Arthur Rimbaud

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Arthur Rimbaud
Rimbaud at 17 by Étienne Carjat[1]
Rimbaud at 17 by Étienne Carjat[1]
BornJean Nicolas Arthur Rimbaud
(1854-10-20)20 October 1854
Charleville, Champagne, France
Died10 November 1891(1891-11-10) (aged 37)
Marseille, Provence, France
Resting placeCharleville-Mezieres Cimetière, Charleville-Mezieres, France
Period1870–1875 (major creative period)
Literary movementSymbolism
Notable works
PartnerPaul Verlaine (1871–1873)

Jean Nicolas Arthur Rimbaud (UK: /ˈræ̃b/, US: /ræmˈb/,[3][4] French: [ʒɑ̃ nikɔla aʁtyʁ ʁɛ̃bo] ; 20 October 1854 – 10 November 1891) was a French poet known for his transgressive and surreal themes and for his influence on modern literature and arts, prefiguring surrealism. Born in Charleville, he started writing at a very young age and excelled as a student, but abandoned his formal education in his teenage years to run away to Paris amidst the Franco-Prussian War.[5] During his late adolescence and early adulthood, he produced the bulk of his literary output. Rimbaud completely stopped writing literature at age 20 after assembling his last major work, Illuminations.

Rimbaud was a libertine and a restless soul, having engaged in a hectic, sometimes violent romantic relationship with fellow poet Paul Verlaine, which lasted nearly two years. After his retirement as a writer, he traveled extensively on three continents as a merchant and explorer until his death from cancer just after his thirty-seventh birthday.[6] As a poet, Rimbaud is well known for his contributions to symbolism and, among other works, for A Season in Hell, a precursor to modernist literature.[7]


Family and childhood (1854–1861)[edit]

Arthur Rimbaud was born in the provincial town of Charleville (now part of Charleville-Mézières) in the Ardennes department in northeastern France. He was the second child of Frédéric Rimbaud (7 October 1814 – 16 November 1878)[8] and Marie Catherine Vitalie Rimbaud (née Cuif; 10 March 1825 – 16 November 1907).[9]

Rimbaud's father, a Burgundian of Provençal heritage, was an infantry captain who had risen from the ranks; he had spent much of his army career abroad.[10] He participated in the conquest of Algeria from 1844 to 1850, and in 1854 was awarded the Legion of Honor[10] "by Imperial decree".[11] Captain Rimbaud was described as "good-tempered, easy-going and generous,"[12] with the long moustache and goatee of a Chasseur officer.[13]

In October 1852, Captain Rimbaud, then aged 38, was transferred to Mézières where he met Vitalie Cuif, 11 years his junior, while on a Sunday stroll.[14] She came from a "solidly established Ardennais family",[15] but one with its share of bohemians; two of her brothers were alcoholics.[15] Her personality was the "exact opposite" of Captain Rimbaud's; she was reportedly narrowminded, "stingy and ... completely lacking in a sense of humour".[12] When Charles Houin, an early biographer, interviewed her, he found her "withdrawn, stubborn and taciturn".[16] Arthur Rimbaud's private name for her was "Mouth of Darkness" (bouche d'ombre).[17]

On 8 February 1853, Captain Rimbaud and Vitalie Cuif married; their first-born, Jean Nicolas Frédéric ("Frédéric"), arrived nine months later on 2 November.[5] The next year, on 20 October 1854, Jean Nicolas Arthur ("Arthur") was born.[5] Three more children followed: Victorine-Pauline-Vitalie on 4 June 1857 (who died a few weeks later), Jeanne-Rosalie-Vitalie ("Vitalie") on 15 June 1858 and, finally, Frédérique Marie Isabelle ("Isabelle") on 1 June 1860.[18]

Though the marriage lasted seven years, Captain Rimbaud lived continuously in the matrimonial home for less than three months, from February to May 1853.[19] The rest of the time his military postings—including active service in the Crimean War and the Sardinian Campaign (with medals earned in both)[20]—meant he returned home to Charleville only when on leave.[19] He was not at home for his children's births, nor their baptisms.[19] Isabelle's birth in 1860 must have been the last straw, as after this Captain Rimbaud stopped returning home on leave altogether.[21] Though they never divorced, the separation was complete; thereafter Mme Rimbaud let herself be known as "widow Rimbaud"[21] and Captain Rimbaud would describe himself as a widower.[22] Neither the captain nor his children showed the slightest interest in re-establishing contact.[22]

Schooling and teen years (1861–1871)[edit]

Fearing her children were being over-influenced by the neighbouring children of the poor, Mme Rimbaud moved her family to the Cours d'Orléans in 1862.[23] This was a better neighbourhood, and the boys, now aged nine and eight, who had been taught at home by their mother, were now sent to the Pension Rossat, an old but well regarded school. Throughout the five years that they attended the school, however, their formidable mother still imposed her will upon them, pushing them for scholastic success. She would punish her sons by making them learn a hundred lines of Latin verse by heart, and further punish any mistakes by depriving them of meals.[24] When Arthur was nine, he wrote a 700-word essay objecting to his having to learn Latin in school. Vigorously condemning a classical education as a mere gateway to a salaried position, he wrote repeatedly, "I will be a rentier".[24] Arthur disliked schoolwork and resented his mother's constant supervision; the children were not allowed out of their mother's sight, and until they were fifteen and sixteen respectively, she would walk them home from school.[25]

Rimbaud on the day of his First Communion[26]

As a boy, Arthur Rimbaud was small and pale with light brown hair, and eyes that his lifelong best friend, Ernest Delahaye, described as "pale blue irradiated with dark blue—the loveliest eyes I've seen".[27] An ardent Catholic like his mother, he had his First Communion when he was eleven. His piety earned him the schoolyard nickname "sale petit Cagot".[28] That same year, he and his brother were sent to the Collège de Charleville. Up to then, his reading had been largely confined to the Bible,[29] though he had also enjoyed fairy tales and adventure stories, such as the novels of James Fenimore Cooper and Gustave Aimard.[30] At the Collège he became a highly successful student, heading his class in all subjects except mathematics and the sciences; his schoolmasters remarked upon his ability to absorb great quantities of material. He won eight first prizes in the French academic competitions in 1869, including the prize for Religious Education, and the following year won seven first prizes.[31]

