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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)

Novel

I.

No one's serious at seventeen.
—On beautiful nights when beer and lemonade
And loud, blinding cafés are the last thing you need
—You stroll beneath green lindens on the promenade.

Lindens smell fine on fine June nights!
Sometimes the air is so sweet that you close your eyes;
The wind brings sounds—the town is near—
And carries scents of vineyards and beer. . .

II.

—Over there, framed by a branch
You can see a little patch of dark blue
Stung by a sinister star that fades
With faint quiverings, so small and white. . .

June nights! Seventeen!—Drink it in.
Sap is champagne, it goes to your head. . .
The mind wanders, you feel a kiss
On your lips, quivering like a living thing. . .

III.

The wild heart Crusoes through a thousand novels
—And when a young girl walks alluringly
Through a streetlamp's pale light, beneath the ominous shadow
Of her father's starched collar. . .

Because as she passes by, boot heels tapping,
She turns on a dime, eyes wide, 
Finding you too sweet to resist. . .
—And cavatinas die on your lips.

IV.

You're in love. Off the market till August.
You're in love.—Your sonnets make Her laugh.
Your friends are gone, you're bad news.
—Then, one night, your beloved, writes. . .!

That night. . .you return to the blinding cafés;
You order beer or lemonade. . .
—No one's serious at seventeen 
When lindens line the promenade.

29 September 1870

From Rimbaud Complete by Arthur Rimbaud; translated, edited, and introduced by Wyatt Mason. Copyright © 2002 by Wyatt Mason. Reprinted by permission of the Modern Library. All rights reserved.

From Rimbaud Complete by Arthur Rimbaud; translated, edited, and introduced by Wyatt Mason. Copyright © 2002 by Wyatt Mason. Reprinted by permission of the Modern Library. All rights reserved.

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

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

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

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