The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Seven-Year-Old Poets” is a narrative poem composed of sixty-four Alexandrines (the classical French line of verse containing twelve syllables) arranged in rhymed couplets and in four loosely formed stanzas of four, twelve, fourteen, and thirty-four lines respectively. Written in 1871, when Rimbaud was sixteen, it exemplifies the poet’s unique vision of reality, one that depicts a young boy’s yearning for creative and sensual freedom through the written word.

The first stanza expresses the child’s relief as his Bible lesson comes to an end, the book being closed by “the Mother,” his own, who has been reading aloud. She is self-satisfied in her religious devotion but fails to read in her son’s blue eyes that his soul is “filled with revulsions.”

The second stanza reveals the secrets of the child’s intimate life. Obedient all day, he sometimes shows nasty habits that are symptomatic of his inability to repress his true desires. Passing through the halls at school, he sticks out his tongue, his fists clenched, ready for revolt. In the summer, he locks himself up “in the coolness of latrines,” where he reflects and revels in the smells.

The third stanza continues the description of the child’s activities, now in winter. In the garden, the poet lies in the dirt at the foot of a wall, squeezing his eyes until he sees visions. His only friends are raggedy children, “stinking of diarrhea” and conversing...

(The entire section is 532 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Seven-Year-Old Poets” is beautiful and spellbinding in its depiction of a child who is already keenly aware of his vocation as a writer. More important, it reveals, through striking ironic juxtaposition, those secret and forbidden pleasures derived by the child in an austere atmosphere dominated by a puritanical mother. The poem begins with “And,” indicating that the reader is entering a context that has already begun and that continues to develop. The mother is conveyed by “Mother,” the capital letter suggesting her importance, symbolic nature, and forceful presence in the child’s life. Not only is she symbolic of adult authority, but she is also the image of pious spirituality, and she is blind to her child’s true soul, which is drawn powerlessly to the obscene and forbidden. She is the example of bourgeois respectability and moral rigidity against which Rimbaud revolted in his poetry as well as in his personal life.

To counter the stifling atmosphere created by “the Mother,” the young child lives, at times, in another world. Hence, the juxtaposition, in the second stanza, of his actions in the school, where one would normally expect obedience and respectable behavior (“All day he sweated obedience”), and his private activities in the latrines, where he seems to relish the foulness of the air, serves to underline his rebellious nature, a nature that seeks solitude, and of which his mother seems unaware. This attempt to...

(The entire section is 511 words.)