Arthur Rimbaud 1854-1891
(Full name Jean Nicolas Arthur Rimbaud) French poet.
The following entry provides an overview of Rimbaud's life and works.
A child prodigy who produced his first poem at the age of ten, Rimbaud is often considered the father of modern poetry. His verse encompasses every style from formal to free, but culminates in what many consider his greatest achievement—the prose poem.
Rimbaud was born Jean Nicolas Arthur Rimbaud in Charleville, France, near the Belgian border, on October 20, 1854. His parents were Frédéric Rimbaud, an army captain, and Marie-Cathérine-Vitalie Cuif Rimbaud, a landed peasant. There were three other children in the family: Frédéric, born in 1853; Vitalie, born in 1858; and Isabelle, born in 1860. When Rimbaud was six years old, his parents separated, and the boy was raised by his stern, overprotective, and devoutly Christian mother. He attended the College de Charleville, where he was an outstanding student in every subject, but he was permitted no contact with other boys outside school hours by his mother who insisted on accompanying him to and from school each day. Georges Izambard, a professor at the school, befriended Rimbaud and encouraged him to read the poetry of the Romantics and the Parnassians, and to write his own poetry. Izambard left the school in 1870 at the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian war, and over the next two years Rimbaud ran away from home on three different occasions, at least once in an attempt to find his mentor. Some critics, citing the abrupt change in the tone of his poetry during this period, speculate that Rimbaud may have experienced a traumatic event—possibly sexual abuse by soldiers—during the months he spent in Paris and Belgium. The sentimental verse of his earlier years gave way to poetry that expressed his growing cynicism and disgust with life.
In 1871 Rimbaud wrote two letters to Izambard and a third to his friend Paul Démeny, outlining his aesthetic philosophy. Known as the Lettres du Voyant (Letters of the Visionary), they have been frequently quoted by literary historians and critics seeking to understand Rimbaud's poetry. Also in 1871, he wrote to the poet Paul Verlaine, enclosing some samples of his verse. At Verlaine's urging, Rimbaud went to Paris and took up residence with Verlaine and his wife. Rimbaud's antisocial behavior and the developing sexual relationship between the two poets all but destroyed Verlaine's marriage. Rimbaud, often drunk on absinthe and increasingly rude to the members of the Parisian literary community, soon wore out his welcome and fled the city. Verlaine's attempted reconciliation with his wife failed and the elder poet then begged his young friend to return. From 1872 to 1873 the pair traveled together throughout England and Belgium. Rimbaud, who was studying Eastern religion and alchemy, existing on very little sleep, and taking hallucinogenic drugs, experienced a period of intense creative activity during this time. However, his relationship with Verlaine became more and more volatile and when he tried to end the affair, Verlaine shot him in the wrist. Rimbaud retreated to his mother's home in Roche, near Charleville, and finished Une Saison en enfer (1873; A Season in Hell), while Verlaine spent the next two years at hard labor in a Belgian prison. When he recovered, Rimbaud returned to Paris and gave the manuscript of Les Illuminations (Illuminations) to Verlaine, after which he stopped writing completely. He was twenty-one years old.
Deciding to become an adventurer, Rimbaud traveled throughout Europe and Africa, finally settling in Abyssinia, Ethiopia, where he worked for many years as a gunrunner and possibly as a slave trader. Although entirely devoted to a life of commerce during this time, Rimbaud was nonetheless becoming famous in France for his poetry. Verlaine, thinking Rimbaud was dead, had published Illuminations in 1886. In 1891 Rimbaud developed cancer in his leg and returned to France for medical treatment in Marseille. His leg was amputated and once again, he returned to his mother's home in Roche to recuperate. His condition grew worse, however, and he returned to the hospital in Marseille, where he died on November 10, 1891, at the age of thirty-seven. His younger sister Isabelle insisted that on his deathbed Rimbaud accepted the Catholic faith, although his biographers are skeptical of that claim. He was buried in Charleville.