Hoping for a brilliant academic career for her second son, Mme Rimbaud hired a private tutor for Arthur when he reached the third grade.[32] Father Ariste Lhéritier succeeded in sparking in the young scholar a love of Greek, Latin and French classical literature, and was the first to encourage the boy to write original verse, in both French and Latin.[33] Rimbaud's first poem to appear in print was "Les Étrennes des orphelins" ("The Orphans' New Year's Gifts"), which was published in the 2 January 1870 issue of La Revue pour tous; he was just 15.[34]

Two weeks later, a new teacher of rhetoric, the 22-year-old Georges Izambard, started at the Collège de Charleville.[35] Izambard became Rimbaud's mentor, and soon a close friendship formed between teacher and student, with Rimbaud seeing Izambard as a kind of elder brother.[36] At the age of 15, Rimbaud was showing maturity as a poet; the first poem he showed Izambard, "Ophélie", would later be included in anthologies, and is often regarded as one of Rimbaud's three or four best poems.[37] On 4 May 1870, Rimbaud's mother wrote to Izambard to object to his having given Rimbaud Victor Hugo's Les Misérables to read, as she thought the book dangerous to the morals of a child.[38]

The Franco-Prussian War, between Napoleon III's Second French Empire and the Kingdom of Prussia, broke out on 19 July 1870.[39] Five days later, Izambard left Charleville for the summer to stay with his three aunts – the Misses Gindre – in Douai.[39] In the meantime, preparations for war continued and the Collège de Charleville became a military hospital.[40] By the end of August, with the countryside in turmoil, Rimbaud was bored and restless.[40] In search of adventure he ran away by train to Paris without funds for his ticket.[41] On arrival at the Gare du Nord, he was arrested and locked up in Mazas Prison to await trial for fare evasion and vagrancy.[41] On 5 September, Rimbaud wrote a desperate letter to Izambard,[42] who arranged with the prison governor that Rimbaud be released into his care.[43] As hostilities were continuing, he stayed with the Misses Gindre in Douai until he could be returned to Charleville.[43] Izambard finally handed Rimbaud over to Mme Rimbaud on 27 September 1870 (his mother reportedly slapped him in the face and admonished Izambard[44]), but he was at home for only ten days before running away again.[45]

From late October 1870, Rimbaud's behaviour became openly provocative; he drank alcohol, spoke rudely, composed scatological poems, stole books from local shops, and abandoned his characteristically neat appearance by allowing his hair to grow long.[46] On 13 and 15 May 1871, he wrote letters (later called the lettres du voyant by scholars),[47] to Izambard and to his friend Paul Demeny respectively, about his method for attaining poetical transcendence or visionary power through a "long, immense and rational derangement of all the senses" (to Demeny). "The sufferings are enormous, but one must be strong, be born a poet, and I have recognized myself as a poet" (to Izambard).[48]

Life with Verlaine (1871–1875)[edit]

Plaque erected on the centenary of Rimbaud's death at the place where he was shot and wounded by Verlaine in Brussels
Caricature of Rimbaud drawn by Verlaine in 1872.

Rimbaud wrote to several famous poets but received either no reply or a disappointing mere acknowledgement (as from Théodore de Banville), so his friend, office employee Charles Auguste Bretagne, advised him to write to Paul Verlaine, a rising poet (and future leader of the Symbolist movement) who had published two well regarded collections.[49] Rimbaud sent Verlaine two letters with several of his poems, including the hypnotic, finally shocking "Le Dormeur du Val" ("The Sleeper in the Valley"), in which Nature is called upon to comfort an apparently sleeping soldier. Verlaine was intrigued by Rimbaud, and replied, "Come, dear great soul. We await you; we desire you", sending him a one-way ticket to Paris.[50] Rimbaud arrived in late September 1871 and resided briefly in Verlaine's home.[51] Verlaine's wife, Mathilde Mauté, was seventeen years old and pregnant, and Verlaine had recently left his job and started drinking. In later published recollections of his first sight of Rimbaud at the age of sixteen, Verlaine described him as having "the real head of a child, chubby and fresh, on a big, bony, rather clumsy body of a still-growing adolescent", with a "very strong Ardennes accent that was almost a dialect". His voice had "highs and lows as if it were breaking".[52]

Rimbaud and Verlaine soon began a brief and torrid affair. They led a wild, vagabond-like life spiced by absinthe, opium, and hashish.[53] The Parisian literary coterie was scandalized by Rimbaud, whose behaviour was that of the archetypal enfant terrible, yet throughout this period he continued to write poems. Their stormy relationship eventually brought them to London in September 1872,[54] a period over which Rimbaud would later express regret. During this time, Verlaine abandoned his wife and infant son (both of whom he had abused in his alcoholic rages). In London they lived in considerable poverty in Bloomsbury and in Camden Town, scraping a living mostly from teaching, as well as with an allowance from Verlaine's mother.[55] Rimbaud spent his days in the Reading Room of the British Museum where "heating, lighting, pens and ink were free".[55] The relationship between the two poets grew increasingly bitter, and Verlaine abandoned Rimbaud in London to meet his wife in Brussels.

By the table, an 1872 painting by Henri Fantin-Latour. Verlaine is on the far left and Rimbaud is at the second to left.

