longest I've ever carried a song around. He also mentions Rimbaud in the song, "Foreign Window" from No Guru, No Method, No Teacher: "You were carryin' your burden/You were singing about Rimbaud." He later said that without knowing it, he may have been writing about Bob Dylan, here.

Poet and "Godmother of Punk" Patti Smith has a line in her song "Horses" where she urges the listener to "Do the watusi/ And go Rimbaud! Go Rimbaud!"

Canadian rock group Red Rider's 1980 song "White Hot" was written about Rimbaud.[1]

The early UK punk band Alternative TV reference Rimbaud in their song "Viva La Rock and Roll"; Arthur Rimbaud spoke to me/Through New York's New Wave.

London-based Rock and Roll band, The Medicine Show not only make reference to the poet in their name, but chief songwriter, John Hall, openly states Rimbaud as an inspiration in his own lyrics.

French musician Hector Zazou's 1992 album Sahara Blue uses Rimbaud's poems as lyrics for 11 of the 12 tracks on the album, and features contributions from David Sylvian, Anneli Drecker, John Cale, Gérard Depardieu, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Tim Simenon, and Brendan Perry and Lisa Gerrard of Dead Can Dance.

British electronica duo Frou Frou take their name from a Rimbaud poem.

In the song Ghetto Defendant on the album Combat Rock by The Clash, poet Allen Ginsberg refers to Rimbaud and the Paris Commune.

Larrikin Love's 2005 single Happy As Annie takes its image of a corpse being mistaken for a sleeping person from Rimbaud's poem Asleep In The Valley.

Welsh poet Dylan Thomas described himself as 'the Rimbaud of Cwmdonkin Drive'

Jim Morrison is said to have described himself as "I am a Rimbaud with a leather jacket".

Rimbaud is heavily referenced in the film Eddie and the Cruisers, and the albums are named after Rimbaud's works (ie. A Season in Hell)

French footballer Éric Cantona, when interviewed by the British press about influences on his life during the early 1990s, named Rimbaud as one of his heroes. However, the press misunderstood the name due to Cantona's thick accent, and thought he was talking about the Sylvester Stallone movie character Rambo.

In Pier Paolo Pasolini's movie Teorema, the mysterious visitor, played by Terence Stamp, is often seen reading a small book by Rimbaud.

Benjamin Britten begun his settings of Les Illuminations in Suffolk in March 1939 and completed them a few months later in the USA. They were originally written for the soprano Sophie Wyss, although the work can be, and often is, performed by a tenor. The work has also been choreographed by Sir Frederick Ashton and Richard Alston.

Michael Nyman set his poem "L'Orgie parisienne, ou Paris se repeuple" as part of La Traversée de Paris and The Michael Nyman Songbook.

Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891)

French poet and adventurer, who stopped writing verse at the age of 21, and became after his early death an inextricable myth in French gay life. Rimbaud's poetry, partially written in free verse, is characterized by dramatic and imaginative vision. "I say that one must be a visionary - that one must make oneself a VISIONARY." His works are among the most original in the Symbolist movement, which included in France such poets as Stéphane Mallarme and Paul Paul Verlaine, and playwrights as Maurice Maeterlinck. Rimbaud's best-known work, LE BÂTEAU IVRE (The Drunken Boat), appeared in 1871. In the poem he sent a toy boat on a journey, an allegory for a spiritual quest.

It is found again.
What? Eternity.
It is the sea
Gone with the sun.
(from 'L'Éternite', 1872)

Arthur Rimbaud was born in Charleville, in the northern Ardennes region of France, as the son of Fréderic Rimbaud, a career soldier, who had served in Algria, and Marie-Catherine-Vitale Cuif, an unsentimental matriarch. Rimbaud's father left the family and from the age of six young Arthur was raised by her strictly religious mother. Rimbaud was educated in a provincial school until the age of fifteen. He was an outstanding student but his behavior was considered provocative. After publishing his first poem in 1870 at the age of 16, Rimbaud wandered through northern France and Belgium, and was returned to his home in Paris by police.

