'I think therefore I am.'  Descartes            'I AM THAT I AM.'  Exodus.3.        'I am what I am.'  La Cage aux Folles

05 October 2010

Arthur Rimbaud

Arthur Rimbaud Poet and Prodigy
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Rimbaud, the poet was a seer, who must force the derangement of all the senses. A precursor to surrealism, Rimbaud is also considered to have been one of the creators of the free verse style and his literary style has influenced almost all modern forms of literature, including the Beats. He was an inspiration to songwriters like Jim Morrison and Bob Dylan and Patti Smith. Many of his works were considered obscene; so much so, that after his death, his sister attempted to stop the publishing of many of his more risqué works. However, thanks to Paul Verlaine , the majority of his works remained intact.
'Did I not have once upon a time a delightful childhood, heroic, fabulous, to be written on sheets of gold - too lucky! Through what crime, through what error, have I deserved my present weakness? You who say that animals sob from grief, that the sick despair, that the dead have bad dreams, try to relate my fall and my sleep. I can explain myself no better than the vagrant with his incessant Pater and Ave Maria. I do not know how to speak!'

Jean-Nicholas-Arthur Rimbaud was born on October 20, 1854 at Charleville in France. His family (two sisters and a brother) was abandoned by their father Frederic, an army officer, when the boy was six and they were forced into poverty. His mother, Vitalie a hard, possessive and snobbish woman, showed little affection to her children. Forbidden to play with other boys, Rimbaud immersed himself in his studies, including Latin and Greek, and was, until his 15th year, a precocious, well-behaved, religious child, and model student however at age ten, Rimbaud wrote: 
'You have to pass an exam, and the jobs that you get are either to shine shoes, or to herd cows, or to tend pigs. Thank God, I don't want any of that! Damn it! And besides that they smack you for a reward; they call you an animal…..'

At age 13, he sent a poem to the Prince Imperial on 8 May 1868 and was publicly thanked. Teachers began regarding him as a prodigy, and he won several awards, becoming a bit of a scholarly legend in his school. 
To Theodore de Banville

Dear Maitre,
    We are now in the months of love; I am seventeen. The hopeful, dreamy age, as they say - and I have begun, a child touched by the Muse - excuse this if it is a platitude - to express my beliefs, my hopes, my feelings, all those things proper to poets - this is called Spring.
    And if I send you some of these verses - and this through Alph. Lemerre, the good publisher - it is because I love all poets, all good Parnassiens - since a poet is a Parnassien - in love with ideal beauty; it is because I admire you, very naively (of course), a descendant of Ronsard, a brother of our masters of 1830, a real romantic, a real poet. That is why. - All this foolish, I fear; but still?...
    In two years, in one year perhaps, I shall be in Paris.- Anch'io, gentlemen of the Press, I too shall be a Parnassien.- I do not know what is inside me... that wishes to come out... - I swear, cher maitre , that I shall always worship the two goddesses, the Muse and Freedom. Do not frown too much when you read these verses: ... You would send me mad with joy and hope, cher maitre, if you would arrange to make room for 'Credo in Unam' among the Parnassiens ... I should be in the latest number of Parnasse : it would become the Credo of the poets!... - O mad ambition!

ARTHUR RIMBAUD   Charleville , 24 May 1870
At age 15, his first poem was published in La Revue pour Tous. It was called The Orphans’ New Years Gift. and then in July 1870 he headed for Paris where he was arrested for not having a train ticket and was forced to return home.  Within a year he had run away two more times, had changed into a bitter, arrogant, dishevelled, foul-talking adolescent, and had written some of the poems that would one day place him among the greatest names of modern poetry. He lived on the city streets. He denounced women and the church and lived willingly in squalid conditions, studying "immoral" poets like Baudelaire and reading everything from occult to philosophy.  
He had sent some of his poems to Paul Verlaine, and in 1871 the older poet invited him to Paris. The Parisian literati rejected him as an arrogant and boorish drunken youth, but he and Verlaine became lovers. Their relationship was intense and explosive to say the least. Rimbaud and Verlaine were played by Leonardo Di Caprio and David Thewlis in the biographical film 'Total Eclipse'.
Before his twentieth birthday, Arthur Rimbaud quit writing. After learning German, Arabic, Hindustani and Russian, he set off on a series of adventures that included crossing the Alps on foot, enlisting in and then deserting the Dutch army, joining a German circus bound for Scandinavia, travelling to Egypt and working as a labourer in Cyprus.  At each step, he suffered setbacks of illness and hardship.During a battle with typhoid fever in 1879, Rimbaud decided to abandon his wanderings and settle down. In the employ of a coffee trader from Aden, he became the first white man to journey into the Ogaden region of Ethiopia and eventually became involved in arms-trading. While in Ethiopia, Rimbaud lived with a native woman and the home they shared became a mecca for travelling Europeans.