Rimbaud was not well liked at the time, and many people thought of him as dirty and rude.[56] The artist Henri Fantin-Latour wanted to paint first division poets at the 1872 Salon, but they were not available.[57] He had to settle for Rimbaud and Verlaine, who were described as "geniuses of the tavern".[57] The painting, By the table, shows Rimbaud and Verlaine at the end of the table. Other writers, such as Albert Mérat, refused to be painted with Verlaine and Rimbaud, Mérat's reason being that he "would not be painted with pimps and thieves",[57] in reference to Verlaine and Rimbaud; in the painting, Mérat is replaced by a flower vase on the table.[57] Mérat also spread many rumours in the salons that Verlaine and Rimbaud were sleeping together; the spread of those rumours was the commencement of the fall for the two poets, who were trying to build a good reputation for themselves.[57]

In late June 1873, Verlaine returned to Paris alone, but quickly began to mourn Rimbaud's absence. On 8 July he telegraphed Rimbaud, asking him to come to the Grand Hôtel Liégeois in Brussels.[58] The reunion went badly, they argued continuously, and Verlaine took refuge in heavy drinking.[58] On the morning of 10 July, Verlaine bought a revolver and ammunition.[58] About 16:00, "in a drunken rage", he fired two shots at Rimbaud, one of them wounding the 18-year-old in the left wrist.[58]

Rimbaud initially dismissed the wound as superficial but had it dressed at the St-Jean hospital nevertheless.[58] He did not immediately file charges, but decided to leave Brussels.[58] About 20:00, Verlaine and his mother accompanied Rimbaud to the Gare du Midi railway station.[58] On the way, by Rimbaud's account, Verlaine "behaved as if he were insane". Fearing that Verlaine, with pistol in pocket, might shoot him again, Rimbaud "ran off" and "begged a policeman to arrest him".[59] Verlaine was charged with attempted murder, then subjected to a humiliating medico-legal examination.[60] He was also interrogated about his correspondence with Rimbaud and the nature of their relationship.[60] The bullet was eventually removed on 17 July and Rimbaud withdrew his complaint. The charges were reduced to wounding with a firearm, and on 8 August 1873 Verlaine was sentenced to two years in prison.[60]

Rimbaud returned home to Charleville and completed his prose work Une Saison en Enfer ("A Season in Hell")—still widely regarded as a pioneering example of modern Symbolist writing. In the work it is widely interpreted that he refers to Verlaine as his "pitiful brother" (frère pitoyable) and the "mad virgin" (vierge folle), and to himself as the "hellish husband" (l'époux infernal), and described their life together as a "domestic farce" (drôle de ménage).

In 1874, he returned to London with the poet Germain Nouveau.[61] They lived together for three months while he put together his groundbreaking Illuminations, a collection of prose poems, although he eventually did not see it through publication (it only got published in 1886, without the author's knowledge).

Travels (1875–1880)[edit]

Rimbaud and Verlaine met for the last time in March 1875, in Stuttgart, after Verlaine's release from prison and his conversion to Catholicism.[62] By then Rimbaud had given up literature in favour of a steady, working life. Stéphane Mallarmé, in a text about Rimbaud from 1896 (after his death), described him as a "meteor, lit by no other reason than his presence, arising alone then vanishing" who had managed to "surgically remove poetry from himself while still alive".[n 1] Albert Camus, in L'homme révolté, although he praised Rimbaud's literary works (particularly his later prose works, Une saison en enfer and Illuminations – "he is the poet of revolt, and the greatest"), wrote a scathing account of his resignation from literature – and revolt itself – in his later life, claiming that there is nothing to admire, nothing noble or even genuinely adventurous, in a man who committed a "spiritual suicide", became a "bourgeois trafficker" and consented to the materialistic order of things.[63]

After studying several languages (German, Italian, Spanish), he went on to travel extensively in Europe, mostly on foot. In May 1876 he enlisted as a soldier in the Dutch Colonial Army[64] to get free passage to Java in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia). Four months later he deserted and fled into the jungle. He managed to return incognito to France by ship; as a deserter he would have faced a Dutch firing squad had he been caught.[65]

In December 1878, Rimbaud journeyed to Larnaca in Cyprus, where he worked for a construction company as a stone quarry foreman.[66] 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.[67]

Abyssinia (1880–1891)[edit]

Rimbaud (self-portrait) in Harar, Ethiopia in 1883.[68]

Rimbaud finally settled in Aden, Yemen, in 1880, as a main employee in the Bardey agency,[69] going on to run the firm's agency in Harar, Ethiopia. In 1884, his Report on the Ogaden (based on notes from his assistant Constantin Sotiro) was presented and published by the Société de Géographie in Paris.[70] In the same year he left his job at Bardey's to become a merchant on his own account in Harar, where his commercial dealings included coffee and (generally outdated) firearms.

The House of Rimbaud in Harar, Ethiopia

At the same time, Rimbaud engaged in exploring and struck up a close friendship with the Governor of Harar, Ras Mekonnen Wolde Mikael Wolde Melekot, father of future emperor Haile Selassie.[71] He maintained friendly relationships with the official tutor of the young heir. Rimbaud worked in the coffee trade. "He was, in fact, a pioneer in the business, the first European to oversee the export of the celebrated coffee of Harar from the country where coffee was born. He was only the third European ever to set foot in the city, and the first to do business there".[72][73]

In 1885, Rimbaud became involved in a major deal to sell old rifles to Menelik II, king of Shewa, at the initiative of French merchant Pierre Labatut.[74] The explorer Paul Soleillet became involved early in 1886. The arms were landed at Tadjoura in February, but could not be moved inland because Léonce Lagarde, governor of the new French administration of Obock and its dependencies, issued an order on 12 April 1886 prohibiting the sale of weapons.[75] When the authorization came through from the consul de France, Labatut fell ill and had to withdraw (he died from cancer soon afterward), then Soleillet died from embolism on 9 October. When Rimbaud finally reached Shewa, Menelik had just scored a major victory and no longer needed these older weapons, but still took advantage of the situation by negotiating them at a much lower price than expected while also deducting presumed debts from Labatut.[76] The whole ordeal turned out to be a disaster.[77]

In the following years, between 1888 and 1890, Rimbaud established his own store in Harar, but soon got bored and dismayed.[78] He hosted explorer Jules Borrelli and merchant Armand Savouré. In their later testimonies, they both described him as an intelligent man, quiet, sarcastic, secretive about his prior life, living with simplicity, taking care of his business with accuracy, honesty and firmness.[79]

Sickness and death (1891)[edit]

Rimbaud's grave in Charleville. The inscription reads Priez pour lui ("Pray for him").

