Poetry Blog Post New Entry

Famous Poet Friday ~ Arthur Rimbaud

Posted by Cutter on February 15, 2013 at 2:25 PM

Welcome once again to Cutter's famous poet friday and this week we are going to go traipsing into the dark. Arthur Rimbaud was a gigantic influence on me and so many of my heroes, but it is his work, so beautiful in English but even more so in his native french, that makes the man so powerful. His vision was colored by the occult, drugs, perversions, self loathing and powerful lust, it resonantes even still with a type of magic seldom matched in contemporary poetry. Excuse the long biography this week but I think it is important to know this man by what he lived through. Also, do yourself a favor and find and read the last poem La Nocturne Vulgaire in the original French and read it, even if you don't speak French, there is something spellbinding about it, or it could just be me....



Jean-Nicholas-Arthur Rimbaud is born on October 20, 1854 in Charleville in the Ardennes, France, the second son of Vitalie Cuif and Frédéric Rimbaud, a captain of the infantry.

When Arthur is four years of age, his sister Vitalie is born, followed by Isabelle two years later, in 1860.


The same year Isabelle is born Frédéric Rimbaud abandons his family, thereby forcing them to move to another home in a run-down neighborhood.


Vitalie, traumatized by her husband's walking out, from now on fanatically shields her children from what she considers bad influences to prevent them from taking after their father. As young Arthur takes a liking to sneaking out the house to play with the local kids against the will of his protective mother, she manages to move the family to a better part of the town again.


She enrolls her two sons Arthur and his elder brother Frédéric at the Rossat Institute, expecting them to excel and redeem their family with outstanding achievements. To make them concentrate solely on their studies, she forbids them to spend their spare time with the other boys.


And indeed, Arthur Rimbaud immerses himself in his studies, which remains the only way for him to find stimulation and acknowledgment. He soon proves to be a brilliant student, especially in rhetoric. In 1865 Rimbaud enters Charleville College, where he meets Ernest Delahaye, who is to remain his friend for life.


The following years Rimbaud's works Ver Erat and Jugurtha (inspired by Sallust's classic Bellum Jugurthinum) both written in Latin, win poetry prizes. In January 1870, The Review publishes Rimbaud's The Orphans' New Year's Gifts.

Around that time Georges Izambard, a new rhetoric teacher from Paris, grows fond of Arthur and grants him access to his personal library. As Rimbaud's mother finds out that Izambard allows her son to read books which in her mind are inappropriate for a child, such as Victor Hugo's Les Miserables, she reprimands Izambard in a letter.


But Rimbaud continues to read and write, and in May1870 he sends his poems Sensation, Ophelia and a first version of Credo in Unam to the poet, writer, playwright and journalist Theodore Banville, hoping for help in getting his works published in The Contemporary Parnassus.


At the start of the war between France and Prussia in 1871, Arthur Rimbaud's friend and mentor Izambard decides to leave for Douai. While Arthur has permission to further visit Izambard's library, his discontent with living in Charleville soon grows strong enough to make him run away on August 29, heading for Paris. However, not being able to afford the costs of the entire journey, he's caught with an invalid train ticket and imprisoned in Mazas.


It's Izambard who intervenes and gets Rimbaud released from prison. Arthur spends the following fifteen days in Douai, living in a house owned by Izambard's aunts.


Rimbaud is not welcomed with open arms upon his returning home, and on October 7 he runs away the second time. Now his journey leads him to Belgium, first Charleroi then Brussels; then he returns to Douai, staying at Izambard's aunts' house again and writing poetry.


Izambard introduces him to another young poet named Paul Demeny. On November 1, however, Rimbaud's mother has the police bring her son home by force. Meanwhile, the college has been closed since the buildings are now needed to house and treat war victims.

For a while Arthur turns to the Charleville library as the only place he has left to retreat from what he feels to be a restraining and hostile environment. On February 25, 1871, he can't bear it any longer and takes a runs away once more, taking a train to Paris. Not having any money left, he lives on the streets for two weeks, then walks back home.