Major Poetic Works
Rimbaud's earliest known work is “Le Soleil était encore chaud” (“The Sun Was Still Warm”), apparently written when he was ten years old, but the majority of his early poetry was composed between 1869 and 1872, much of it published by Verlaine in the collection Poésies complètes (Complete Poems) in 1895. Although these were generally considered his most traditional works, the individual poems deal with many of the same themes and concerns—particularly his rejection of bourgeois conventions and Christian principles—that characterize his later, more venomous, writing. The volume includes such works as “Ma Bohème,” a celebration of the unconventional lifestyle; “A la musique” (“To Music”), a satiric skewering of the bourgeoisie; and “Oraison du soir” (“Evening Orison”), a blasphemous anti-Christian poem. His most famous early poem is “Le Bateau ivre,” (“The Drunken Boat”) composed when he was just sixteen years old, which combines traditional form with the imagery associated with Impressionism and Symbolism. Also at the age of sixteen Rimbaud articulated his theories on poetic discourse and the role of the poet in his Letters of the Visionary. Another renowned piece from this period is “Les Poètes de sept ans” (“Seven-year-old Poets”) which, like many of his early poems, apparently reflects his rejection of provincial life, or more specifically, his rebellion against the values and expectations of his mother, who was both his curse and his muse, as one critic put it.
In his later work Rimbaud abandoned the verse of his earlier years and began composing poems in prose, which characterize his two major collections: A Season in Hell and Illuminations. There is some controversy about which book was written first. Some literary historians believe that Rimbaud started writing the poems in Illuminations first, then composed A Season in Hell and then finally completed Illuminations. However, given the dramatic events coinciding with the writing of these poems, the order of composition cannot be determined with any certainty. Both works are known for their idiosyncratic style and their difficult and often inaccessible language.
Rimbaud's poetry, a sensation during his lifetime, became even more popular with both readers and critics after his death. What has changed over the years is not the evaluation of his work as a whole, but rather the relative assessments of individual poems. For example, “The Drunken Boat” was long his most famous poem, and as such, tended to be overvalued by critics. More recently, however, scholars have come to believe the work is not quite as original as was once thought, and the trend now seems to be to undervalue the poem, according to Robert Greer Cohn. Many of Rimbaud's poems, particularly those in Illuminations, are considered resistant to interpretation and understanding, giving rise to a wide variety of interpretive strategies. Critics have long focused on the events of the poet's unconventional life, looking for clues and connections to his verse. Among the biographical incidents linked to his poetry are his “resistance to work,” examined by Kristin Ross. She traces this sentiment in a number of poems, most particularly “Mauvais Sang” (“Bad Blood”) in which Rimbaud “develops the strategy of nonwork,” and in his letters, which reveal “Rimbaud's own lived experience of resistance to work.” Reinhard H. Thum suggests that Rimbaud's guilt over twice leaving Verlaine in response to his mother's demands may have found its way into the poems of A Season in Hell. Thum notes the irony of Rimbaud's behavior—that the rebellious youth should obey “the hitherto despicable moral dictates of his stifling petty bourgeois origins”—and wonders which parts of A Season in Hell were written after these events and which before. More recently critics have rejected the biographical method and adopted in its place a textual approach, focusing on the formal features of the poetry. One such critic is Michael Riffaterre, who maintains that interpreting symbolist poetry is difficult under any circumstances, but more so in the case of Rimbaud's work, where “deciphering symbols has been more problematic because the image of the poet has hidden the poetry and warped its interpretation.” The result, according to Riffaterre, is that critics are tempted “to explain away textual difficulties as autobiographical allusions, when they actually stem from the semiotic make-up of verbal symbols.”
