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About this poet

Jean-Nicolas-Arthur Rimbaud was born October 20, 1854, in the small French town of Charleville. His father, an army captain, abandoned the family when he was six. 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 interest in literature, despite his mother’s disapproval.

Rimbaud began writing prolifically in 1870. That same year, his school shut down during the Franco-Prussian War, and he attempted to run away from Charleville twice but failing for lack of money. He wrote to the poet Paul Verlaine, who invited him to live in Paris with him and his new wife. Though Rimbaud’s moved out soon after, as a result of his harsh manners, he and Verlaine became lovers. Shortly after the birth of his son, Verlaine left his family to live with Rimbaud.

During their affair, which lasted nearly two years, they associated with the Paris literati and traveled to Belgium and England. While in Brussels in 1873, a drunk Verlaine shot Rimbaud in the hand. Verlaine was imprisoned, and Rimbaud returned to Charleville, where he 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.

Rimbaud wrote all of his poetry in a span of about five years, concluding around the year 1875. 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. He spent the final twenty years of his life working abroad, and he took jobs in African towns as a colonial tradesman.

In 1891, Rimbaud traveled to Marseilles to see a doctor about a pain in his knee. The doctors were forced to amputate his leg, but the cancer continued to spread. Rimbaud died on November 10, 1891, at the age of thirty-seven. Paul Verlaine published his complete works in 1895.


Selected Bibliography

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

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

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 dying 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 span of less than five years.

by this poet

poem

Black in the fog and in the snow,
Where the great air-hole windows glow,
With rounded rumps,

Upon their knees five urchins squat,
Looking down where the baker, hot,
The thick dough thumps.

They watch his white arm turn the bread,
Ere through an opening flaming red

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