A few days after his return to Charleville, insurrection breaks out in Paris on March 18th. Rimbaud's increasing intrigue with the communard movement inspires his works Parisian Song of War, Jeanne-Marie's Hands, and Paris is Repeopled.


The rebellious mindset his life circumstances have made him adopt is now further nurtured and Rimbaud more and more starts to embrace the life of an outcast and rebel against the status quo.


He studies poets considered as "immoral", such as Baudelaire, reads philosophic books and also becomes drawn to occultism.


Rimbaud lives in squalid conditions by choice, starts to drink and indulges in what was deemed scandalous and even heretic behavior.


The contemporary events and his own stance on the issues shape and change Rimbaud's view of the purpose of poetry. He now considers the poet a visionary meant to create strong stimuli assaulting the senses of his audience to affect them in the strongest possible way, while not being limited by conventions himself.


Today, Rimbaud is considered to have been one of the first proponents of the free verse style and a predecessor to the surrealists. In his two Letters Of The Visionary to Izambard and Demeny, Rimbaud writes


"The poet should make himself a seer by a long, immense, deliberate disorder of all the senses".


He even asks Demeny to burn the poems he previously sent him since he cannot identify with them anymore, feels they are outdated; but Demeny refuses to do so.


Arthur & Paul In Love: Absinthe & Poetry


In August 1871, Arthur sends some of his latest poems to the then already established poet Paul Verlaine. Verlaine instantly recognizes the young man's potential and invites Rimbaud to Paris, writing him: "Come, dear great soul, you are called, you are awaited".


Rimbaud visits him in September, by then having written yet another poem titled The Drunken Boat. Arthur's rude, disrespectful and scandalous behavior soon makes Verlaine's family despise him. Since Verlaine is living in the house of his wife Mathilde Mauté de Fleurville's parents but personally has become fond of Arthur, he finds lodging for Rimbaud in the home of friends.


Rimbaud and Verlaine work together and contribute to the collective Album of the Circle Zutique, a group of poets founded by poet and inventor Charles Cros.


Ernest Cabaner, a barman at the Hotel Des Étrangers, where they usually meet, gives Rimbaud piano lessons during which he attributes certain colors and vowels to the notes which is considered to be Rimbaud's inspiration for the poem Vowels.


As the love affair between Rimbaud and Verlaine, which has become ever more serious, becomes public, scandal ensues.

Partly suffering under the psychological strain, partly knowing that there is no good reputation to be maintained anymore Verlaine is more and more lured into adopting Rimbaud's lifestyle.

The two men frequently indulge in drink, get high on absinthe and opiate.



A Season In Hell


Verlaine's personality starts to deteriorate under the pressure and steady influence of drugs; conjugal violence causes his wife Mathilde and her son to leave home. In March 1872, Rimbaud sets off to Charleville. Verlaine promises Mathilde to cut all ties with Arthur and she agrees to return back home with their son.


But in May Rimbaud returns to Paris and manages to persuade Verlaine to join him on his voyage to Brussels. They leave in July, regardless of the pleading from Mathilde who follows them to the station, trying till the moment of their departure to make her husband change his mind. All efforts to save their marriage being in vain, she returns home alone and files for divorce soon after.


At the beginning of September Rimbaud and Verlaine move to London, where they get in touch with the exiled communards Eugène Vermersh and Félix Regamey and find a place to live at 34 Howland Street, near Soho. Rimbaud starts writing on Illuminations and Verlaine completes Romances sans Paroles.


As the news of his wife demanding legal separation reach Verlaine - his alcoholism and fits of violence having been made public, as well - his conscience starts to torment him; and when Rimbaud goes back to Charleville for three weeks in December, Verlaine becomes even more depressive. He writes Arthur who is moved to return, bringing Verlaine's mother with him.


Verlaine recovers and they continue working in London until April 4, 1873 as Verlaine's fervent wish to be reunited with his wife causes him to leave for Namur, where Mathilde has settled; but she refuses to see Verlaine. Feeling left alone, Arthur moves to Roche on April 11 and starts to write A Season in Hell. At the beginning of July, Rimbaud and Verlaine find together again, settling at 8 Great College Street, Camden Town, London. Besides writing, the couple gives French lessons to support themselves.