Most scholars, regardless of their critical perspective, agree that Rimbaud's poetry represented something new and innovative in its time. According to Victor-Guy Aboulaffia, the poet's “first act of aesthetic revolt” was his opposition to the “art for art's sake” doctrine of the Parnassian school. Aboulaffia reports that “from early on the young Rimbaud had become aware that this trend-setting, nihilistic aesthetics was intended for an elite readership only,” and his reaction to it was therefore oppositional. Aimée Israel-Pelletier contends that Rimbaud's poetry is innovative because it is so completely grounded in everyday life. She believes that “his work is most radical not for its turning away from reference or coherence, but rather for the way it coerces a traditionally subjective genre—lyric poetry—into interfacing with the real.” Carol de Dobay Rifelj has studied the poet's use of language and claims that he introduced unconventional vocabulary, colloquial expressions, provincial terms, and banal elements associated with lower-class life into his verse and then combined them with the more formal language and subject matter considered appropriate for poetic discourse. “These clashes in tone provoke laughter,” argues de Dobay Rifelj, “but at the same time, they represent an implicit refusal to accept conventional poetic language.” Designating Rimbaud as “the begetter of modern poetry,” John Simon claims that “between the ages of sixteen and somewhere between twenty and twenty-five, Rimbaud conducted all the experiments, made all the discoveries, raised all the questions modern poetry needed to accost.” The result has been Rimbaud's continuing influence not only on poets, but on prose writers as well. Daphne Merkin confirms Rimbaud's ability to inspire the artists of the twentieth century, contending that such important and varied figures as Samuel Beckett, Pablo Picasso, Allen Ginsberg, Patti Smith, Jim Morrison, Van Morrison, and Bob Dylan have all drawn on his work.
Lettres du Voyant [Letters of the Visionary] 1871
Une Saison en enfer [A Season in Hell] 1873
Les illuminations [Prose Poems from Les Illuminations] 1886
Reliquaire, Poésies 1891
Poésies complètes [edited by M. Vanier; Complete Poems] 1895
Oeuvres de Jean-Arthur Rimbaud [edited by Paterne Berrichon and Ernest Delahaye] (poetry and prose) 1898
Oeuvres complètes [edited by Antoine Adam] 1972
Oeuvres [edited by Suzanne Bernard and André Guyaux] (poems and prose) 1981
Lettres de la vie littéraire d'Arthur Rimbaud (letters and prose) 1931
Correspondence, 1888-1891 (letters) 1965
(The entire section is 81 words.)
SOURCE: Cohn, Robert Greer. “The Early Poems: ‘Le Bateau ivre’.” In The Poetry of Rimbaud, pp. 156-72. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1973.
[In the following excerpt, Cohn analyzes Rimbaud's most acclaimed poem, “The Drunken Boat.”]
Rimbaud's most famous poem [“Le Bateau ivre”] had so long been overpraised (particularly in relation to some of his other works, like “Mémoire” or “Génie”) that more recently there has been a tendency to underestimate it. I still regard it as a fantastic achievement by a boy of sixteen, or of any other age. It is less original than used to be thought—this is always the fate of originality, given time and historical critics—but powerfully inventive for all that, and absolutely characteristic of Rimbaud, linking up with the rest of his writings in countless ways.
The form is traditional Late Romantic, Parnassian, but the imagery and general tone are Impressionist-Symbolist. There is no use quibbling about its being a true Symbolist poem or not. Certainly it belongs to its cultural era, which is being increasingly defined as the Symbolist one (for example by René Wellek, after Edmund Wilson), by virtue of its impressionist-pointillist delicacy and refinement; and by its fluidity (as opposed to neoclassic discursive rigidity), including connotations, suggestive qualities of imagery, touches of synesthesia, the vibrant...
(The entire section is 6868 words.)
SOURCE: Ferguson, J. A. “‘Noirs Inconnus’: The Identity and Function of the Negro in Rimbaud's Poetry and Correspondence.” French Studies 39, no. 1 (January 1985): 43-58.
[In the following essay, Ferguson studies references to Africans in Rimbaud's work, finding that the poet's attitudes toward Black people, slavery, and colonialism were ambivalent.]
