Arthur Rimbaud Biography (Page 1)
Escape Into Poetry
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.
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
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.
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.
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.