Arthur Rimbaud Biography (Page 1)

Escape Into Poetry

"Dragged into the world..."
(Arthur Rimbaud Flash Bio Screenshot).

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.

Arthur Rimbaud (middle).
Excerpt from a group photo of Rossat Institute students (1864).

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.

Arthur Rimbaud's friend and mentor Georges Izambard.

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.

Running Away

Arthur in Izambard's library.
(Arthur Rimbaud Flash Bio Screenshot).

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.

Arthur starving on the streets of Paris.
(Arthur Rimbaud Flash Bio Screenshot).

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.

Deliberate Disorder Of The Senses

Arthur Rimbaud photographed by Carjat in 1871.

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.

Arthur, the occultist and visionary.
(Arthur Rimbaud Flash Bio Screenshot).

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.




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