The publication in 1938 of Enid Starkie's Rimbaud en Abyssinie, an extended and revised translation of the earlier Arthur Rimbaud in Abyssinia, marked a new departure in the field of biographical mythmaking surrounding the life and career of the poet. Drawing upon previously unavailable correspondence and British Foreign Office documentation, Starkie was able to produce a detailed account of Rimbaud's activity and experience in Arabia and East Africa between 1880 and 1891 and, more controversially, to propose that during this period he had been actively involved in the slave-trade.1 This allegation was founded on three sources of evidence: a Foreign Office report which claimed that a certain ‘Remban’ had accompanied a slave caravan from the interior of Ethiopia to the coastal port of Tadjoura; a letter from Alfred Ilg to Rimbaud in which the Swiss engineer seemingly refused to supply his trading associate with slaves; and the more general supposition that the arms trade, in which Rimbaud openly participated, was...
(The entire section is 7004 words.)
SOURCE: Ross, Kristin. “Rimbaud and the Resistance to Work.” Representations, no. 19 (summer 1987): 62-86.
[In the following essay, Ross examines Rimbaud's resistance to the bourgeois work ethic in his life and in his writings.]
The origin of the Commune dates back in effect to the time of Genesis, to the day when Cain killed his brother. It is envy that lies behind all those demands stuttered by the indolent [des paresseux] whose tools make them ashamed, and who in hatred of work prefer the chances of combat to the security of daily work.
—Maxime du Camp1
“Ideology” is perhaps the fact that each person does what he or she is “supposed to do”. … Ideology is just the other name for work.
In his essay “Le Chant des sirènes,” Maurice Blanchot places Rimbaud's Une Saison en enfer within a curious constellation of texts, in the community of narratives he calls récits: the tale of Ulysses and the Sirens, for example, Moby Dick, Nerval's Aurélia, Nadja. The constituent elements of the genre, or rather antigenre, “récit” are, at least initially, relatively straightforward; the récit is the narrative of one single episode: “Something has happened, something...
(The entire section is 12398 words.)
SOURCE: de Dobay Rifelj, Carol. “Rimbaud: Poetics and Politics.” In Word and Figure: The Language of Nineteenth-Century French Poetry, pp. 132-64. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1987.
[In the following essay, de Dobay Rifelj discusses Rimbaud's innovations in reproducing the speech of the lower classes and in combining formal poetic language with vulgar and vernacular terms.]
“Rimbaud bourre ses vers de mots triviaux, écrit dans une langue très voisine de la langue parlée,” writes François Ruchon. These “mots roturiers … sont la traduction de l'état de révolte, d'ironie, de haine où il vit, dans la contrainte de Charleville et dans l'âpre ennui qui succède à ses escapades” (175). This quotation epitomizes the critical commentary on Rimbaud's linguistic innovations in verse: “revolutionary” poetic discourse equals revolt against society. This equation has been formulated in various ways and has been applied in different ways to various texts, but the underlying implication is the same. Several of the main features of this approach can be seen in the preceding quotation: first, that the use of familiar discourse reflects a kind of loss of self-restraint (“Rimbaud bourre ses vers”); second, that it is aspects of Rimbaud's life and character (Rimbaud the great rebel against convention, rejecting the “contrainte de Charleville”) that provoke such usage; and third,...
(The entire section is 12611 words.)
SOURCE: Riffaterre, Michael. “Sylleptic Symbols: Rimbaud's ‘Memoire’.” In Nineteenth-Century French Poetry: Introductions to Close Reading, edited by Christopher Prendergast, pp. 178-98. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990.
[In the following essay, Riffaterre contends that deciphering symbols in Rimbaud's poetry has been hampered by undue attention to incidents in the poet's life, The critic instead bases his interpretation of “Memoire” on the poem's formal features.]
L'eau claire; comme le sel des larmes d'enfance, L'assaut au soleil des blancheurs des corps de femmes; la soie, en foule et de lys pur, des oriflammes sous les murs dont quelque pucelle eut la défense;
l'ébat des anges;—Non … le courant d'or en marche, meut ses bras, noirs, et lourds, et frais surtout, d'herbe. Elle sombre, ayant le Ciel bleu pour ciel-de-lit, appelle pour rideaux l'ombre de la colline et de l'arche.