In February 1891, in Aden, Rimbaud developed what he initially thought was arthritis in his right knee.[80] It failed to respond to treatment, and by March had become so painful that he prepared to return to France for better treatment.[80] Before leaving, Rimbaud consulted a British doctor who mistakenly diagnosed tubercular synovitis, and recommended immediate amputation.[81] Rimbaud remained in Aden until 7 May to set his financial affairs in order, then caught a steamer, L'Amazone, back to France for a 13-day voyage.[81] On arrival in Marseille, he was admitted to the Hôpital de la Conception, where, a week later on 27 May, his right leg was amputated.[82] The post-operative diagnosis was bone cancer—probably osteosarcoma.[81]

After a short stay at the family farm in Roche, from 23 July to 23 August,[83] he attempted to travel back to Africa, but on the way his health deteriorated, and he was re-admitted to the Hôpital de la Conception in Marseille. He spent some time there in great pain, attended by his sister Isabelle. He received the last rites from a priest before dying on 10 November 1891, at the age of 37. The remains were sent across France to his home town and he was buried in Charleville-Mézières.[84] On the 100th anniversary of Rimbaud's birth, Thomas Bernhard delivered a memorial lecture on Rimbaud and described his end:

"On November 10, at two o'clock in the afternoon, he was dead," noted his sister Isabelle. The priest, shaken by so much reverence for God, administered the last rites. "I have never seen such strong faith," he said. Thanks to Isabelle, Rimbaud was brought to Charleville and buried in its cemetery with great pomp. He still lies there, next to his sister Vitalie, beneath a simple marble monument.[85]: 148–156 


The first known poems of Arthur Rimbaud were mostly emulating the style of the Parnasse school and other famous contemporary poets like Victor Hugo, although he quickly developed an original approach, both thematically and stylistically (in particular by mixing profane words and ideas with sophisticated verse, as in "Vénus Anadyomène", "Oraison du soir" or "Les chercheuses de poux"). Later on, Rimbaud was prominently inspired by the work of Charles Baudelaire. This inspiration would help him create a style of poetry later labeled as symbolist.[86]

In May 1871, aged 16, Rimbaud wrote two letters explaining his poetic philosophy, commonly called the Lettres du voyant ("Letters of the Seer"). In the first, written 13 May to Izambard, Rimbaud explained:

I'm now making myself as scummy as I can. Why? I want to be a poet, and I'm working at turning myself into a seer. You won't understand any of this, and I'm almost incapable of explaining it to you. The idea is to reach the unknown by the derangement of all the senses. It involves enormous suffering, but one must be strong and be a born poet. It's really not my fault.[87][88]

The second letter, written 15 May—before his first trip to Paris—to his friend Paul Demeny, expounded his revolutionary theories about poetry and life, while also denouncing some of the most famous poets that preceded him (reserving a particularly harsh criticism for Alfred de Musset, while holding Charles Baudelaire in high regard, although, according to Rimbaud, his vision was hampered by a too conventional style). Wishing for new poetic forms and ideas, he wrote:

I say that one must be a seer, make oneself a seer. The poet makes himself a seer by a long, prodigious, and rational disordering of all the senses. Every form of love, of suffering, of madness; he searches himself, he consumes all the poisons in him, and keeps only their quintessences. This is an unspeakable torture during which he needs all his faith and superhuman strength, and during which he becomes the great patient, the great criminal, the great accursed—and the great learned one!—among men.—For he arrives at the unknown! Because he has cultivated his own soul—which was rich to begin with—more than any other man! He reaches the unknown; and even if, crazed, he ends up by losing the understanding of his visions, at least he has seen them! Let him die charging through those unutterable, unnameable things: other horrible workers will come; they will begin from the horizons where he has succumbed![89][90]

The poem Le Bateau ivre on a wall in Paris

Rimbaud expounded the same ideas in his poem "Le Bateau ivre" ("The Drunken Boat"). This hundred-line poem tells the tale of a boat that breaks free of human society when its handlers are killed by "Redskins" (Peaux-Rouges). At first thinking that it is drifting where it pleases, the boat soon realizes that it is being guided by and to the "poem of the sea". It sees visions both magnificent ("the awakening blue and yellow of singing phosphores", "l'éveil jaune et bleu des phosphores chanteurs") and disgusting ("nets where in the reeds an entire Leviathan was rotting" "nasses / Où pourrit dans les joncs tout un Léviathan"). It ends floating and washed clean, wishing only to sink and become one with the sea.

Archibald MacLeish has commented on this poem: "Anyone who doubts that poetry can say what prose cannot has only to read the so-called Lettres du Voyant and Bateau ivre together. What is pretentious and adolescent in the Lettres is true in the poem—unanswerably true."[91]

While "Le Bateau ivre" was still written in a mostly conventional style, despite its inventions, his later poems from 1872 (commonly called Derniers vers or Vers nouveaux et chansons, although he did not give them a title) further deconstructed the French verse, introducing odd rhythms and loose rhyming schemes, with even more abstract and flimsy themes.[92]

After Une saison en enfer, his "prodigious psychological biography written in this diamond prose which is his exclusive property" (according to Paul Verlaine[93]), a poetic prose in which he himself commented some of his verse poems from 1872, and the perceived failure of his own past endeavours ("Alchimie du verbe"), he went on to write the prose poems known as Illuminations,[n 2] forfeiting preconceived structures altogether to explore hitherto unused resources of poetic language, bestowing most of the pieces with a disjointed, hallucinatory, dreamlike quality.[94] Rimbaud died without the benefit of knowing that his manuscripts not only had been published but were lauded and studied, having finally gained the recognition for which he had striven.[95]

Then he stopped writing poetry altogether. His friend Ernest Delahaye, in a letter to Paul Verlaine around 1875, claimed that he had completely forgotten about his past self writing poetry.[n 3] French poet and scholar Gérard Macé wrote: "Rimbaud is, first and foremost, this silence that can't be forgotten, and which, for anyone attempting to write themselves, is there, haunting. He even forbids us to fall into silence; because he did, this, better than anyone."[96]

French poet Paul Valéry stated that "all known literature is written in the language of common sense—except Rimbaud's".[97] His poetry influenced the Symbolists, Dadaists, and Surrealists, and later writers adopted not only some of his themes, but also his inventive use of form and language.


