Arthur Rimbaud

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Arthur Rimbaud
Arthur Rimbaud at seventeen
Born October 20, 1854
Charleville, France
Died November 10, 1891
Marseille, France
Occupation Poet
"Rimbaud" redirects here. For other uses see Rimbaud (disambiguation)

Jean Nicolas Arthur Rimbaud (French IPA: [aʁ'tyʁ ʁɛ̃'bo]) (October 20, 1854 – November 10, 1891) was a French poet, born in Charleville. His influence on modern literature, music and art has been pervasive.


  • 1 Early life and work
  • 2 Later life (1875-1891)
  • 3 Works
  • 4 English translations
  • 5 Citations
  • 6 References
  • 7 Further reading
  • 8 See also
  • 9 External links

Early life and work

Arthur Rimbaud was born into the provincial middle class of Charleville (now part of Charleville-Mézières) in the Ardennes département in northeastern France. He was the second child of Captain Frédéric and Vitalie Rimbaud (née Cuif). It is evident through his writing that he never felt loved by his mother. 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 French verses 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 (as his poem Le cœur supplicié (The Tortured Heart) perhaps suggests). 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 Demeny 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[1] at the invitation of the eminent Symbolist poet Paul Verlaine[2] (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 adolescent. They became lovers and led a wild, vagabond-like life spiced by absinthe and hashish.[3] 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 September 1872[4], 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[5] 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"[6], so he turned and ran away. In his words, "it was then I (Rimbaud) begged a police officer to arrest him (Verlaine)."[7] Verlaine was arrested and subjected to a humiliating medico-legal examination[8], 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[9].

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" ("infernal spouse"). In 1874 he returned to London with the poet Germain Nouveau[10] and put together his groundbreaking Illuminations, including the first-ever two French poems in free verse.

Later life (1875-1891)

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[11]. 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 May 1876 he enlisted as a soldier in the Dutch Colonial Army[12] to travel free of charge to Java (Indonesia) where he promptly deserted, returning to France by ship[13] 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.

In December 1878, Rimbaud arrived in Larnaca, Cyprus, where he worked for a construction company as a foreman at a stone quarry[14]. In May of the following year he had to leave Cyprus because of a fever, which on his return to France was diagnosed as typhoid fever. In 1880 Rimbaud finally settled in Aden as a main employee in the Bardey agency[15]. He had several native women as lovers and for a while he lived with an Ethiopian mistress. In 1884 he quit his job at Bardey's and became a merchant on his own in Harar, Ethiopia.

Rimbaud developed right knee synovitis and subsequently a carcinoma in his right knee and the state of his health forced him to leave for France on May 9, 1891[16]. Rimbaud was admitted to hospital in Marseille and his leg was amputated on May 27[17]. After a short stay at his family house he attempted to travel back to Africa, but on the way his medical condition deteriorated and he was readmitted to the same hospital in Marseille where his surgery had been carried out, and spent some time there in great pain, attended by his sister Isabelle. Rimbaud died in Marseille on November 10, 1891, at the age of 37, and his body was interred in the family vault at Charleville[18].


  • Poésies
  • Le bateau ivre (1871)
  • Une Saison en Enfer (1873)
  • Illuminations (1874)
  • Lettres

English translations

  • From the Modern Library, The Poetry and Prose, translated by Wyatt Mason
  • From the Modern Library, The Letters, translated by Wyatt Mason
  • From New Directions, The Illuminations, translated by Louise Varèse
  • From New Directions. A Season in Hell and the Drunken Boat, translated by Louise Varèse


  1. ^ Robb 2000, p. 109
  2. ^ Robb 2000, p. 102
  3. ^ Bernard, Suzanne and Guyaux, André. Oeuvres de Rimbaud, Classiques Garnier, Bordas, 1991. ISBN 2-04-017399-4
  4. ^ Robb 2000, p. 184
  5. ^ Robb 2000, p. 220.
  6. ^ Harding & Sturrock 2004, p. 160
  7. ^ Harding & Sturrock 2004, p. 160
  8. ^ Robb 2000, p. 223-224
  9. ^ Robb 2000, p. 224
  10. ^ Robb 2000, p. 241
  11. ^ Robb 2000, p. 264
  12. ^ Robb 2000, p. 278
  13. ^ Robb 2000, p. 282-285.
  14. ^ Robb 2000, p. 299
  15. ^ Robb 2000, p. 313
  16. ^ Robb 2000, p. 422-424
  17. ^ Robb 2000, p. 426
  18. ^ Robb 2000, p. 440-441
  • Harding & Sturrock (2004), Arthur Rimbaud: Selected Poems and Letters, Penguin, ISBN 0-140-44802-0
  • Robb, Graham (2000), Rimbaud, Picador, ISBN 0-330-48803-1

Further reading

  • Œuvres complètes, correspondance, d'Arthur Rimbaud de Louis Forestier - Éd. Robert Laffont, collection Bouquins - 1998, 607 pages ;
  • Un ardennais nommé Rimbaud de Yann Hureaux - Éd. La Nuée Bleu / L'Ardennais - 217 pages ;
  • Arthur Rimbaud, de Jean-Luc Steinmetz - Éd. Tallandier - 486 pages ;
  • Rimbaud Ailleurs, photographies contemporaines et entretiens de Jean-Hugues Berrou, textes et documents anciens de Jean-Jacques Lefrère et Pierre Leroy, avec la collaboration de Maurice Culot - Éd. Fayard - 303 pages.
  • Arthur Rimbaud 'Déposition de Rimbaud devant le juge d'instruction (12 July 1873)'.
  • Félicien Champsaur, Dinah Samuel (1882), a roman à clé in which Rimbaud is said to be caricatured.

See also

  • Rimbaud and modern culture
  • Historical pederastic couples
  • Épater la bourgeoisie
  • Arthur Rimbaud Free Freedom, a documentary film 90 min. by Jean-Philippe Perrot
  • ATHAR, on the tracks of Rimbaud in Ethiopia-Djibouti-Yemen, documentaire 52 min. "a reference" by Jean-Philippe Perrot
  • Rimbaud's Biography and Photos from the underground
  • Voyelles / Vowels a poem by Arthur Rimbaud
  • The Drunken Boat Website
  • The Crux of Rimbaud's Poetics: Essay on The Drunken Boat
  • Three Poems By Rimbaud in the London Guardian in translations by Wyatt Mason
  • Rimbaud In Harar, Ethiopia
  • Rimbaud, le poète (1870-1875) : a Rimbaud's French website
  • Jeune ménage an extract from "Les Illuminations", with a musical composition listenable on-line
  • New translations of Rimbaud's poetry at
  • "Why did Rimbaud Stop Writing?" by Alexander G. Rubio,
  • Rimbaud Photos
  • . . .
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