Eh! l'humide carreau tend ses bouillons limpides! L'eau meuble d'or pâle et sans fond les couches prêtes. Les robes vertes et déteintes des fillettes font les saules, d'où sautent les oiseaux sans brides.
Plus pure qu'un louis, jaune et chaude paupière le souci d'eau—ta foi conjugale, ô l'Epouse!— au midi prompt, de son terne miroir, jalouse au ciel gris de chaleur la Sphère rose et chère....
(The entire section is 7744 words.)
SOURCE: Simon, John. “Rimbaud, the Anarchic Demiurge.” The New Criterion 10, no. 1 (September 1991): 61-74.
[In the following essay, Simon discusses Rimbaud's contributions to modern poetry and examines his influence on other writers.]
Arthur Rimbaud was the begetter of modern poetry. For it to come to pass, a Rimbaud was required. It did not have to be A. Rimbaud; it could have been a Rimbaud of some other name, in some other place. But in the event, it was this Jean Nicolas Arthur Rimbaud, born in Charleville in the Ardennes on October 20, 1854, and dead on November 10, 1891—in pain and wretchedness, with one leg and all his hopes amputated—that is the fountainhead of modern poetry as we know it. (There is also, to some extent, Stéphane Mallarmé, about whom later.) And he did it all before he fully grew up, after which he rejected literature, his own and everyone else's, forever.
Between the ages of sixteen and somewhere between twenty and twenty-five, Rimbaud conducted all the experiments, made all the discoveries, raised all the questions modern poetry needed to accost. We are still stumbling along in his deep footprints in this year of 1991, when you cannot walk a few blocks in New York City without seeing the name of Mozart, another Wunderkind and anniversary boy, plastered all over: Mozart this and Mozart that. But where is Rimbaud in evidence—in books or...
(The entire section is 9196 words.)
SOURCE: Israel-Pelletier, Aimée. “Radical Realism: Rimbaud's Affinities with Impressionism.” Mosaic 25, no. 2 (spring 1992): 49-68.
[In the following essay, Israel-Pelletier explores the nature of representation in Rimbaud's verse and its connections with Impressionist art.]
There exist in Rimbaud criticism two very different approaches to his work, each of which centers upon the question of referentiality and coherence. Antoine Adam and Antoine Fongaro, for example, believe that, however difficult Rimbaud's poetry is, it has “meaning” which can be decoded; his work, they insist, can only gain from such an approach. The opposite view was initiated by Jean-Louis Baudry in his 1968-69 article in Tel Quel, in which he maintained that to work at decoding Rimbaud's poems is to dismiss the radical nature of his poetics and to undermine his place in the canon of modern poetry. Following Baudry, Tzvetan Todorov has suggested that Rimbaud's contribution to poetry is that he relieves language of its obligation to express and to represent. Rimbaud's Illuminations, suggests Todorov, is not representational but (using the categories of Etienne Souriau) “présentationnel”; the poems, in other words, evoke quite specific objects, places and events but without contextualizing them in real events, in history. The central concern of the poems, according to Todorov, is not the world or the...
(The entire section is 8334 words.)
SOURCE: Bishop, Michael. “Rimbaud.” In Nineteenth-Century French Poetry, pp. 255-81. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1993.
[In the following essay, Bishop provides an overview of Rimbaud's poetry and aesthetic theories.]
Thirty-seven years after his birth in Charleville, on 20 October 1854, the man behind the myth we have come to know as Rimbaud died of gangrene poisoning and complications, in the presence of his sister, Isabelle, in the Hôpital de la Conception, Marseille. A precocious young pupil who skipped the cinquième année and an extraordinary Latinist, he was writing some of his most lasting work at the ages of fifteen and sixteen. Reading Rabelais and Hugo, straining under the limitations of family and province, Rimbaud soon broke loose in wild vagabondages as far as Belgium and Paris in the midst of the Franco-Prussian War. At sixteen he was already composing sociopolitical-cum-poetical “Manifestos” to his friends and mentors, Delahaye, Izambard, Demeny. Verlaine's invitation, upon receipt of sample poems, brought him quickly to Paris, to riotous and scandalous scenes with his mentor, but also to enlarged discussion and creation. The summer of 1872—Rimbaud is still only seventeen—took the pair to Belgium and England. Delahaye argued that Les Illuminations (The Illuminations) dates back to this period, despite Verlaine's placing of the work's composition...