Bust of Rimbaud. Musée Arthur Rimbaud, Charleville-Mézières

Rimbaud was a prolific correspondent and his letters provide vivid accounts of his life and relationships.[98]: 361–375 [99] "Rimbaud's letters concerning his literary life were first published by various periodicals. In 1931 they were collected and published by Jean-Marie Carré. Many errors were corrected in the [1946] Pléiade edition. The letters written in Africa were first published by Paterne Berrichon, the poet's brother-in-law, who took the liberty of making many changes in the texts."[100]


Works published before 1891[edit]

  • "Les Étrennes des orphelins" (1869) – poem published in La revue pour tous, 2 January 1870
  • "Première soirée" (1870) – poem published in La charge, 13 August 1870 (with the more catchy title "Trois baisers", also known as "Comédie en trois baisers")
  • "Le rêve de Bismarck" (1870) – prose published in Le Progrès des Ardennes, 25 November 1870 (re-discovered in 2008)
  • "Le Dormeur du val" (The Sleeper in the Valley) (1870) – poem published in Anthologie des poètes français, 1888
  • "Voyelles" (1871 or 1872) – poem published in Lutèce, 5 October 1883
  • "Le Bateau ivre", "Voyelles", "Oraison du soir", "Les assis", "Les effarés", "Les chercheuses de poux" (1870–1872) – poems published by Paul Verlaine in his anthology Les Poètes maudits, 1884
  • "Les corbeaux" (1871 or 1872) – poem published in La renaissance littéraire et artistique, 14 September 1872
  • "Qu'est-ce pour nous mon cœur..." (1872) – poem published in La Vogue, 7 June 1886
  • Une Saison en Enfer (1873) – collection of prose poetry published by Rimbaud himself as a small booklet in Brussels in October 1873 ("A few copies were distributed to friends in Paris ... Rimbaud almost immediately lost interest in the work."[101])
  • Illuminations (1872–1875 ?) – collection of prose poetry published in 1886 (this original edition included 35 out of the 42 known pieces[102])
  • Rapport sur l'Ogadine (1883) – published by the Société de Géographie in February 1884

Posthumous works[edit]

  • Narration ("Le Soleil était encore chaud...") (c. 1864–1865) – prose published by Paterne Berrichon in 1897
  • Lettre de Charles d'Orléans à Louis XI (1869 or 1870) – prose published in Revue de l'évolution sociale, scientifique et littéraire, November 1891
  • Un coeur sous une soutane (1870) – prose published in Littérature, June 1924
  • Reliquaire – Poésies – published by Rodolphe Darzens in 1891[n 4]
  • Poésies complètes (c. 1869–1873) – published in 1895 with a preface from Paul Verlaine[n 5]
  • "Les mains de Marie-Jeanne" (1871 ?) – poem published in Littérature, June 1919 (it was mentioned by Paul Verlaine in his 1884 anthology Les poètes maudits, along with other lost poems he knew about, some of which were never found)
  • Lettres du Voyant (13 & 15 May 1871) – letter to Georges Izambard (13 May) published by Izambard in La revue européenne, October 1928 – letter to Paul Demeny (15 May) published by Paterne Berrichon in La nouvelle revue française, October 1912
  • Album Zutique (1871) – parodies – among those poems, the "Sonnet du trou du cul" ("The arsehole sonnet") and two other sonnets (the three of them being called "Les Stupra") were published in Littérature, May 1922 – others from this ensemble appeared later in editions of Rimbaud's complete works
  • Les Déserts de l'amour (Deserts of Love) (c. 1871–1872) – prose published in La revue littéraire de Paris et Champagne, September 1906
  • Proses "évangeliques" (1872–1873) – three prose texts, one published in La revue blanche, September 1897, the two others in Le Mercure de France, January 1948 (no title was given by Arthur Rimbaud)
  • Lettres de Jean-Arthur Rimbaud – Égypte, Arabie, Éthiopie (1880–1891) – published by Paterne Berrichon in 1899 (with many contentious edits[100])


Cultural legacy[edit]

Reginald Gray's portrait (2011)

University of Exeter professor Martin Sorrell argues that Rimbaud was and remains influential in not only literary and artistic circles but political spheres as well, having inspired anti-rationalist revolutions in America, Italy, Russia, and Germany.[104] Sorrell praises Rimbaud as a poet whose "reputation stands very high today", pointing out his influence on musicians Jim Morrison, Bob Dylan, Luis Alberto Spinetta, Patti Smith, Richey Edwards,[105] and writer Octavio Paz.

Twentieth century French composer Denise Roger used Rimbaud’s texts in her songs. In 1961, American composer Regina Hansen Willman set Rimbaud's text to music in her song "Apres le Deluge.”

Rimbaud's life has been portrayed in several films. Italian filmmaker Nelo Risi's film Una stagione all'inferno (1971) ("A Season in Hell") starred Terence Stamp as Rimbaud and Jean-Claude Brialy as Paul Verlaine. Rimbaud is mentioned in the cult film Eddie and the Cruisers (1983), along with the storyline that the group's second album was entitled A Season in Hell. In 1995, Polish filmmaker Agnieszka Holland directed Total Eclipse, which was based on a 1967 play by Christopher Hampton who also wrote the screenplay; the film starred Leonardo DiCaprio as Arthur Rimbaud and David Thewlis as Paul Verlaine.

Rimbaud is the protagonist of the opera Rimbaud, ou Le Fils du soleil (1978) by Italian composer Lorenzo Ferrero.

"White Hot" (1979) by Canadian band Red Rider details Rimbaud's gun-running days in Somalia. The song was written after Tom Cochrane read Henry Miller's essay on Rimbaud, White Heat/Time of the Assassins.

"Tore Down a la Rimbaud", a song written by Northern Irish singer-songwriter Van Morrison and included on his 1985 album, A Sense of Wonder, references Rimbaud in its title and theme.