He returned to Marseilles in June of 1891. His right leg was amputated, probably due to the complications of syphilis, and he was nursed for a time by his tender sister Isabelle who claimed that in his last days he again accepted the Catholic faith of his childhood. He died in Marseille on November 10, 1891.
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 Arthur Rimbaud was buried at Charleville-Mezieres, Ardennes, France
Rimbaud and Verlaine
Paul Verlaine was born ten years earlier than Rimbaud, in 1844. The spoiled, only child of an army officer, Verlaine displayed early talent as well as audacity -- he sent his first poem, at age 14, to the master, Victor Hugo. Upon graduation from the Lycee Bonaparte in Paris, he worked by day as a clerk, and spent his nights writing, drinking and carousing in the literary cafes with his contemporaries, Stephane Mallarme, Villiers de Isle-Adam, and Anatole France. This group later became known as the Symbolists, a revolutionary group of artists who sought to convey meaning by suggestion rather than direct statement. The movement later included the playwright Maurice Maeterlinck and the composer Claude Debussy.  
In 1869, at the age of 23, Verlaine fell in love with the 16-year-old Mathilde Maute, and they married the following year. In the beautiful and innocent Mathilde, Verlaine fervently hoped that he had found his muse, one that would save him from his increasing dissolution. In late August of 1871, at the advice of a friend, Rimbaud had sent copies of some new poetry to Verlaine in Paris, who was taken aback by the brilliance of the work. Verlaine summoned him to Paris. From their first encounter, Verlaine was powerfully drawn to Rimbaud, whose arrogance and provocative behaviour shocked Mathilde and her parents, with whom they lived, as well as the established literary circles of Paris. Pregnant with their first child, Mathilde was frightened by Rimbaud's growing power over her husband. The two men formed a passionate relationship that was often fuelled by absinthe and hashish and characterized by love and cruelty, inspiration and antagonism, separations and reconciliations. Rimbaud's drug taking and generally unclean living eventually alienated everyone except Verlaine. In 1872, Verlaine left his wife. He and Rimbaud moved to London. Rimbaud, who was not above flirting with Mathilde as well as Verlaine, had encouraged him to leave her. Although he was powerless against his obsession with Rimbaud, Verlaine also loved his wife and he was torn by his desperate need for both loves. After repeated rejections, Mathilde finally left Verlaine for good, with their baby son. By 1873, Rimbaud was disenchanted by his relationship with Verlaine. During a drunken argument in Brussels, Verlaine shot at Rimbaud, hitting him once in the wrist. Rimbaud was tired of their downward spiral and called in the police. Verlaine was sent to prison for 18 months. Rimbaud, feeling both guilty and exhilarated, wrote feverishly, completing 'A Season in Hell.'
While Verlaine was in prison, Rimbaud returned to Roche, near his childhood home, and finished A Season in Hell, an account of his spiritual descent and his failure in art and love. Although it is now thought of as one of his greatest works, Rimbaud was discouraged by its reception and is said to have burned the manuscript. While in prison, and forced into abstinence of both alcohol and sex, Verlaine rediscovered his Roman Catholicism. Upon his release, he sought out Rimbaud, and the two met for the last time. When Rimbaud repulsed Verlaine's attentions, their relationship ended forever.
Alone, rejected by both Mathilde and Rimbaud, Verlaine went to England where he taught French and drawing for several years before returning to France. He continued to write and publish and his literary star began to rise. But by 1886, Verlaine once again relapsed into drink and debauchery. He died ten years later at the home of a prostitute.
To Verlaine       London, Friday afternoon (4 July 1873)
Come back, come back, my dear friend, my only friend, come back. I swear I shall be kind. If I was cross with you, it was a joke which I was obstinately determined to carry on; I repent of it more than can be said. Come back, it will be quite forgotten. How terrible that you should have taken that joke seriously. For two days I have not stopped crying. Come back. Be brave, dear friend. Nothing is lost. All you have to do is make another journey. We'll live here again, very brave and very patiently. Oh! I beg you! It's for your good, besides. Come back, you'll find all your things here. I hope you realize now that there was nothing real in our argument. That frightful moment! But you -- when I signalled to you to get off the boat -- why didn't you come? Have we lived together for two years to come to this? What are you going to do? If you won't come here, would you like me to come and meet you where you are?
Yes, I was in the wrong. Oh, you won't forget me, will you? No, you can't forget me. As for me, I still have you, here. Listen, answer your friend, must we not live together anymore? Be brave. Answer this quickly. I can't stay here much longer. Do not read this except with goodwill. Quick, tell me if I must come to you.
Yours, all my life.

