Jean-Nicolas Arthur Rimbaud born October 20, 1854 at Charleville, now part of Charleville-Mezieres, in the Ardennes department in northeastern France, in his maternal grandfather’s house. His father, Frederic Rimbaud was a Captain of Infantry, risen to his rank from that of a simple recruit. He is the author of certain unpublished military works and the french-translated Koran, which Arthur will later use to learn Arabic.
Rimbaud goes as a day boy to the Rossat Institute in Charleville. The story: “The sun was still warm, it hardly lit up the earth any more, however; just as a torch placed against the… only lights them up with a feeble light, so the sun, torch of the earth, was going out, letting a last feeble light escape from its body of fire, which nevertheless allowed the green leaves of the trees, the little fading flowers, and the enormous tops of the centuries-old pines, poplars, and okas to be seen. The refreshing wind, that is to say a fresh breeze, moved the leaves of the trees with a rustling somewhat similar to that which the silvery waters of the brook made, flowing at my feet. The ferns bent their green heads before the wind. I fell asleep, not without refreshing myself with the water of the brook.
I dreamt that… I was born in Rheims, in the year 1503.
At that time Rheims was a little town, or, to put it better, a borough, nevertheless famous for its beautiful cathedral, witness to the coronation of king Clovis.”
Rimbaud enters the College de Charleville, aged ten.
Rimbaud addresses ‘under the strictest secrecy’, sixty Latin hexameters to the Imperial Prince on the occasion of the latter’s first Communion; his tutor asks Rimbaud’s headmaster to thank him publicly. (see poem The ball-boy, the Pubescent)
Rimbaud wins the Latin Poetry Prize at the Concours Academique. His first known french verse composition, Les Etrennes des orphelins, is written. It appears in the Revue pour tous on January 2, 1870.
Rimbaud movies up to the Class of Rhetoric, and became friends with Georges Izambard. Izambard is a young teacher with revolutionary tendencies, who encourages him, to the outage of his mother, to read Rabelais and Hugo. In his 15th year Rimbaud is already a poet. He writes to Banville but too late to have his Sensation, Ophelie, and Soleil et chair published in Parnasse contemporain; but his ‘Premiere Soiree‘ appears, under the tittle ‘Trois Baisers‘, in a satirical periodical called La Charge. On August 29, Rimbaud sells his prize books and takes the train to Paris, hoping to witness the fall to Imperial Government. He rans away another time from home to Belgium, where he writes La Maline, Au Cabaret-Vert, Le Buffet, Reve pour l’hiver and Ma Boheme. He took off to Brussels, where he appears unannounced at the house of some friends of Izambard’s, who send him to Douai where Izambard’s adoptive ‘aunts’ live. There he writes Rages de Cesars, L’Elatante Victoire de Sarrebruck, Le Dormeur du val, and Le Mal.
He frequently ran away from home and may have briefly joined the Paris Commune, which he portrayed in his poem L’Orgie parisienne ou Paris se repeuple. At 19, he ran away from the literary world for a stint abroad as a coffee merchant and part-time gun-runner. He may have been raped by drunken Communard soldiers (his poem “Le Coeur supplicie” suggests so). By then he had become an anarchist, started drinking and amused himself by shocking the local bourgeois with his shabby dressing and long hair. At the same time he wrote to Izambard and Paul Demeny about his method for attaining poetical transcendence or visionary power through a “long, immense and rational derangement of all the senses” “Les lettres du Voyant”. He returned to Paris in late September 1871 at the invitation of the eminent Parnassian poet Paul Verlaine (after Rimbaud had sent him a letter containing several samples of his work) and resided briefly in Verlaine’s home. Verlaine, who was bisexual, promptly fell in love with the sullen, blue-eyed, overgrown 5’10”, light-brown-haired adolescent. They became lovers and led a dissolute, vagabond-like life rocked by absinthe and hashish. They scandalized the Parisian literary elite on account of the outrageous behaviour of Rimbaud, the archetypical enfant terrible, and their pederasty. Throughout this period he continued to write strikingly visionary, modern verses.
