poem index

sign up to receive a new poem-a-day in your inbox

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)

Waifs and Strays

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
The loaf he flings.

They hear the good bread baking, while
The chubby baker with a smile
An old tune sings.

Breathing the warmth into their soul,
They squat around the red air-hole,
As a breast warm.

And when, for feasters' midnight bout,
The ready bread is taken out,
In a cake's form;

And while beneath the blackened beams,
Sings every crust of golden gleams,
While the cricket brags,

The hole breathes warmth into the night,
And into them life and delight,
Under their rags,

And the urchins covered with hoar-frost,
On billows of enchantment tossed
Their little souls,

Glue to the grate their little rosy
Noses, singing through the cosy
Glowing holes,

But with low voices like a prayer,
Bending down to the light down there,
Where heaven gleams.

—So eager that they burst their breeches,
And in the winter wind that screeches
Their linen streams.

After Arthur Rimbaud's "Les Effarés." Translated in 1912. This poem is in the public domain.

After Arthur Rimbaud's "Les Effarés." Translated in 1912. This poem is in the public domain.

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
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

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