To Verlaine       London, 5 July 1873
My dear friend,
I have your letter which is headed 'At sea'. You are wrong, this time, very wrong. To begin with, there is nothing positive in your letter. You wife is not coming, or she is coming in three months, three years, whatever. As for kicking the bucket, I know you too well. And so you are going - while you wait for your wife and for death - to struggle, to wander about, and to bore people. What! don't you realize that our anger was false, on both sides? But you will be in the wrong at the end, because, even after I called you back, you persisted in your unreal feelings. Do you think that your life will be happier with other people than it was with me? Think about it! Oh! surely not!

It is only with me that you can be free, and since I swear to be very nice to you in the future, and deplore the whole part of my part in the wrong, and since my head is clear, at last, and I like you very much, if you don't want to come back, or for me to join you, you are committing a crime, and you will do penance for it for LONG YEARS TO COME, by losing all your freedom, and by sufferings more terrible perhaps than you have undergone. When you read this, think of what you were before you knew me!

For myself, I'm not going back to my mother's. I am going to Paris. I shall try to be gone by Monday evening. You will have compelled me to sell all your suits, I can't do anything else. They aren't sold yet: they are not coming to get them from me until Monday evening. If you want to write me in Paris, send letters to L. Forain, 289 rue Saint-Jacques (for A. Rimbaud). He will know my address.

One thing is certain: if your wife comes back, I shall never compromise you by writing to you - I shall never write. One single true word: it is, come back. I want to be with you, I love you. If you listen to this, you will prove your courage and sincerity. Otherwise, I'm sorry for you.

But I love you, I kiss you and we'll see each other again.
until Monday evening - or Tuesday midday, if you send me word.

"After the first glass, you see things as you wish they were. After the second, you see things as they are not. Finally, you see things as they really are, which is the most horrible thing in the world."  Oscar Wilde
Both Rimbaud and Verlaine were well acquainted with Absinthe which was en vogue with the Parisian artists of the time. Baudelaire, Manet, Wilde, Dowson, Degas, Lautrec, Van Gogh, Monticelli, and Gauguin all drank the "green fairy", some just experimenting, others completely immersed in her pleasures. Perhaps the most arousing attribute of absinthe is its strength. The average recipe renders 130 proof, and is far stronger than most anything available on the market today. The controversies surrounding the health conditions of absinthe abusers, along with public outcry and fear have made the drink illegal in all but Spain and the Czech Republic. It's more than addictive, producing delirium and irrational behaviour when misused. Rimbaud used it for his work, as did many artists. Verlaine was one that abused it, and it eventually led to his early demise. His addiction and love of absinthe was the source of his sorrow, and naturally therefore the subject of many of his works. 
Said Verlaine: 'For me, my glory is but an humble ephemeral absinthe drunk on the sly, with fear of treason and if I drink no longer, it is for good reason!'

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