Rimbaud and Verlaine spend their days in the cafes of the Quartier Latin. Verlaine’s mother-in-law accused Rimbaud of corrupting Verlaine on the account between Verlaine;s constant violence with his wife, who has given birth to a son in October 1871, and is only 18. Rimbaud turned to the streets of Paris where he learned to drink absinthe and to smoke hashish. On his return to Charleville in March 1872, he writes the poems Memoire, Michel et Christine, Larme, La Riviere de Cassis, Comedie de la soif, Bonne Pensee du matin, Fetes de la patience, and Chanson de la plus haute tour. In June he writes his last poems in verse ‘Est-elle almee?’, ‘Age d’or’, ‘Fetes de la faim’, ‘O saisons’, ‘o chateaux’, and the beginning of the period of Illuminations.
Although Rimbaud said that Paris was just a ‘pretty little provincial town’, the Illuminations called ‘metropolitan’ and ‘villes’ seem to be very vivid and convincing descriptions of the horror of a large city such as London was at that time. The possibility that Rimbaud and Verlaine learned to smoke opium in Chinese dens near the Docks may help to explain the distortion of vision one encounters in these prose poems. Rimbaud returns to Roche, where his mother’s farm is, in April. Rather than help on the farm, he shuts himself up to begin writing Une Saison en Enfer. Verlaine manages to persuade Rimbaud to go to England with him, which Rimbaud soon regrets. It is also said that at this time Rimbaud fell in love with a girl he saw on the Underground whom he used to follow home but dared not speak to; thus his work Bottom.After a violent quarrel, Verlaine leaves Rimbaud and goes to Brussels, where Rimbaud follows him, and the shooting occurs. Verlaine fires two shots at Rimbaud, one of which hits him in the wrist; thus the poem Deposition. Rimbaud goes back to Roche in sling and finishes Une Saision en Enfer. Verlaine is sent to prison for 2 years.
Having arranged to have Une Saison en Enfer printed in Belgium, Rimbaud renounced literature and loses interest, thus leaving the printing to halt, with only half a dozen author’s copies remained at the printer’s until 1914. With intentions of perfecting his English, Rimbaud set off to London with Germain Nouveau, a young poet he met in Paris. He teaches in various establishments in England and Scotland. The two of them both hold British Museum Library reader’s tickets.
Travel in Germany, Italy, Switzerland. Studies German, Spanish, Arabic, Italian, Dutch and modern Greek. Joins the Dutch colonial army on a six-year engagement; deserts in Batavia after 3 weeks in the East Indies, and returns to France on an English sailing ship, walking home from Bordeaux. Visits Vienna, Holland, Germany, Sweden and Denmark. Verlaine converted to Catholicism and begs Rimbaud to become so too on their last meeting in Stuttgart.
Rimbaud sails to Alexandria from Marseille but falls sick and disembarked at Civita Vecchia, visits Rome and back to Charleville during winter.
He is in Cyprus directing operations for the building of the Governor-General’s residence. Rimbaud became a trader in North Africa, with headquarters at Harar and Shoa, central Abyssinia. He arrives on December 13 after 20 days on horseback in the Somali desert.
Rimbaud’s employers ask him to investigate the territories of Somaliland and Galla. He also became the first European to cross the territory of the unknown region of Ogadine.
He got his report about Ogadine published to the Societe de Georgaphie on December 10th.
Rimbaud is living as husband to an Abyssinian girl; but as he wishes to become a gun-runner, he has her repatriated. His gun-running enterprise failed. He obtains license to sell arms, ammunition and helps in slave trafficking to Turkey and Arabia.
Verlaine, under the impression that Rimbaud was no longer alive, published the latter’s poems in Illuminations (trans. 1932). This work contains the famous Sonnet des voyelles, in which each of the five vowels is associated with a different color.
Rimbaud is attacked by a tumor on the right knee, he is worth about £2,000: on his arrival in France in May, where his leg is amputated at the Hospital de la Conception in Marseille, which is about £1,500. He returned home to Roche but goes back to Marseille when his condition worsens. On December 10, 1891- Rimbaud dies aged 37, in the Hospital de la Conception. On the strength of a few poems that he wrote between the ages of 10 and 20, Rimbaud ranks as one of the most original of all French poets.
1 Life of Rimbaud from ‘ Rimbaud Collected Poems- Edited by Oliver Bernard‘