Arthur Rimbaud at seventeen
|Born||October 20, 1854 |
|Died||November 10, 1891 |
Jean Nicholas Arthur Rimbaud (French IPA: [aʀ'tyʀ ʀɛ̃'bo]) (October 20, 1854 – November 10, 1891) was a French poet, born in Charleville.
Arthur Rimbaud was born into the provincial middle class of Charleville (now part of Charleville-Mézières) in the Ardennes département in northeastern France. As a boy he was a restless but brilliant student. By the age of fifteen he had won many prizes and composed original verses and dialogues in Latin.
In 1870 his teacher Georges Izambard became Rimbaud's literary mentor and his original verses in French began to improve rapidly. He frequently ran away from home and may have briefly joined the Paris Commune of 1871, which he portrayed in his poem L'orgie parisienne ou Paris se repeuple (The Parisian Orgy or, Paris Repopulates). He may have been raped by drunken Communard soldiers (his poem "Le cœur supplicié" ["The Tortured Heart"] suggests so). By this time he had become an anarchist, started drinking and amused himself by shocking the local bourgeoisie with his shabby dress and long hair. At the same time he wrote to Izambard and Paul Démeny about his method for attaining poetical transcendence or visionary power through a "long, intimidating, immense and rational derangement of all the senses" ("Les lettres du Voyant" ["The Letters of the Seer"]). He returned to Paris in late September 1871 at the invitation of the eminent Symbolist poet Paul Verlaine (after Rimbaud had sent him a letter containing several samples of his work) and resided briefly in Verlaine's home. Verlaine, who was married, promptly fell in love with the sullen, blue-eyed, overgrown (5 ft 10 in), light-brown-haired young man. They became lovers and led a wild, vagabond-like life spiced by absinthe and hashish. They scandalized the Parisian literary coterie on account of the outrageous behaviour of Rimbaud, the archetypical enfant terrible, who throughout this period continued to write strikingly visionary verse.
Rimbaud's and Verlaine's stormy love affair took them to London in 1872, Verlaine abandoning his wife and infant son (both of whom he had abused in his alcoholic rages.)
In July 1873, Rimbaud committed himself to journey to Paris with or without Verlaine. In a drunken rage, Verlaine shot at him, one of the two shots striking the 18-year-old in the left wrist. Rimbaud considered the wound superficial and at first did not have Verlaine charged. After this, Verlaine and his mother accompanied Rimbaud to a Brussels train station where Verlaine "behaved as if he were insane". This made Rimbaud "fear that he might give himself over to new excesses", so he turned and ran away. In his words, "it was then I (Rimbaud) asked a police officer to arrest him (Verlaine)." Verlaine was arrested and subjected to a humiliating medico-legal examination, including his intimate correspondence with his lover and the accusations of Verlaine's wife about the nature of their relationship.
Rimbaud eventually withdrew the complaint, but the judge sentenced Verlaine to two years in prison. Rimbaud returned home to Charleville and completed his Une Saison en Enfer (A Season in Hell) in prose, widely regarded as one of the pioneering instances of modern Symbolist writing and a description of that "drôle de ménage" (odd partnership) life with Verlaine, his "pitoyable frère" ("pitiful brother") and "vierge folle" ("mad virgin") to whom he was "l'époux infernal" ("the infernal husband"). In 1874 he returned to London with the poet Germain Nouveau and put together his pathbreaking Illuminations, including the first-ever two French poems in free verse.
Rimbaud and Verlaine met for the last time in March 1875, in Stuttgart, Germany, after Verlaine's release from prison and his conversion to Catholicism. By then Rimbaud had given up writing and decided on a steady, working life; some speculate he was fed up with his former wild living, while others suggest he sought to become rich and independent to afford living one day as a carefree poet and man of letters. He continued to travel extensively in Europe, mostly on foot. In the summer of 1876 he enlisted as a soldier in the Dutch Army to travel free of charge to Java (Indonesia) where he promptly deserted, returning to France by ship. At the official residence of the mayor of Salatiga, a small city 46 km south of Semarang, capital of Central Java Province, there is a marble plaque stating that Rimbaud was once settled at the city. He traveled to Cyprus and in 1880 finally settled in Aden as a main employee in the Bardey agency. He had several native women as lovers and for a while he lived with an Ethiopian mistress. Whether he had other types of love-interests has not, apparently, come down to us. In 1884 he quit the job at Bardey's and became a merchant on his own in Harar, Ethiopia. He made a small fortune as a gun-runner, but Rimbaud developed right knee synovitis which degenerated into a carcinoma and the state of his health forced him to return to France on May 9, 1891, where his leg was amputated on May 27. He was going to stay at his sister Isabelle's house to recuperate but never left the hospital. Rimbaud died in Marseille on November 10, 1891, at age 37.