In 1871 he met poet Paul Verlaine (1844-1896), whose collection of poems, Les Amies (1867) had been banned by a court. Verlaine was an alcoholic who had a taste had a taste for absinthe. He left his family - his young wife, Mathilde Mauté, was expecting a baby - and fled with the teenaged Rimbaud to London in 1872 to live a Bohemian life. Most of the time they lived in poverty and abused drink and drugs. Rimbaud accepted uncleaniness, including body lice, but Verlaine was horrified by the English cuisine, especially "the abominable oxtail soup": "Fie on such a horror! A man's sock with a rotten clitoris floating in it." Their relationship ended next year in Brussels, when Rimbaud tried to break off the relationship. Verlaine, drunk and desolate, shot Rimbaud in the wrist with a 7mm pistol after a quarrel. Verlaine was tried for attempted murder and sent to Brussels' Amigo Detention Center. Rimbaud returned to the family farm in Roche, where he finished his UNE SAISON EN ENFER (A Season in Hell).

Rimbaud's collection of poetry and prose pieces, A Season in Hell, appeared in 1873. "One evening, I sat Beauty in my lap. - And I found her bitter. - And I cursed her." Rimbaud gave some copies of the book to his friends - one was sent to P. Verlaine at the Petits Carmes Prison - but the spiritual autobiography did not receive any reviews. After completing in England ILLUMINATIONS, a collection of prose poems, Rimbaud gave up literature and burned his manuscripts. In 1901 the first edition of A Season in Hell was found at the printers' in its original packing. Eventually the work became a touchstone for anguished poets, artists, and lovers. In 1874 Rimbaud spent some time in London with Germain Nouveau, a young poet, who had only one testicle. Nouveau member of the Zutistes circle - a group of poets who wrote verses in a notebook, the Zutiste Album. At the British Library Rimbaud was not allowed to read Marquis de Sade's books because he was under twenty-one. Verlaine, whom Rimbaud saw last time in 1875, and with whom he had a violent quarrel, published a selection of Rimbaud's poems and wrote about him in LES POÈTES MAUDITS (1884).

In 1875-76 Rimbaud learned several languages, English, German, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Arabic and Greek, and started his vagabond life again. He worked a teacher in Germany, unloaded cargo in Marseilles, enlisted in the Netherlands army but deserted in Sumatra. In 1876 Rimbaud robbed a cabman in Vienna. In the last dozen years of his life, Rimbaud worked in the import-export field for series of French employers dealing everything from porcelain to weaponry - possibly he was a slave dealer.

Rimbaud arrived in 1880 in Aden after short sojourns in Java and Cyprus. Rimbaud made business travels in modern-day Yemen, Ethiopia, and Egypt, and walked occasionally hundreds of miles at the head of trading caravans through dangerous lands. He was the first European to penetrate into the country of Ogadain. His expertise and learning of the language, religion, and culture of local peoples was acknowledged when the French Geographical Society deemed his commercial and geographical report on East Africa worthy of publication.

In 1886 Verlaine published Rimbaud's book of poems, Illuminations. It revealed Rimbaud's longing for spiritual values and reestablished his reputation as a major poet. A rumor started to spread in September 1888 that Rimbaud was dead and next year Le Décadent published as a joke a list of donors to the statue of Rimbaud. In February 1891 Rimbaud felt pain in his left knee, and went to Marseilles to see a doctor. The leg had to be amputated because of enormous, cancerous swelling. Rimbaud died in Marseilles on November 10, 1891, and was buried in Charleville in strict family intimacy. Isabelle, Rimbaud's sister, had never known till after her brother's death, that he had been a poet. Rimbaud's African servant boy, Djami Wadaï, was one of his major heirs apart from his family.


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