(The entire section is 10411 words.)
SOURCE: Aboulaffia, Victor-Guy. “Rimbaud and the Ideology of Art for Art's Sake.” Nineteenth-Century French Studies 22, nos. 1 & 2 (fall-winter 1993-1994): 172-94.
[In the following essay, Aboulaffia contends that Rimbaud rejected the notion of “pure poetry” as an art form aimed at elite readers.]
Arthur Rimbaud's first act of aesthetic revolt can be sensed in the way he opposed the dominant writing protocols of the Parnasse poetry school.1 This aestheticist movement endorsed a set of constraining idealistic assumptions regarding literary activity, which gave an exaggerated importance to technical skills over content, and demanded an attitude of emotional detachment on the poet's part, in a somewhat uncanny return of a repressed Classical rigor, now triumphant over the excessive and unruly affects of the Romantic period. Leconte de Lisle's strict alexandrine verse poem entitled “Le Sommeil du condor” illustrates that belated type of aristocratic sublimity, as the majestic, solitary bird of prey mournfully rises beyond everything visible, to find finally sleep in the frozen air above, oblivious to the sphere of human interests. Such elevated expectations from the skillful, but distant artist, who promises to remain indifferent to human pathos—neither taking a stand, nor passing judgment on his fellow men—established a hegemonic standard of bon goût among a...
(The entire section is 9140 words.)
SOURCE: Lawler, James. “Of Ecstasy and Action: Rimbaud's ‘Matinée d'ivresse’.” In Understanding French Poetry: Essays for a New Millennium, edited by Stamos Metzidakis, pp. 35-49. New York: Garland Publishing, 1994.
[In the following essay, Lawler discusses the critical controversy surrounding Rimbaud's composition of “Morning of Intoxication,” possibly while under the influence of hashish.]
A brief account links Rimbaud to drug-taking. It refers to an episode of November 1871 when Verlaine and Delahaye found Rimbaud asleep on a bench in the Hôtel des Etrangers. He told them, on waking, that he had taken hashish. “Eh alors? …, demanda Verlaine.—Alors, rien du tout … des lunes blanches, des lunes noires, qui se poursuivaient.”1 The experience hardly seems to have gone deep. Much has nevertheless been made of it by a number of critics who call it decisive and associate it with “Matinée d'ivresse.” One thinks, for instance, of Antoine Adam (“il est certain que Rimbaud s'inspire de sa première séance de haschisch”) and Suzanne Bernard (“il est fort probable qu'il a écrit ce poème peu après cette première expérience”).2 Other commentators proceed along similar lines, whether cursorily (Louis Forestier: “Ce poème a été inspiré par l'expérimentation du haschisch”) or at some length and with uncustomary stress (Yves Bonnefoy: “une...
(The entire section is 5152 words.)
SOURCE: Little, Roger. “Rimbaud: The Shaping of a Vision.” In Artistic Relations: Literature and the Visual Arts in Nineteenth-Century France, edited by Peter Collier and Robert Lethbridge, pp. 253-63. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1994.
[In the following essay, Little examines formal patterns and the use of visual metaphors in Rimbaud's prose poetry.]
Once it was clearly established, in the course of the nineteenth century, that the attribute of poetry was distinct from the technique of verse, it was possible for poets to allow the shaping of their texts to respond to visual stimuli, whether from the real world or from existing art works. Without going as far as Mallarmé in Un coup de Dés … or, later, Apollinaire in his Calligrammes, Rimbaud displays, in his use of prose for poetry in Illuminations for example, a concern for form no less responsive to his object than they, however much less obvious to the reader's eye. His approach to the literary imitation of reality must be understood to go beyond a concern with narrative alone. Each text espouses its object to the point where it becomes an equivalent object incorporating an expression of the poet's relationship with what he has seen and felt. The decorative is therefore relinquished in favour of the organic, integrated and hidden in often surprising and stimulating ways.
