Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 439

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“The Seven-Year-Old Poets” is a metaphor underlining the importance of freedom, in all its varied manifestations, in the life of a child who lives in an oppressive, puritanical, and hypocritical atmosphere dominated by a mother who is symbolic of such a way of life. The title, although in the plural, depicts one young boy who writes novels about his life and dreams of far-off lands, and who, in his private moments, rereads the novels he is writing while lying on pieces of blank canvas, a symbol of his life yet to be lived and the potential for the complete freedom for which he yearns.

The intolerance and hypocrisy of the bourgeois world that he witnesses are portrayed through the oppressive nature of school and church as well as his mother’s feigned attempt to support her son’s interest in lower-class and underprivileged children. The son’s silent rebellion is further accentuated by his awakening sensuality and sexuality, which are translated by images that are both scatological (“in the coolness of the latrines/dilating his nostrils”) and somewhat sadistic (“he would bite her buttocks”) in nature.

It is, however, the metaphor of writing that is most fascinating, both as a symbol of the child’s quest for freedom (an important theme) and as a reference point for Rimbaud’s own life. Written when he was sixteen, “The Seven-Year-Old Poets” foresees the attainment of freedom in all its fullness by the adult Rimbaud in his affair with the poet Paul Verlaine (1844-1896), as well as in the revolutionary aesthetics of his more mature poetry. “The Seven-Year-Old Poets” is an eloquent introduction to his poetry and to his innovative, and, some would say, shocking imagery. More important, however, it foreshadows the breathtaking innovation practiced in his famous poem “Le Bateau ivre” (“The Drunken Boat”), a metaphor for poetic discovery in which the exotic lands and fabulous creatures remind the reader of the “flesh-flowers opened in the depths of the celestial woods” in “The Seven-Year-Old Poets.” In the latter, the freeness of the form, combined with the elegance of the Alexandrine verse, are masterfully used by Rimbaud in order to create a refined and yet innovative poetic use of language.

“The Seven-Year-Old Poets” carries the reader through the intricacies of a child’s perception of the world, splendid and, at times, full of despair, and ends on an uplifting note: The final image of sails, created by the canvas on which the child lies, will continue to carry him, through his imagination and writing, to foreign lands, unknown sensations, and experiences, and, ultimately, will offer the liberation from reality that he seeks.