RIMBAUD: first in a long line of teen rebels
‘Misfortune was my God.
I laid myself bare in the mud.
I dried myself in the air of crime.
And I played tricks on madness.’
Drug taking seer, rowdy-rebellious teenager, sodomising wrecker of marriages but most important of all – the GREATEST POET to have ever lived, French prodigy Arthur Rimbaud even outdoes the phrase 'mad, bad and dangerous to know,' used to describe Lord Byron. But do not let this distract you from the genius of his words.
An excellent student, the 16 year old Rimbaud repeatedly ran away from home - at one point even taking arms during the Paris Commune. The outbreak of the Franco-Prussian war confined him to his hometown, Charleville, where his behaviour was slowly changing. Growing his hair out long and scruffy, swearing, smoking and boozing, stealing and most importantly - constantly writing poetry -the proto-hippie laid out his plans to become a visionary in a letter to a friend: "the poet becomes a seer through a rational derangement of all the senses. The sufferings are enormous, but one must be strong, be born a poet, and I have recognized myself as a poet."
Restless in Charleville, Rimbaud sent his poems to Parisian poet Paul Verlaine, who replied "Come, dear great soul. We await you; we desire you," alongside a one-way ticket to Paris.
Following Rimbaud like a dog, Verlaine ditched his 17-year-old pregnant wife, and together the two poets lived wildly; sleeping rough, abusing opium, hash and absinthe, and begging - all whilst engaged in a homosexual (and illegal) relationship. They travelled; spending some time in London and finally ended up in Brussels where Verlaine, in an alcohol fuelled rage, shot the by now 18-year-old in the arm.
Shortly after this, Rimbaud returned to his mother’s farm, locking himself in a barn - delirious and feverish - to write the most spectacular work of French letters, the extended prose poem: A SEASON IN HELL, after which he never wrote poetry again. A pioneering work of Symbolism, the work influenced Dada, Surrealism and the Beat Generation, as well as musicians Jim Morrison and Bob Dylan to name a few.
‘In the dawn, armed with a burning patience, we shall enter the splendid Cities!’
His work predicts so many central features to our lives right now – the outbreak of science, the rise in atheism, strict modernity, political revolution, drug use – and ties in neatly with the ideas of Nietzsche, Dostoevsky and the hippie movement. The first ever in a long line of teen rebel icons, one wonders if it weren’t for Rimbaud, would John Lennon have had long hair or would Keith Richards have been an outrageous drug user?
What I find remarkable about Rimbaud is this; he stopped writing poetry at 19. At 19! And remarkably if you look up any list of greatest French poets - you’ll find his name very near, if not AT, the top.
Through the daring use of raucous prose; surreal, rebellious and ethereal even, Rimbaud continues to influence the world. The archetypical tortured artist, who knows where modern culture would be without this literary giant?
The works of Arthur Rimbaud can be accessed online and available to purchase in book form online and in bookshops.