Arthur Rimbaud Additional Biography


(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

Jean-Nicolas-Arthur Rimbaud was born in the provincial town of Charleville on the Franco-Prussian border. His mother, Vitalie Cuif, was of peasant stock and a devout Jansenist; his father, Captain Frédéric Rimbaud, was an itinerant army officer who abandoned the family when Rimbaud was only six years old. A brilliant student, Rimbaud completed nine years of schooling in eight, earning numerous literary prizes in the course of his studies. His earliest attempts at verse were in Latin, followed by his first poem in French, “Les Étrennes des orphelins” (“The Orphans’ New Year’s Day Gifts”), published in January, 1870. Encouraged by his teacher, Georges Izambard, Rimbaud sent off three poems to the Parnassian poet Théodore de Banville, who, however, failed to express any interest.

The outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War in July, 1870, put an end to Rimbaud’s formal schooling. Alienated by the hypocrisy of provincial society, which he satirized in various poems composed in the early months of 1870, he ran away from home three times: first to Paris, then to Belgium, and again to Paris. He was back in Charleville when the Paris Commune was declared on March 18, 1871. Although much critical attention has been devoted to Rimbaud’s possible ties with the Commune, there is no clear evidence that he ever left Charleville during the crucial period of the Paris uprising. On May 15, Rimbaud composed his celebrated “Lettre du voyant” (“Seer Letter”), addressed to a friend, Paul Demeny. Rimbaud’s break with traditional poetry was by this time already complete, and on August 15, he again wrote to Banville, enclosing a new poem, “Ce qu’on dit au poète à propos de fleurs” (“What One Says to the Poet in Regard to Flowers”), a vitriolic attack on Parnassian poetics. Shortly thereafter, Rimbaud also sent off eight new poems, in two installments, to Paul Verlaine, who responded with the famous phrase “Venez, chère grande âme, on vous appelle, on vous attend” (“Come, dear great soul, we call to you, we await you”).

Rimbaud arrived in the capital with a copy of his newly composed poem, “Le Bateau ivre” (“The Drunken Boat”), which brought him some notoriety among the Parisian literary crowd. The young poet’s obnoxious...

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(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Jean-Nicolas-Arthur Rimbaud (ram-BOH) was born on October 20, 1854, in Charleville, a town near the Belgian border in northeastern France, and grew up there. He was the second of five children. His father, Frédéric Rimbaud, an army officer, left the family to go to the Crimean War when Arthur was six years old. Vitalie Cuif, the poet’s mother, came from a peasant background and was narrow-minded and fanatically religious. In 1870, a young teacher, Georges Izambard, arrived at Arthur’s school. Himself a poet, he encouraged Rimbaud and lent him books by François Villon, François Rabelais, Victor Hugo, and the Parnassian poets. In an irate letter, Rimbaud’s mother complained that the teacher had lent her son a “dangerous book,” Hugo’s Les Misérables (1862; English translation, 1862). That same year, Rimbaud composed twenty-two poems. Describing nature, dreams, pagan eroticism, and the rebellion against Christianity, the young poet also wrote one of his masterpieces, “Le Dormeur du val” (“The Sleeper of the Valley”), about a young soldier dead in the Franco-Prussian War.

Because of the war, the schools closed, Izambard left Charleville, and Rimbaud dreamed of doing likewise. Boarding a train for Paris without money to pay his fare, the fifteen-year-old was promptly thrown in prison upon arrival in the capital but was rescued by Izambard, his former teacher. Although he was sent back to his mother, the young poet escaped again, only to be brought home by the police. When the schools reopened, the sixteen-year-old refused to return.

On May 15, 1871, Rimbaud wrote to his friend Paul Demeny the famous “Lettre du voyant” (“Seer Letter”) expressing his theories about poetry and life. In proposing to make himself a voyant, a poet-prophet-visionary, Rimbaud vows to practice the “long, immense and reasoned deranging of all the senses” in order to reach a transcendent state, called the “unknown.” The letter expresses Rimbaud’s desire to experience “all the forms of love” and thus foretells his liaison with...

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(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

The few short years that Arthur Rimbaud devoted to poetic creation have had an overwhelming impact on modern poetry, not only in France but in other countries as well. His works prepared the way for such movements as Symbolism, Dadaism, and Surrealism. He is a continuing reference for vanguard literary thought today—Rimbaud’s poetry is not only an exercise in shocking and beautiful imagery but also a synthesis of intellectual, emotional, and sensual response purposing a tormenting exploration of the self in the modern world. In his continuing disrespect for established values and his demand for innovation, Rimbaud has had a liberating effect on poetry and on life.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

The life of Jean-Nicolas-Arthur Rimbaud (ram-boh) was brief, lasting a scant thirty-seven years, and his life as a poet was briefer still, ending with the completion of A Season in Hell in 1873, only a little over three years after his stormy entrance into Paris in 1870. Yet in this brief tenure as a poet he managed to compose enough verse to fill a volume and managed to write with such power and vision that he changed the course of the French Symbolist movement and exerted an influence that is still being felt in literature today. His life’s vision was a dual one, angelic and diabolic at once. He followed it compulsively and agonizingly, or, rather, he was driven by it from one excess to another, and from one country to...

(The entire section is 813 words.)