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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)

The Seekers of Lice

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  fingers through his dew-dank hair.

He listens to their diffident, sing-song breath,
Smelling of elongated honey off the rose,
Broken now and then by a hiss: saliva sucked
Back from the lip, or a longing to be kissed.

He hears their dark eyelashes start in the sweet-
Smelling silence and, through his grey listlessness,
The crackle of small lice dying, beneath
The imperious nails of their soft, electric fingers.

The wine of Torpor wells up in him then
— Near on trance, a harmonica-sigh —
And in their slow caress he feels
The endless ebb and flow of a desire to cry.

Copyright © Jeremy Harding and John Sturrock, 2004. Reproduced by permission of Penguin Books Ltd.

Copyright © Jeremy Harding and John Sturrock, 2004. Reproduced by permission of Penguin Books Ltd.

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
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

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

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