In 1993, British singer Marc Almond set a poem by Rimbaud to music on the album Absinthe: "My Little Lovers (Mes petites amoureuses)".

In 2010, the Allan Browne Quartet released a jazz album entitled, Une Saison en Enfer, paying homage to Rimbaud's work of the same name. The songs on the album correspond with quotations from different portions of the poetic work.

In 2012, composer John Zorn released a CD titled Rimbaud, featuring four compositions inspired by Rimbaud's work—'"Bateau Ivre" (a chamber octet), "A Season in Hell" (electronic music), "Illuminations" (piano, bass and drums), and Conneries (featuring Mathieu Amalric reading from Rimbaud's work). Rimbaud is also mentioned in the CocoRosie song "Terrible Angels", from their album La maison de mon rêve (2004). In his 1939 composition Les Illuminations British composer Benjamin Britten set selections of Rimbaud's work of the same name to music for soprano or tenor soloist and string orchestra. Hans Werner Henze set one of the poems in Illuminations, "Being Beauteous", as a cantata for coloratura soprano, harp and four cellos in 1963.

In a scene in I'm Not There (2007), a young Bob Dylan (played by Ben Whishaw) is portrayed identifying himself as Arthur Rimbaud by spelling Rimbaud's name and giving 20 October as his birthday.

In Bob Dylan's 1975 album Blood on the Tracks, the track "You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go" contains the following lyrics:

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 those scenes to this affair,
Yer gonna make me lonesome when you go...

The album liner notes written by Pete Hamill also made reference to Rimbaud: "Dylan here tips his hat to Rimbaud and Verlaine, knowing all about the seasons in hell, but he insists on his right to speak of love, that human emotion that still exists, in Faulkner's phrase, in spite of, not because." Over the span of his entire musical career (1961 thru present) Dylan has referred to Rimbaud multiple times.[106]: 38–39 

Also from 1975, in Patti Smith's album Horses, the song "Land" refers to Rimbaud by name.[107]

The artist and writer David Wojnarowicz's 1978–1979 incursion into photography, "Arthur Rimbaud in New York", contrasts the young poet's face with 1970s era New York. Wojnarowicz chronicled his relationship with the city by photographing friends and lovers wearing an Arthur Rimbaud mask while they rode the subway, visited Coney Island, or stood in the middle of Times Square.[108]

Jim Jarmusch's film The Limits of Control (2009) opens with the following quote from Rimbaud's poem Le Bateau ivre:

As I descended into impassible rivers
I no longer felt guided by the ferrymen...

On The Clash's 1982 album Combat Rock, Beat poet Allen Ginsberg says Rimbaud's name as part of backing poetry recorded with the song "Ghetto Defendant".[109]

Richard Meyers changed his surname to Hell after Rimbaud's poem A Season in Hell.[110]

Rimbaud thought enough of himself to leave an inscription at the Temple of Luxor in Egypt. It can be found 'carved ... into the ancient stone of the south end's transverse hall'.[111]

The 1975 song "Part of the Band" includes the line "And I fell in love with a boy, it was kinda lame; I was Rimbaud and he was Paul Verlaine".[112]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ « Éclat, lui, d'un météore, allumé sans motif autre que sa présence, issu seul et s'éteignant. » / « Voici la date mystérieuse, pourtant naturelle, si l'on convient que celui, qui rejette des rêves, par sa faute ou la leur, et s'opère, vivant, de la poésie, ultérieurement ne sait trouver que loin, très loin, un état nouveau. » Complete text on Wikisource.
  2. ^ Although it remains uncertain if he wrote at least parts of Illuminations before Une saison en enfer. Albert Camus in L'homme révolté claims that this is irrelevant, for those two major works were "suffered in the same time", regardless of when they were each actually executed.
  3. ^ « Des vers de lui ? Il y a beau temps que sa verve est à plat. Je crois même qu'il ne se souvient plus du tout d'en avoir fait. »
  4. ^ This book contained most known poems from Rimbaud's earlier period, composed in 1870–1871, plus a few from 1872, now grouped in the ensemble known as Derniers vers or Vers nouveaux et chansons ("Âge d'or", "Éternité", "Michel et Christine", "Entends comme brame..."), and also four poems which were later considered by most specialists to be misattributed to Rimbaud and removed from later editions ("Poison perdu", "Le Limaçon", "Doctrine", "Les Cornues").
  5. ^ This book contained most known poems from Rimbaud's earlier period, composed in 1870–1871, some of his later poems from 1872 now grouped as the so-called Derniers vers ("Mémoire", "Fêtes de la faim", "Jeune ménage", "Est-elle almée ?...", "Patience" which corresponds to "Bannières de mai" in later editions, "Entends comme brame..." – but excluding "Âge d'or", "Éternité" and "Michel et Christine" which were in the 1891 collection), and five poems from Illuminations which were not in the original 1886 edition of that work and were found again since then ("Fairy", "Guerre", "Génie", "Jeunesse", "Solde"); therefore, despite its name, it was still far from complete, and it included "Poison perdu" which was later considered by most specialists to be falsely attributed to Rimbaud. Among the known 1870–1871 poems included in current editions, were still missing: "Ce qu'on dit au poète à propos de fleurs", "Les douaniers", "Les mains de Marie-Jeanne", "Les sœurs de charité", "L'étoile a pleuré rose...", "L'homme juste". Only two poems from that period were absent from the 1891 collection and included to the 1895 collection: "Les étrennes des orphelins" and "Les corbeaux".


