News article from The Guardian
He smashed the china, soiled the sheets, sunbathed nude and was either drunk or stoned – Arthur Rimbaud was an impossible house guest, but he liberated the true poet in his lover Verlaine, writes Edmund White
Photo: Public Domain / Skylie (scanned- Alain Borer, Rimbaud, l’heure de la fuite, Gallimard)
Arthur Rimbaud, one of the most revolutionary poets of 19th-century France, grew up in a small town, Charleville, in the north-east corner of the country near the Belgian border. As a child he’d been obedient to his strict mother (his father was a soldier who’d vanished after rapidly siring four children) and he’d been the best student in the region, excelling in the classics and French. But Rimbaud’s real interest was poetry. He haunted the local bookstore and read all the latest poetry coming out of Paris. So attracted was Rimbaud to the capital that he ran away from home, arrived in Paris on 30 August 1870 – and was instantly arrested for not paying the correct fare on his train ticket. He was put in prison, and only his favourite teacher from back home was able to get him out. Despite this ignominious beginning, Rimbaud – who was 16 going on 17 – made several other attempts to reach the capital, even though the Prussians had invaded and Paris had declared itself a commune between 26 March and 30 May 1871.
The penniless and friendless Rimbaud could never survive for long away from home during these chaotic times. But in the early autumn in 1871 he fired off a letter to Paul Verlaine, his favourite poet. Without waiting for a response, Rimbaud sent off a few more poems to Verlaine two days later. Then came the fateful response from Paris: “Come, dear great soul, we call you, we await you.” Verlaine enclosed the train fare.
Verlaine was a homicidal alcoholic. He was also an extremely gentle, sensitive poet with a distinctive tone and a remarkable musicality. These two aspects of his character had set up a pitched battle over his anguished destiny; he would always be susceptible to one impulse or the other. Like Rimbaud, Verlaine had been a brilliant student in classical languages and written dazzling verses in Latin. But there the resemblance ended. Verlaine was a lazy, always dirty boy who barely squeaked by in most of his classes. Whereas Rimbaud was striking if strange in his looks, Verlaine was indisputably ugly, resembling the popular idea of Socrates while possessing none of the philosopher’s equanimity. His skull was too large, his face pushed in, his eyes oblique, his pug nose too small and tipped up. He’d lost most of his hair at an early age and compensated for it by growing sparse, wispy whiskers. The mother of Verlaine’s best friend said after meeting him, “My God, your friend made me think of an orangutan escaped from the zoo!”
Whereas Rimbaud seems to have shown no erotic interest in his own sex before meeting Verlaine, the older poet was notorious at school for groping his classmates. After high school, Verlaine enrolled as a law student in Paris but…. – The Guardian, Edmund White
Continue reading on The Guardian – https://www.theguardian.com/books/2009/jan/10/arthur-rimbaud-edmund-white