As their love affair becomes known in London as well, they're being excluded from the group of communards they used to be a part of. Realizing that his formerly "good reputation" is now completely lost forever and comprehending that this also means that his wife's arguments for being granted a divorce are now stronger than ever, Verlaine starts to drink again and gets into fights with Arthur which become more and more serious and physical.


After one of these quarrels Verlaine leaves Rimbaud and moves back to Brussels. Deeply missing both his wife and Rimbaud, he grows ever more suicidal and also addresses suicide in his letters. His mother visits him and Verlaine sends a telegram to Arthur asking him to come, too.

Rimbaud visits Verlaine, but as he lets him in on his intention of traveling on to Paris soon, Verlaine, in rage, fires two shots at him. One bullet gets stuck in Rimbaud's wrist.

After being treated at Saint-Jean Hospital, Rimbaud heads directly for the station where Verlaine already awaits him to hinder his departure. Rimbaud calls the police and Verlaine is arrested and sentenced to two years in the prison of Petites Carmes on August 8, in spite of a repentant Rimbaud having renounced the charges a day after Verlaine's arrest.

In despair, Arthur goes back to Roche where he finishes A Season in Hell and has the manuscript printed in August.

In October, realizing he's unable to afford having more copies printed he gives up on publishing a book and sends the few copies he already has to a few friends also intending to have one brought to the imprisoned Verlaine. Yet, since most of their mutual acquaintances are blaming Rimbaud for Verlaine's misery, he encounters much hostility and resentment.


In March 1874, Rimbaud returns to London joined by Germain Nouveau, a poet who had helped him with his Illuminations. They live at 178 Stamford Street for a while, but as Nouveau realizes to what extent Rimbaud's bad reputation might impact his young career he decides to go back to Paris in June.

Depressed, Arthur writes a letter to his family, and in July his mother and his sister Vitalie visit him. On July 31, Rimbaud leaves London to work in Scarborough, goes back to Charleville in December and leaves again on February 13, 1875 to work as a tutor in Stuttgart, where Verlaine, recently having been released from prison, visits him on March 2.

It occurs to Rimbaud that the prison experience has turned Verlaine into an almost hysterically religious person.

Verlaine stays for two days only, then travels back to Paris taking Rimbaud's manuscript for Illuminations with him to see to that it's published. It shall be the last time the two men meet.

As Arthur, broke again, sends Verlaine a letter asking for financial support and upon receiving a negative answer writes back one more letter full of insults, this marks the end of their friendship. Verlaine continues to send letters to Rimbaud but never again receives a reply.




At the beginning of May, Rimbaud starts traveling again, spends time in Stuttgart, Milan, Marseilles, Paris and returns to Charleville in October, where he spends the winter studying Russian and Arabic, as well as improving his piano play.

December 18, his sister Vitalie dies of tuberculosis synovitis and Arthur, deeply saddened, shaves his head as a sign of mourning.

In spring 1876, Rimbaud travels to Vienna where he's being robbed. Not having any money left the police escorts him out of the country and he returns to Charleville on foot. In May, he leaves for Belgium and joins the colonial Dutch army which takes him to Batavia, where Rimbaud deserts after three weeks and returns to Europe on a Scottish boat.

He spends the winter in Charleville again, then resumes his travels, visiting Cologne and Bremen, then working as a translator for a circus that's touring Denmark and Norway. His restlessness leads him to Marseilles, Rome, Paris and Alexandria, always returning to Charleville in between and - becoming ill more frequently now - spending some time in hospital.


Escaping Poetry: The Abyssinian Era

December 1878, Rimbaud is in Lanarka, Cyprus, working as a team leader in a stone quarry. After six months he falls ill with typhoid fever and travels back to Roche for treatment where he's visited by his friend Ernest Delahaye.

Delahaye asks him whether he's still thinking about literature; he reports Rimbaud's response as follows:

"Shaking his head, he had a half-amused, half-irritated smile, as if I had asked him: "Do you still play with a hoop?" and simply answered: "I do not mind about it anymore."