  1. ^ Robb 2000, p. 140.
  2. ^ Kaddour, Hédi. " Illuminations, livre de Arthur Rimbaud " in Encyclopaedia Universalis [1]
  3. ^ Wells, John C. (2008). Longman Pronunciation Dictionary (3rd ed.). Longman. ISBN 978-1-4058-8118-0.
  4. ^ Jones, Daniel (2011). Roach, Peter; Setter, Jane; Esling, John (eds.). "Rimbaud". Cambridge English Pronouncing Dictionary (18th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 423. ISBN 978-0-521-15255-6.
  5. ^ a b c Lefrère 2001, pp. 27–28; Starkie 1973, p. 30.
  6. ^ Robb 2000, pp. 422–426.
  7. ^ Mendelsohn, Daniel (29 August 2011). "Rebel Rebel". The New Yorker. New York City: Condé Nast. Retrieved 19 June 2016.
  8. ^ Lefrère 2001, pp. 11 & 35.
  9. ^ Lefrère 2001, pp. 18 & 1193.
  10. ^ a b Starkie 1973, pp. 25–26.
  11. ^ Lefrère 2001, pp. 27–28.
  12. ^ a b Starkie 1973, p. 31.
  13. ^ Robb 2000, p. 7.
  14. ^ Lefrère 2001, pp. 16–18 & 1193.
  15. ^ a b Starkie 1973, pp. 27–28.
  16. ^ Lefrère 2001, p. 15: "renfermée, têtue et taciturne".
  17. ^ Nicholl 1999, p. 94; Robb 2000, p. 50: Refers to Victor Hugo's poem "Ce que dit la bouche d'ombre", from Contemplations, 1856.
  18. ^ Lefrère 2001, pp. 31–32; Starkie 1973, p. 30.
  19. ^ a b c Lefrère 2001, pp. 27–29.
  20. ^ Lefrère 2001, p. 31.
  21. ^ a b Robb 2000, p. 12.
  22. ^ a b Lefrère 2001, p. 35.
  23. ^ Starkie 1973, p. 33.
  24. ^ a b Rickword 1971, p. 4.
  25. ^ Starkie 1973, p. 36.
  26. ^ Jeancolas 1998, p. 26.
  27. ^ Ivry 1998, p. 12.
  28. ^ Delahaye 1974, p. 273. Trans. "dirty hypocrite" (Starkie 1973, p. 38) or "sanctimonious little so and so" (Robb 2000, p. 35)
  29. ^ Rickword 1971, p. 9.
  30. ^ Starkie 1973, p. 37.
  31. ^ Robb 2000, p. 32.
  32. ^ Starkie 1973, p. 39.
  33. ^ Rimbaud's Ver erat Archived 16 March 2015 at the Wayback Machine, which he wrote at age 14, at the Latin Library, with an English translation.
  34. ^ Robb 2000, p. 30.
  35. ^ Robb 2000, pp. 33–34; Lefrère 2001, pp. 104 & 109.
  36. ^ Steinmetz 2001, p. 29.
  37. ^ Robb 2000, pp. 33–34.
  38. ^ Starkie 1973, pp. 48–49; Robb 2000, p. 40.
  39. ^ a b Robb 2000, pp. 41–42.
  40. ^ a b Robb 2000, p. 44.
  41. ^ a b Robb 2000, pp. 46–50.
  42. ^ Rimbaud, Arthur (5 September 1870). "Lettre de Rimbaud à Georges Izambard – 5 septembre 1870 – Wikisource". (in French). Archived from the original on 13 October 2007. Retrieved 10 November 2021.
  43. ^ a b Robb 2000, pp. 46–50; Starkie 1973, pp. 60–61.
  44. ^ Georges Izambard, Rimbaud tel que je l'ai connu, Mercure de France, 1963, chap. IV, p. 33-34.
  45. ^ Robb 2000, p. 51; Starkie 1973, pp. 54–65.
  46. ^ Ivry 1998, p. 22.
  47. ^ Leuwers 1998, pp. 7–10.
  48. ^ Ivry 1998, p. 24.
  49. ^ Ivry 1998, p. 29.
  50. ^ Robb 2000, p. 102.
  51. ^ Robb 2000, p. 109.
  52. ^ Ivry 1998, p. 34.
  53. ^ Bernard & Guyaux 1991.
  54. ^ Robb 2000, p. 184.
  55. ^ a b Robb 2000, pp. 196–197.
  56. ^ "Verlaine and Rimbaud: Poets from hell". The Independent. 8 February 2006. Retrieved 26 March 2020.
  57. ^ a b c d e Robb, Graham, 1958– (2000). Rimbaud (1st American ed.). New York: W.W. Norton. ISBN 0-393-04955-8. OCLC 44969183.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link) CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  58. ^ a b c d e f g Robb 2000, pp. 218–221; Jeancolas 1998, pp. 112–113.
  59. ^ Harding & Sturrock 2004, p. 160.
  60. ^ a b c Robb 2000, pp. 223–224.
  61. ^ Robb 2000, p. 241.
  62. ^ Robb 2000, p. 264.
  63. ^ Albert Camus, L'homme révolté, "Surréalisme et révolution", p. 118-121.
  64. ^ Robb 2000, p. 278.
  65. ^ Robb 2000, pp. 282–285.
  66. ^ Robb 2000, p. 299.
  67. ^ Porter 1990, pp. 251–252.
  68. ^ Jeancolas 1998, p. 164.
  69. ^ Robb 2000, p. 313.
  70. ^ Nicholl 1999, pp. 159–165.
  71. ^ Nicholl 1999, p. 231.
  72. ^ Goodman 2001, pp. 8–15.
  73. ^ Ben-Dror, Avishai (2014). "Arthur Rimbaud in Harär: Images, Reality, Memory". Northeast African Studies. 14 (2). East Lansing, Michigan: Michigan State University Press: 159–182. doi:10.14321/nortafristud.14.2.0159. S2CID 143890326.
  74. ^ Dubois 2003, p. 58.
  75. ^ Dubois 2003, p. 59.
  76. ^ Letter to the Vice-consul de France, Émile de Gaspary, 9 November 1887, in Œuvres complètes, Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, 1979, p. 461.
  77. ^ Letter from 30 July 1887.
  78. ^ Letter from 4 August 1888.
  79. ^ Testimony from Jules Borelli to english biographer Enid Starkie and Paterne Berrichon; testimony from Armand Savouré to Georges Maurevert and Isabelle Rimbaud (J.-J. Lefrère, Arthur Rimbaud, Fayard, 2001, p. 1047-1048 and 1074).
  80. ^ a b Robb 2000, pp. 418–419.
  81. ^ a b c Robb 2000, pp. 422–424.
  82. ^ Robb 2000, pp. 425–426.
  83. ^ Nicholl 1999, pp. 298–302.
  84. ^ Robb 2000, pp. 440–441.
  85. ^ Bernhard, T., "Jean-Arthur Rimbaud", The Baffler, Nr. 22, pp. 148–156, April 2013.
  86. ^ Haine, Scott (2000). The History of France (1st ed.). Santa Barbara, California: Greenwood Press. pp. 112. ISBN 0-313-30328-2.
  87. ^ Robb 2000, pp. 79–80.
  88. ^ "Lettre à Georges Izambard du 13 mai 1871". Retrieved on May 12, 2011.
  89. ^ Kwasny 2004, p. 147.
  90. ^ "A Paul Demeny, 15 mai 1871 Archived 25 May 2011 at the Wayback Machine". Retrieved on 12 May 2011.
  91. ^ MacLeish 1965, p. 147.
  92. ^ Antoine Adam, « Notices, Notes et variantes », in Œuvres complètes, Gallimard, coll. « Bibliothèque de la Pléiade », 1988, p. 924-926.
  93. ^ Quoted in Rodolphe Darzens' preface of the 1891 edition of Arthur Rimbaud's Poésies, page XI (original source not provided). « Et alors, en mai 1886, une découverte inespérée, ma foi, presque incroyable; celle de l'unique plaquette publiée par Arthur Rimbaud de la Saison en Enfer, « espèce de prodigieuse autobiographie psychologique écrite dans cette prose de diamant qui est sa propriété exclusive », s'exclame Paul Verlaine. »
  94. ^ Arthur Rimbaud (1957). "Introduction". Illuminations, and other prose poems. Translated by Louise Varèse. New York: New Directions Publishing. p. XII.
  95. ^ Peyre, Henri, Foreword, A Season in Hell and Illuminations by Arthur Rimbaud, translated by Enid Rhodes, New York: Oxford, 1973, p. 14-15, 19–21.
  96. ^ Alain Borer, Rimbaud en Abyssinie, Seuil, 1984, p. 358. « Rimbaud, c'est surtout ce silence qu'on ne peut oublier et qui, quand on se mêle d'écrire soi-même, est là, obsédant. Il nous interdit même de nous taire; car il l'a fait, cela, mieux que personne. »
  97. ^ Robb 2000, p. xiv.
  98. ^ Rimbaud, trans. & ed. by W. Mason, Rimbaud Complete (New York: Modern Library, 2003), pp. 361–375.
  99. ^ Rimbaud, trans. & ed. by Mason, I Promise to Be Good: The Letters of Arthur Rimbaud (New York: Modern Library, 2004).
  100. ^ a b Rimbaud, trans. & ed. by W. Fowlie, Rimbaud: Complete Works, Selected Letters, A Bilingual Edition (Chicago & London: University of Chicago Press, 1966), p. 35.
  101. ^ Fowlie & Whidden 2005, p. xxxii.
  102. ^ Illuminations – Premières publications
  103. ^ Rimbaud, Arthur (2008). Complete Works (1st Harper Perennial Modern Classics ed.). New York, NY: HarperPerennial. ISBN 978-0-06-156177-1. OCLC 310371795.
  104. ^ Arthur Rimbaud: Collected Poems, Martin Sorrell, Oxford University Press, 2009, p. 25.
  105. ^ David, Owens (26 January 2019). "The new clues that suggest missing Manic Street Preacher Richey Edwards staged his own disappearance". Wales Online.
  106. ^ Polizzotti, M., Bob Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited (New York & London: Continuum, 2010), pp. 38–39.
  107. ^ Caig, James (27 November 2015). "Go Rimbaud and go Johnny go! A love letter to the lyrics of "Land" by Patti Smith". Medium.
  108. ^ "Arthur Rimbaud in New York".
  109. ^ "Ghetto Defendant by the Clash – Songfacts".
  110. ^ "No Fury: The Bowery's Changed, But Richard Hell Doesn't Mind". Observer. 6 March 2013. Retrieved 20 November 2020.
  111. ^ Carsten Pieter Thiede & Matthew D'Ancona, 1997, The Jesus Papyrus, Phoenix/Orion Books, p13
  112. ^ Kaufman, Gil (6 July 2022). "The 1975 Invite You To Be 'Part of the Band' On Upcoming Single". Billboard. Retrieved 17 January 2023.


