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About this poet

A volatile and peripatetic poet, the prodigy Arthur Rimbaud wrote all of his poetry in a space of less than five years. His poem "Voyelles" invoked synesthesia, marking him as a founder of French symbolism, and his Une Saison en Enfer (A Season in Hell) is considered one of the first works of free verse. His poetry was subconsciously inspired and highly suggestive; his persona was caustic and unstable. Though brilliant, during his life his peers regarded him as perverse, unsophisticated, and youthfully arrogant, and he died virtually indifferent to his own work.

Jean-Nicolas-Arthur Rimbaud was born October 20, 1854, in the small French town Charleville. His father, an army captain, abandoned the family when he was six. His mother, née Vitalie Cuif, was an overbearing and protective woman who focused her energies on raising her children to be conformist, pious, and well-mannered. By the age of thirteen, he had already won several prizes for his writing and was adept at composing verse in Latin. His teacher and mentor Georges Izambard nurtured his talents and passion for literature, although Madame Rimbaud strongly disapproved when her son brought home a copy of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables.

His school shut down in 1870 during the Franco-Prussian War, and the young Rimbaud took the opportunity to seek adventure, running away from home twice. He left again after Napoleon III’s surrender a few months later, and wandered the countryside until he ended up in Paris. Then sixteen, he lived as a vagabond on the streets until the poet Paul Verlaine noticed him. Verlaine was thoroughly astonished by this boy’s talent after having read Le Bateau ivre (The Drunken Boat), and took him home to live with him and his new wife. Though Rimbaud’s social ineptitude and harsh manners forced him to move out, he and Verlaine became lovers. Shortly after the birth of his son, Verlaine left his family to live with Rimbaud. Their infamous affair was erratic and often hostile. After eighteen months living together in three countries, their relationship ended abruptly, following an incident where a drunk and hysterical Verlaine shot Rimbaud in the hand.

Rimbaud returned to Charleville and wrote a large portion of Une Saison en Enfer (A Season in Hell). The book was published in 1873 in Brussels, but the majority of the copies sat in the printer’s basement until 1901 because Rimbaud could not pay the bill. He continued his writing and his travels, frequently returning home for short stays. At nineteen he stopped writing poetry completely. He needed to ensure his and his family’s financial security, and so he took jobs in African towns as a colonial tradesman. His mother invested in land with the money he sent home.

His only writing after 1875 survives in documents and letters. In his correspondence with family and friends, Rimbaud indicates that he spent his adulthood in a constant struggle for financial success. His travels left him sick; he grew weary with the climate and culture in the towns where he worked. He was intolerant and racist, but his growing fear of a conflict with the French military draft authorities prevented him from returning home. In 1891, he noticed a pain in his knee. After delaying, he endured a painful trip to Marseilles in May, whereupon doctors were forced to amputate his leg. The cancer, however, continued to spread. He died on November 10, 1891 at the age of thirty-seven, after suffering a night of hallucinations.

In 1895, Verlaine published Rimbaud’s complete works, and thus secured his ex-lover’s immortal fame. Both Rimbaud’s life and poetry has inspired a great number of poets and artists, including the French symbolists, Surrealism, the counter-culture Beat Movement, and the musicians Bob Dylan, Jim Morrison and Patti Smith.


Selected Bibliography

Poetry

Le Bateau ivre (1871)
Une Saison en Enfer (1873)
Les Illuminations (1886)
Poèmes (1891)
Poésiès complete d’Arthur Rimbaud (1895)

Auto/Biography

La Vie de Rimbaud et de son oeuvre (1929)
Flagrant délit (1949)
Le Mythe de Rimbaud (1954)
The Time of the Assassin (1954)
Season in Hell (1979)
Rimbaud: a Critical Introduction (1981)
Delirium (1991)
Arthur Rimbaud (1998)
Somebody Else: Rimbaud in Africa 1880-1891 (1999)
Rimbaud: A Biography (2000)
Arthur Rimbaud (2001)

Letters

Lettres (1899)

Poetry in Translation

A Season in Hell, The Illuminations (1973)
Illuminations (1979)
A Season in Hell & Illuminations (1991)
Arthur Rimbaud: Complete Works (2000)

Hellish Night

Arthur Rimbaud, 1854 - 1891

I've swallowed a terrific mouthful of poison.—Blessings three times over on the impulse that came to me!—My guts are on fire. The poison's violence twists my limbs, deforms me, knocks me down. I'm dyng of thirst, I'm choking, I can't scream. It's hell, endless pain! Look how the fire flashes up! I'm burning nicely. Go on, demon!

I'd caught a glimpse of conversion to goodness and happiness, salvation. Can I describe the vision? Hell's atmosphere won't suffer hymns! There were millions of charming people, a sweet spiritual concert, strength and peace, noble ambitions, who knows?

Noble ambitions!

