The Poem

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Last Updated on May 12, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 532

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“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 “with the gentleness of idiots.” The mother, presented in the first stanza as pious, duty-bound, and blind to the rebellious nature of her son, is frightened at the sight of these children and feigns appreciation of her son’s compassion for their state.

The last stanza, the longest, portrays the images that the child describes in the novels he writes, the dreams that oppress him at night, and his delight in solitude. At the age of seven, he is inspired by exotic images of “Forests, suns, banks, savannas” and reads illustrated papers depicting Spanish and Italian women laughing. He engages in sexual antics with the daughter of the workers next door, under whose skirts he sits to “bite her buttocks.” He takes back to his room “the savors of her skin.” On Sundays, “all spruced up,” he reads the Bible, and, at night, dreams oppress him because he does not love God but rather the workers whom he watches returning home at the end of the day. As an escape from the harshness of reality, he dreams of “the amorous meadow” and “luminous” and “healthy perfumes.” Finally, he seeks solitude in a bare room with closed shutters, damp and dank, where he rereads his novels filled with exotic and bizarre images of “flesh-flowers,” “celestial woods,” and “drowned forests.” Lying on pieces of unbleached canvas, the young poet reads and dreams of sails.

The poem ends with an ellipsis, or three suspension points, indicating that the young poet’s life continues, following the chronology and development indicated thus far. “The Seven-Year-Old Poets” foreshadows Rimbaud’s unique aesthetics, his attempts to create innovative and shocking imagery that acts as a liberating force, as well as one that deflates the smugness of bourgeois taste and morality.