His influence in modern literature, music and art has been pervasive. His life in Paris was dramatized in a film starring Leonardo DiCaprio called Total Eclipse (1995).
Rimbaud influenced the following artists, among others: French poets in general, the Surrealists, T. S. Eliot, the Beat Poets, Henry Miller, Anais Nin, William S. Burroughs, Bob Kaufman, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Hugo Pratt, Mário Cesariny de Vasconcelos, Sérgio Godinho, Klaus Kinski, Dwid Hellion of Integrity, Jack Kerouac, Philippe Sollers, Patti Smith, Bruce Chatwin, Penny Rimbaud, Jim Morrison, Van Morrison, John Hall, Bob Dylan, Richard Hell, Pete Doherty, Joe Strummer, John Lennon, Stephen Kasner, Rozz Williams, David Wojnarowicz, Alternative TV and many more. Horror writer Thomas Ligotti has shown a fondness for Rimbaud's work.
The Italian gothic band Theatres des Vampires sing (in the original language, French) a sentence of "Jadis, si je me souviens bien...", in their song "Cursed". They also sing a sentence taken from the poem "Nuit de l'Enfer" ("Night of Hell") in their song "Lunatic Asylum", but in English this time.
Crass co-founder and drummer Penny Rimbaud named himself as a tribute to Arthur Rimbaud, the 'Penny' being a pun on the phrase "arfer (half a) penny", referring to the long discontinued British Ha'penny coin.
Bob Dylan confesses his love for Rimbaud's poetry in his autobiography "Chronicles: Volume One". He refers to Rimbaud in his song "You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go" from Blood on the Tracks: "Situations have ended sad, / Relationships have all been bad. / Mine've been like Verlaine's and Rimbaud. / But there's no way I can compare / All them scenes to this affair, / You're gonna make me lonesome when you go."
Van Morrison was reading about Rimbaud during a period of time (mid-1970's) when, "I wasn't writing anything at all, and I really couldn't understand why." He said that after reading how Rimbaud had stopped writing at twenty-six, "ironically that sorta got me writing again". He started the song, "Tore Down A La Rimbaud", from A Sense of Wonder and didn't finish it for eight years. That's the longest I've ever carried a song around. He also mentions Rimbaud in the song, "Foreign Window" from No Guru, No Method, No Teacher: "You were carryin' your burden/You were singing about Rimbaud." He later said that without knowing it, he may have been writing about Bob Dylan, here.
Poet and "Godmother of Punk" Patti Smith has a line in her song "Horses" where she urges the listener to "Do the watusi/ And go Rimbaud! Go Rimbaud!"
Canadian rock group Red Rider's 1980 song "White Hot" was written about Rimbaud.
The early UK punk band Alternative TV reference Rimbaud in their song "Viva La Rock and Roll"; Arthur Rimbaud spoke to me/Through New York's New Wave.
London-based Rock and Roll band, The Medicine Show not only make reference to the poet in their name, but chief songwriter, John Hall, openly states Rimbaud as an inspiration in his own lyrics.
French musician Hector Zazou's 1992 album Sahara Blue uses Rimbaud's poems as lyrics for 11 of the 12 tracks on the album, and features contributions from David Sylvian, Anneli Drecker, John Cale, Gérard Depardieu, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Tim Simenon, and Brendan Perry and Lisa Gerrard of Dead Can Dance.
British electronica duo Frou Frou take their name from a Rimbaud poem.
In the song Ghetto Defendant on the album Combat Rock by The Clash, poet Allen Ginsberg refers to Rimbaud and the Paris Commune.
Larrikin Love's 2005 single Happy As Annie takes its image of a corpse being mistaken for a sleeping person from Rimbaud's poem Asleep In The Valley.
Welsh poet Dylan Thomas described himself as 'the Rimbaud of Cwmdonkin Drive'
Jim Morrison is said to have described himself as "I am a Rimbaud with a leather jacket".
Rimbaud is heavily referenced in the film Eddie and the Cruisers, and the albums are named after Rimbaud's works (ie. A Season in Hell)
French footballer Éric Cantona, when interviewed by the British press about influences on his life during the early 1990s, named Rimbaud as one of his heroes. However, the press misunderstood the name due to Cantona's thick accent, and thought he was talking about the Sylvester Stallone movie character Rambo.
In Pier Paolo Pasolini's movie Teorema, the mysterious visitor, played by Terence Stamp, is often seen reading a small book by Rimbaud.
Benjamin Britten begun his settings of Les Illuminations in Suffolk in March 1939 and completed them a few months later in the USA. They were originally written for the soprano Sophie Wyss, although the work can be, and often is, performed by a tenor. The work has also been choreographed by Sir Frederick Ashton and Richard Alston.
Michael Nyman set his poem "L'Orgie parisienne, ou Paris se repeuple" as part of La Traversée de Paris and The Michael Nyman Songbook.