In March 1880, Rimbaud is back in Cyprus to supervise the construction of the governor's residence, then working in another stone quarry. At the beginning of August, he moves to Aden where he works for Bardey & Co, an import/export company trading in coffee. After three months he takes over a new agency of Bardey & Co in Harer, Abyssinia.

In May 1881, Rimbaud has to be treated for syphilis. Having recovered he continues to work for Bardey & Co for the following ten years, traveling the country, more and more speaking fluent Arabic and becoming familiar with the Koran. He plans to expand, to go on expeditions, to write a book about Harer, orders a camera and develops an interest in technology.

Yet in spite of his busy life, he often feels discontent and unhappy. On May 6, 1883, Rimbaud writes in a letter to his family:

"(...) I regret not being married, not having a family. But now I am condemned to wander, attached to a faraway company, and every day I lose the taste for the climate and the manners of living, and even the language of Europe.

Alas! What is the use of these comings and goings, and this tiredness and these adventures...?"

In February 1884, Bardey & Co goes bankrupt and Rimbaud has to close his Harer agency.

He returns to Aden in April and lives there with an Abyssinian girl for the next two years.


Rise And Demise


From October 1885 to July 1887 Rimbaud deals in weapons, delivering guns to King Menilek of Shewa who is waging war against the emperor of Abyssinia. As his business partner Pierre Labatut dies of cancer and his other partner Paul Soleillet short after suffers a deadly stroke, Rimbaud's plans fail; moreover, he is obliged to cover Labatut's debts.

During this time Verlaine publishes The Accursed Poets, including a chapter about Rimbaud, and at the beginning of summer 1886, Rimbaud's Illuminations are published in Vogue. Thus, Rimbaud becomes well known in Paris again while he's on vacation in Cairo with his young servant Djami Wadaï, returning to Aden on October 8.

In March 1888 Rimbaud and César Tian, a trader from Aden, open a new trade agency in Harer, selling hardware. Rimbaud's best friend during that time is the Swiss engineer Alfred Ilg, who later becomes King Menilek's prime minister.

Most people around him describe Rimbaud as a taciturn, withdrawn man with a dry sense of humor and an unsteady temper, leading a very unassuming, almost ascetic life and helping the poor, yet also often seeming rather unhappy and discontent.

In France, more of Rimbaud's poems are being published and his popularity steadily increases. Arthur learns about this development through a letter from his former classmate Paul Bourde.

In February 1891, Rimbaud checks into the European Hospital in Aden due to intense pain in his right knee. He is diagnosed with an advanced stage of synovitis, already developing into a cancerous tumor. Learning that amputation is inevitable to save his life, Arthur liquidates his business and on May 9 takes the boat to France.

On May 27 his right leg is being removed at the Conception Hospital in Marseilles. His mother visits him but leaves again so soon that Arthur is deeply shocked and is said to have never forgiven her.

He walks with crutches for a while, and then gets a wooden leg.

Walking having been a pivotal part of his life, his depression and despair are boundless; especially since he views his amputation as the major obstacle which is to prevent him from pursuing the plans he had for the future. In a letter to his sister Isabelle he writes:

"(...) What a nuisance, what a fatigue what a sadness when I think about all my ancient travels, and how active I was just 5 months ago! Where are the runnings across mountains, the cavalcades, the walks, the deserts, the rivers and the seas? (...) And to think I precisely had decided to come back to France this summer to get married! Goodbye wedding, goodbye family, goodbye future! My life is gone, I'm no more than an immobile trunk (...)"

On July 23, he travels to Roche where Isabelle is taking care of him for a month. Then they return back to Marseilles where Arthur hopes to receive better treatment of his worsening condition. Back in hospital, the doctors diagnose him with a terminal stage of cancer. Rimbaud starts to become more and more delirious. He wishes to go back to Harer to see his servant Djami.

Arthur Rimbaud dies on November 10, 1891 at age 37. He is buried in Charleville.


Arthur Rimbaud: The Legacy


Feeling the need to restore the reputation of her brother, Isabelle spreads that he died like "a good Christian". According to Rimbaud's last will, she intends to pay his legacy of 750 thalaris to Djami, but as it shows that Djami has passed away, too, the money goes to his heirs.

