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||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. Arthur 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. Le Bateau ivre' (1871, The Drunken Boat), Rimbaud's best-known work, sends a toy boat on a journey through fantastic seas, an allegory for a spiritual quest. It was written before Rimbaud had seen the sea.
It is found again.
Rimbaud was born in Charleville, in the northern
region of France, 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.
Until the age of fifteen, Rimbaud was
educated in a provincial school . He was an
outstanding student but his behavior was considered provocative. Some
of his early poems he wrote in Latin and Greek, not just in French.
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 – filthy and lice-infrested – by police. In his
celebrated manifesto for new poetry from 1871, 'Lettre du voyant'
(Letter of the Seer), he argued that "A Poet makes himself a visionary
through a long, boundless, and systematized disorganization of all the senses.
All forms of love, of suffering, of madness; he searches himself, he
exhausts within himself all poisons, and preserves their
quintessences." ('Rimbaud to Paul Demeny / Charleville, May 15, 1871,' in Complete Works by Arthur Rimbaud, translated by Paul Schmidt, 2008, p. 116)
In 1871 Rimbaud took the manuscript of 'Le Bateau ivre' with him
and joined 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 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. Most of the time
they lived in poverty and abused drink and drugs. Rimbaud accepted
uncleaniness, including body lice, and he even wrote a poem about them,
'The Seekers of Lice'. The aunts of Georges Izambard used to sit and pick nits out of his hair.
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." (West End Chronicles: 300 Years of Glamour and Excess in the Heart of London by Ed Gliner, 2007, p. 147) Usually they ate at the Hibernia Stores at 23-25 Old Compton Street. The tavern was popular among exiles. Their relationship ended next year in Brussels, when Rimbaud tried to leave Verlaine. Drunk and desolate, he shot Rimbaud in the wrist with a 7mm pistol. Verlaine was tried for attempted murder and sent to Brussels' Amigo Detention Center.
to the family farm in Roche, where he fought his inner demons by screaming, writing, and crying, and eventually finished Une Saison en
(A Season in Hell). This collection of poetry and prose pieces appeared
in 1873. "One evening, I sat Beauty in my lap. And I found
her bitter. And I cursed her." (Ibid., translated by Andrew Jary, 2012, p. 51) 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, 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 was 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).
1875-76 Rimbaud learned several languages, English,
Spanish, Italian, Russian, Arabic and Greek, and started his vagabond
life again. He worked a teacher in Germany, unloaded cargo in
Marseilles, and enlisted in the Netherlands army but deserted in
In 1876 Rimbaud robbed a cabman in Vienna. And there is a legend, which
originates from Henri Thétard's article 'Rimbaud et le Cirque' (1948),
that he was a member of Loisset's circus in Sweden – he was employed as a cashier, not a performing artist.
The last dozen years of his life, Rimbaud spent working in the import-export field for series of French employers. The Irish-born literary critic Enid Starkie launched the story that Rimbaud was a slave trader. "He was an intelligent, though not too scrupulous man, and he earned a good living in a variety of ways, selling ivory and musk and dealing in slaves and arms." (Arthur Rimbaud by Enid Starkie, 1962, p. 366) However, the East African slave trade was totally in the hands of Muslim Arabs.
After short sojourns in Java and
Cyprus, Rimbaud arrived in 1880 in
Aden, Yemen. From this port Arabia he journeyed to Harar, a trading
center 300 miles form Addis Ababa. During the years 1880-91, he resided
there in three periods. Rimbaud had a Christian Abyssinian mistress in
1884, whom he sent away after six months, saying he's had enough of the
The Governor of Harar became a close friend of
his. Rimbaud made business travels in modern-day Ethiopia and Egypt,
and walked occasionally hundreds of miles at the head of
trading caravans through dangerous lands.When the future Ethiopian
Emperor Menelik II needed guns, he turned to Rimbaud, who was cheated
in the transaction.
Rimbaud was the first European to
penetrate into the country of Ogaden. 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.
"Before Rimbaud," Verlaine said, "all literature was written in the language of common sense." ('Introduction' by Mark Polizotti, in The Drunken Boat: Selected Writings by Arthur Rimbaud, 2022, p. x) He published Rimbaud's Illuminations in 1886. Whether
the 43 poems were in the order Ribaud intended remains unclear. This work 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
as a joke a list of donors to the statue of Rimbaud. In
February 1891 Rimbaud felt pain in his left knee. Sixteen porters
carried him to the port of Zeila, from where he sailed to France to see
a doctor. By the time his ship reached Marselles, it was too late: 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.
To Isabelle, Rimbaud's sister, it was surprise that her brother had been a poet. Rimbaud's African servant boy, Djami
Wadaï, was one of his major heirs apart from his family. Djami was the
only friend of whom Rimbaud spoke on his deathbed, but he never
received the three thousand francs Rimbaud had sent him.
Tête de Faune
Dans la feuillée, écrin vert taché d'or,
Un faune égaré montre ses deux yeux
Et quand il a fui - tel qu'un écureuil, -
For further reading: La Vie de Rimbaud et de son oeuvre by Marcel Coulon (1929); Flagrant délit by André Breton (1949); Le Mythe de Rimbaud by René Etiemble (1954); The Time of the Assassin by Henry Miller (1954); Rimbaud by Cecil Hackett (1957); Arthur Rimbaud by Enid Starkie (1962); Rimbaud vu par Verlaine by Henri Peyre (1975); Season in Hell by John Le Carre (1979); Rimbaud: A Critical Introduction by Cecil Hackett (1981); Rimbaud by Pierre Petitfils (1982); Arthur Rimbaud: portraits, dessins, manuscrits, ed. by Hélène Dufour and André Guyaux (1991); Delirium by Jeremy Reed (1991); La vie d' Arthur Rimbaud by Jean Bourgignon and Charles Houin (1991); Arthur Rimbaud by Benjamin Ivry (1998); Somebody Else: Rimbaud in Africa 1880-1891 by Charles Nicholl (1999); Arthur Rimbaud by Jean Luc Steinmetz (published 2000); Arthur Rimbaud by Jean-Jacques Lefrère (2001); 'Alkusanat' by Einari Aaltonen, in Kirjeitä Afrikasta ja runoilijakommetan kirjeitä by Arthur Rimbaud, edited and translated by Einari Aaltonen (2004); Arthur Rimbaud,' in Legendary Authors and the Clothes They Wore by Terry Newman (2017); The Drunken Sailor: The Life of the Poet Arthur Rimbaud in His Own Words by Nick Hayes (2018); Ducharme et Rimbaud: l'océan de la beauté by Gilles Lapointe (2022) - Note: The rock star Jim Morrison was influenced by Rimbaud's poems, and by the 1980s punk rockers, such as Patti Smith and Tom Verlaine, were inspired by the poet's sexual unconventionality and obscenity. Rimbaud Museum: Le Vieux Moulin, quai Arthur Rimbaud, F-08000 Charleville-Mézières, Ardennes - Film: Total Eclipse (1995), a hysterical dramatization of the famous literary conjunction, the destructive love affair of Verlaine and Rimbaud. Directed by Agnieszka Holland, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, David Thewlis. Suom. Rimbaudin runoja on julkaistu myös teoksessa Kootut teokset, suomentanut Einari Aaltonen (2012)