This study will first...
(The entire section is 4993 words.)
SOURCE: Thum, Reinhard H. “Arthur Rimbaud: The Abdication of Utopia in Une Saison En Enfer.” In The City: Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Verhaeren, pp. 204-16. New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 1994.
[In the following excerpt, Thum discusses references to the city in Une Saison en enfer.]
In Une Saison en enfer, probably Rimbaud's last work but for a few scattered poems of Les Illuminations, the poet analyzes and rejects unconditionally a state of mind and a way of thinking which began to assert themselves more and more in the early months of 1871, attitudes which form the basis for many of the poems written during and after this period. Because of their close interrelationship, the poems of Une Saison en enfer may be far better understood if one keeps the earlier works in mind as a point of departure.
The references to the city are rather scanty in Une Saison en enfer. Still, it is difficult to overlook their disproportionate importance either in this work or in Les Illuminations. In both cases, the city and the images associated with it represent a very important part of Rimbaud's thought.
If one disregards Une Saison en enfer, the poem “Promontoire” may at first sight appear as the promised discovery of a resolution for which Rimbaud had long been searching. It unites both his spiritual and material strivings in a kind...
(The entire section is 4981 words.)
SOURCE: Duvick, Randa J. “‘Rouler aux blessures’: Feminine Figures in Rimbaud's Illuminations.” Nineteenth-Century French Studies 24, nos. 3 & 4 (spring-summer 1996): 406-16.
[In the following essay, Duvick examines Rimbaud's representations of woman as a link to nature and as the vehicle for poetic creation.]
Those critics who have considered the role or roles played by feminine figures in Rimbaud's Illuminations1—“notre mère de beauté” of “Being Beauteous,” “Elle” of “Métropolitain,” “Léonie Aubois d'Ashby” of “Dévotion,” “la Sorcière” of “Après le déluge,” for example—have often stressed these figures' enigmatic nature. Following the lead of André Breton, who characterized the women of the Illuminations as “ces mystérieuses passantes” (Œuvres 536), writers have shown themselves to be intrigued by the presence of characters who seem both to invite and to block identification by the reader. It is perhaps for this reason that, although the numbers of masculine figures and feminine figures in the Illuminations2 are approximately the same, it is the feminine figures who have typically attracted greater attention. Certainly mystery, on both thematic and rhetorical levels, is central to the Illuminations; the poet himself issues the challenge in “H” (Œuvres 303):...
(The entire section is 6573 words.)
SOURCE: Macklin, Gerald Martin. “Representations of the Grotesque in the Early Verse of Arthur Rimbaud.” Orbis Litterarum 52, no. 4 (1997): 221-39.
[In the following essay, Macklin positions Rimbaud's preoccupation with the grotesque within the context of the nineteenth-century's similar fascination, also apparent in the work of Victor Hugo, Charles Baudelaire, and Edgar Allan Poe, among others.]
Noirs de loupes, grêlés, les yeux cerclés de bagues Vertes, leurs doigts boulus crispés à leurs fémurs Le sinciput plaqué de hargnosités vagues Comme les floraisons lépreuses des vieux murs;
The earliest use of the term “crotesque” in French can be traced to 1532 or thereabouts and about a century later this term was replaced by “grotesque” in English. Interestingly, the original connotations of the term now seem far removed from what it has come to designate for the late twentieth century reader or literary analyst. What was signified by “grotesque” was a decorative ornament consisting of “medallions, sphinxes, foliage, rocks and pebbles” which was found in grottoes called “grotteschi.”2 The word came to refer to paintings which combined human, animal and plant elements and then “architectural embellishments like gargoyles, hideous diabolic shapes and … the complex interweaving of themes and...
(The entire section is 7449 words.)