Isabelle's husband, the artist Paterne Berrichon (pseudonym of Pierre-Eugène Dufour), who is a great admirer of Rimbaud, helps her to publish Arthur's work and letters.

Arthur Rimbaud's style has influenced a large number of artists throughout the times and still continues to do so over a century after his death.

His work has not only inspired literature movements, such as the Beats; musicians and songwriters like Bob Dylan, Jim Morrison and Patti Smith have named Arthur Rimbaud and his poetry as an inspiration for their own works.


The Drunken Boat

(Le Bateau Ivre)


As I floated down impassive Rivers,

I felt myself no longer pulled by ropes:

The Redskins took my hauliers for targets,

And nailed them naked to their painted posts.


Carrying Flemish wheat or English cotton,

I was indifferent to all my crews.

The Rivers let me float down as I wished,

When the victims and the sounds were through.


Into the furious breakers of the sea,

Deafer than the ears of a child, last winter,

I ran! And the Peninsulas sliding by me

Never heard a more triumphant clamour.


The tempest blessed my sea-borne arousals.

Lighter than a cork I danced those waves

They call the eternal churners of victims,

Ten nights, without regret for the lighted bays!


Sweeter than sour apples to the children

The green ooze spurting through my hull’s pine,

Washed me of vomit and the blue of wine,

Carried away my rudder and my anchor.


Then I bathed in the Poem of the Sea,

Infused with stars, the milk-white spume blends,

Grazing green azures: where ravished, bleached

Flotsam, a drowned man in dream descends.

Where, staining the blue, sudden deliriums

And slow tremors under the gleams of fire,

Stronger than alcohol, vaster than our rhythms,

Ferment the bitter reds of our desire!


I knew the skies split apart by lightning,

Waterspouts, breakers, tides: I knew the night,

The Dawn exalted like a crowd of doves,

I saw what men think they’ve seen in the light!


I saw the low sun, stained with mystic terrors,

Illuminate long violet coagulations,

Like actors in a play, a play that’s ancient,

Waves rolling back their trembling of shutters!


I dreamt the green night of blinded snows,

A kiss lifted slow to the eyes of seas,

The circulation of unheard-of flows,

Sung phosphorus’s blue-yellow awakenings!


For months on end, I’ve followed the swell

That batters at the reefs like terrified cattle,

Not dreaming the Three Marys’ shining feet

Could muzzle with their force the Ocean’s hell!


I’ve struck Floridas, you know, beyond belief,

Where eyes of panthers in human skins,

Merge with the flowers! Rainbow bridles, beneath

the seas’ horizon, stretched out to shadowy fins!


I’ve seen the great swamps boil, and the hiss

Where a whole whale rots among the reeds!

Downfalls of water among tranquilities,

Distances showering into the abyss.

Nacrous waves, silver suns, glaciers, ember skies!

Gaunt wrecks deep in the brown vacuities

Where the giant eels riddled with parasites

Fall, with dark perfumes, from the twisted trees!


I would have liked to show children dolphins

Of the blue wave, the golden singing fish.

– Flowering foams rocked me in my drift,

At times unutterable winds gave me wings.


Sometimes, a martyr tired of poles and zones,

The sea whose sobs made my roilings sweet

Showed me its shadow flowers with yellow mouths

And I rested like a woman on her knees…


Almost an isle, blowing across my sands, quarrels

And droppings of pale-eyed clamorous gulls,

And I scudded on while, over my frayed lines,

Drowned men sank back in sleep beneath my hull!…


Now I, a boat lost in the hair of bays,

Hurled by the hurricane through bird-less ether,

I, whose carcass, sodden with salt-sea water,

No Monitor or Hanseatic vessel could recover:


Freed, in smoke, risen from the violet fog,

I, who pierced the red skies like a wall,

Bearing the sweets that delight true poets,

Lichens of sunlight, gobbets of azure:


Who ran, stained with electric moonlets,

A crazed plank, companied by black sea-horses,

When Julys were crushing with cudgel blows

Skies of ultramarine in burning funnels:

I, who trembled to hear those agonies

Of rutting Behemoths and dark Maelstroms,

Eternal spinner of blue immobilities,

I regret the ancient parapets of Europe!