And this is still life!— What if damnation's everlasting! A man who wants to mutilate himself is pretty well damned, right? I think I'm in hell, therefore I am. It's the catechism come true. I'm the slave of my baptism. Parents, you've created my tortures and yours.—Poor nitwit! Hell can't wield power over pagans.— This is still life! Later on, the delights of damnation will be much deeper. A crime, quick, so I can plunge into nothingness in accordance with human law.

Shut up, will you shut up. .. ! There's disgrace and reproaches here—Satan who says the fire's contemptible, who says my temper's desperately silly.— Enough. .. ! Errors they're whispering to me, magic, misleading perfumes, childish music.—And to think I'm dealing in truth, I'm looking at justice: my reasoning powers are sane and sound, I'm ready for perfection. .. Pride.—My scalp is drying up. Help! Lord, I'm scared. I'm thirsty, so thirsty! O childhood, the grass, the rain, the lake water on stones, the moonlight when the hell struck twelve. . . . The devil's in the tower right now. Mary! Holy Virgin. . . !— Loathing for my blunder.

Out there, aren't those virtuous souls who are wishing me well. . . ? Come.. .. I've got a pillow over my mouth, they won't hear me, they're ghosts. Besides, no one ever thinks of others. Don't come near me. I smell of heresy, that's for sure.

No end to these hallucinations. It's exactly what I've always known: no more faith in history, principles forgotten. I'll keep quiet: poets and visionaries would be jealous. I'm a thousand times richer, let's be miserly like the sea.

Well now! the clock of life stopped a few minutes ago. I'm not in the world any more.— Theology's a serious thing, hell is certainly way down—and heaven's above.—Ecstasy, nightmare, sleep in a nest of flames.

How malicious one's outlook in the country. . . Satan—Old Scratch——goes running around with the wild grain. . . Jesus is walking on the blackberry bushes without bending them. .. Jesus used to walk on troubled waters. The lantern revealed him to us, standing, pale with long brownish hair, on the crest of an emerald wave. . . .

I'm going to unveil all the mysteries: religious mysteries or natural, death, birth, future, past, cosmogony, nothingness. I'm a master of hal— lucinations.

Listen...!

I've got all the talents!— There's no one here and there's someone: I wouldn't want to waste my treasure.—Do you want nigger songs, houri dances? Do you want me to disappear, to dive down for the ring? Do you want that? I'm going to make gold. . . remedies.

Then have faith in me, faith is soothing, it guides, it cures. Come, all of you—even the little children—and I'll comfort you, I'll spill out my heart for you,—the marvelous heart!—Poor men, workers! I don't ask for your prayers. With your trust alone, I'll be happy.

—And what about me? All of this doesn't make me miss the world much. I'm lucky not to suffer more. My life was nothing but lovely mistakes, it's too bad.

Bah! let's make every possible ugly face.

We're out of the world, for sure. Not even a sound. My touch has disappeared. Ah, my castle, my Saxony, my willow woods. Evenings, mornings, nights, days. . . I'm worn out!

I should have my hell for anger, my hell for conceit—and the hell of caresses: a concert of hells.

I'm dying of tiredness. It's the grave, horror of horrors, I'm going to the worms! Satan, you joker, you want to melt me down with your charms. I demand it, I demand it! a poke of the pitchfork, a drop of fire. Ah, to come back to life again! To feast my eyes on our deformities.

And that poison, that kiss a thousand times damned! My weakness, the world's cruelty! My God, mercy, hide me, I always misbehave!—I'm hidden and then again I'm not.

It's the fire flaring up again with its damned!

From A Season in Hell & Illuminations by Arthur Rimbaud, translated by Bertrand Mathieu (BOA Editions, 1991). Used by permission.

From A Season in Hell & Illuminations by Arthur Rimbaud, translated by Bertrand Mathieu (BOA Editions, 1991). Used by permission.

Arthur Rimbaud

Arthur Rimbaud

A volatile and peripatetic poet, the prodigy Arthur Rimbaud wrote all of his poetry in a space of less than five years

by this poet

poem
Graceful son of Pan! Around your forehead crowned
with small flowers and berries, your eyes, precious
spheres, are moving. Spotted with brownish wine lees,
your cheeks grow hollow. Your fangs are gleaming. Your
chest is like a lyre, jingling sounds circulate between your
blond arms. Your heart beats in that
poem
When the boy's head, full of raw torment,
Longs for hazy dreams to swarm in white,
Two charming older sisters come to his bed
With slender fingers and silvery nails.

They sit him at a casement window, thrown
Open on a mass of flowers basking in blue air,
And run the fine, intimidating witchcraft
Of their
poem

A while back, if I remember right, my life was one long party where all hearts were open wide, where all wines kept flowing.

One night, I sat Beauty down on my lap.—And I found her galling.—And I roughed her up.

I armed myself against justice.

I ran away. O witches, O misery, O hatred, my treasure