Further reading[edit]

  • Capetanakis, J. Lehmann, ed. (1947), "Rimbaud", Demetrios Capetanakis: A Greek Poet in England, pp. 53–71, ASIN B0007J07Q6
  • Everdell, William R. (1997), The First Moderns: Profiles in the Origins of Twentieth Century Thought, Chicago: University of Chicago Press
  • Godchot, Colonel [Simon] (1936), Arthur Rimbaud ne varietur I: 1854–1871 (in French), Nice: Chez l'auteur
  • Godchot, Colonel [Simon] (1937), Arthur Rimbaud ne varietur II: 1871–1873 (in French), Nice: Chez l'auteur
  • Gosse, Edmund William (1911). "Rimbaud, Jean Arthur" . Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 23 (11th ed.). pp. 343–344.
  • James, Jamie (2011), Rimbaud in Java: The Lost Voyage, Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, ISBN 978-981-4260-82-4
  • Lehmann, John (1983), Three Literary Friendships, London: Quartet Books, ISBN 978-0-704-32370-4
  • Magedera, Ian H. (2014), Outsider Biographies; Savage, de Sade, Wainewright, Ned Kelly, Billy the Kid, Rimbaud and Genet: Base Crime and High Art in Biography and Bio-Fiction, 1744–2000., Amsterdam and New York: Rodopi, ISBN 978-90-420-3875-2
  • Ross, Kristin (2008), The Emergence of Social Space: Rimbaud and the Paris Commune, Radical thinkers, vol. 31, London: Verso, ISBN 978-1844672066

External links[edit]