I’ve seen archipelagos of stars! And isles

Whose maddened skies open for the sailor:

– Is it in depths of night you sleep, exiled,

Million birds of gold, O future Vigour? –


But, truly, I’ve wept too much! The Dawns

Are heartbreaking, each moon hell, each sun bitter:

Fierce love has swallowed me in drunken torpors.

O let my keel break! Tides draw me down!


If I want one pool in Europe, it’s the cold

Black pond where into the scented night

A child squatting filled with sadness launches

A boat as frail as a May butterfly.


Bathed in your languor, waves, I can no longer

Cut across the wakes of cotton ships,

Or sail against the pride of flags, ensigns,

Or swim the dreadful gaze of prison ships.





Ordinary Nocturne

(Le Nocturne Vulgaire)



One breath tears operatic rents in these partitions,

Destroys the pivots of eroded roofs,

Dispels the limits of the hearth,

Makes casements disappear.


Along the vine I came,

Using a gargoyle as a footrest,

And into this carriage which shows its age

In convex windowpanes, in rounded panels,

In torturous upholstery.


Hearse of my lonely sleep,

Shepherd's cart of my stupidity...

The vehicle spins on the grass of an overgrown highway;

In a blemish high on the right window

Revolve pale lunar fictions, breasts and leaves.


A very dark green and a very dark blue blot out the image.

We unhitch and unharness beside a patch of gravel.


-Here we will whistle for storms,

for Sodoms and Solymans,

For wild beasts and armies.


(Postilion and dream horses will ride on

through more dense and suffocating groves,

to sink me to my eyelids in the silken spring.)


- And drive ourselves off, whipped through splashing water

And spilled drinks, to roll on the barking of bulldogs...


One breath dispels the limits of the hearth.




Post a Comment


Oops, you forgot something.


The words you entered did not match the given text. Please try again.

You must be a member to comment on this page. Sign In or Register


Reply Cutter
11:02 PM on February 16, 2013 
dracokitten says...
I too studied his works years ago. His work spoke to me as should all great soul reaching things. Bravo on another great pick. Thanks Cutter.

You are so welcome my friend! I am happy that you are enjoying them. Next week I am going to begin tackling some requests!
Reply Cutter
11:01 PM on February 16, 2013 
Tammy Hendrix says...
A turbulent life. He lived it to the fullest leading to his demise. Sadly shortened.

"The poet should make himself a seer by a long, immense, deliberate disorder of all the senses". Outstanding! I love his take and could not agree more!

"Ordinary Nocturne" is fantastic! There are so many exceptional lines in that piece. I absolutely love it.

Thank you once again for these most valuable lessons.

You should hear An Ordinary Nocturne read by someone with a good voice, aloud! So beautiful! And I am so happy that you are still enjoying these!
Reply Cutter
11:01 PM on February 16, 2013 
barbara says...
Such a tormented life he led. How sad that he gave up writing so early. Thank you for sharing him with us. Remarkable.

I see in many that the madness drives them away from the art because they think that it is the art that makes them mad and not that the madness makes their art brilliant. Thank you for coming by Barb!
Reply dracokitten
5:10 PM on February 16, 2013 
I too studied his works years ago. His work spoke to me as should all great soul reaching things. Bravo on another great pick. Thanks Cutter.
Reply Tammy Hendrix
10:38 AM on February 16, 2013 
A turbulent life. He lived it to the fullest leading to his demise. Sadly shortened.

"The poet should make himself a seer by a long, immense, deliberate disorder of all the senses". Outstanding! I love his take and could not agree more!

"Ordinary Nocturne" is fantastic! There are so many exceptional lines in that piece. I absolutely love it.

Thank you once again for these most valuable lessons.
Reply barbara
10:39 PM on February 15, 2013 
Such a tormented life he led. How sad that he gave up writing so early. Thank you for sharing him with us. Remarkable.