SOURCE: Merkin, Daphne. “Rimbaud Rules.” The American Scholar 72, no. 1 (winter 2003): 45-52.
[In the following essay, Merkin discusses Rimbaud's enduring influence on such modern artists as Jack Kerouac, Jim Morrison, and Bob Dylan.]
Sometimes it seems as if anyone who has ever aspired to hipness has laid claim to the nineteenth-century poète maudit and Ur-Bad Boy Arthur Rimbaud. He was born to be wild, a room-trashing rock star with a passion for drugs, drink, and degradation well before the prototype existed—or so we have come to think. Rimbaud's mythic reputation is that of a debauched and restless prodigy whose genius flared briefly before he turned his back on literature at the age of nineteen to wander the globe in search of mercantile success. In the handful of years during which he produced his slender body of work, Rimbaud brought the rank odors of sex and the street to the pristinely elevated Parnassian tradition of French poetry. Tales of sordid habits and defiant, épater-les-bourgeois gestures swirled around him already in his lifetime, conjuring up an image of someone who lived outside the law. It doesn't hurt his legendary status, either, that he died young and ingloriously in 1891, at the age of thirty-seven, after a team of doctors amputated his leg in an effort to stave off a raging infection. (Like many other aspects of his life, the exact cause of his death,...
(The entire section is 3962 words.)
SOURCE: Lee, Daryl. “Rimbaud's Ruin of French Verse: Verse Spatiality and the Paris Commune Ruins.” Nineteenth-Century French Studies 32, nos. 1 & 2 (fall-winter 2003-2004): 69-82.
[In the following essay, Lee argues, through a reading of “Qu'est-ce pour nous, mon coeur” (“What, For Us, My Heart”), that Rimbaud revolted against the bourgeoisie and the French Empire by attacking them openly in his poetry, using a variety of dialects, and subverting traditional literary forms.]
… comme l'architecture d'une ville inhabitée ou soufflée, réduite à son squelette par quelque catastrophe de la nature ou de l'art. Ville non plus habitée ni simplement délaissée mais hantée plutôt par le sens et la culture.
Triste nouvelle! Le feu a pris lundi dernier au Moniteur. La bibliothèque tout entière a été la proie aux flammes. … J'ai désiré, parfois, que le même malheur atteignât à tous les monuments de Paris, pour que le lendemain, sur les cendres encore fumantes de l'édifice écroulé, une nouvelle génération vînt jeter les bases d'un art nouveau et faire le poème de pierre du XIXe siècle. La rédaction m'a défendu de mettre le feu.
—Jules Vallès, following an 1857 fire that consumed the library...
(The entire section is 5872 words.)
Aboulaffia, Victor. “The Quarrel of the ‘Vowels’.” Modern Language Notes 107, no. 4 (September 1992): 774-94.
Reassessment of Rimbaud's place in the development of modern French poetry.
Argote, Joel Thompson. “Colliding Fragments: The Illuminations as Collage.” Romance Notes 37, no. 2 (winter 1997): 199-206.
Suggests that Rimbaud's poems more closely resemble the art of collage than impressionist painting, to which it has often been likened.
Coates, Carrol F. “Phonemic Structuration and the Reading of the Poem: Rimbaud's ‘Le Châtiment de Tartufe’.” In Understanding French Poetry: Essays for a New Millennium, edited by Stamos Metzidakis, pp. 87-97. New York: Garland Publishing, 1994.
Analysis of complex phoneme patterns in Rimbaud's poem.
Houston, John Porter. “Rimbaud in 1871.” In Patterns of Thought in Rimbaud and Mallarmé, pp. 11-22. Lexington, Ky.: French Forum Publishers, 1986.
Examines those events of late 1871 and early 1872 that had a significant effect on Rimbaud's poetic style.
Israel-Pelletier, Aimée. “Demystifying Difference: Rimbaud's Passions for Poetry and Money.” SubStance 18, no. 1 (1989): 58-73.
Studies Rimbaud's abandonment of literature in...
(The entire section is 494 words.)