Arthur Rimbaud Biography (Page 2)
Arthur & Paul In Love: Absinthe & Poetry
In August 1871, Arthur sents some of his latest poems to the then already
established poet Paul Verlaine. Verlaine instantly recognizes the young
man's potential and invites Rimbaud to Paris, writing him:
"Come, dear great soul, you are called, you are awaited".
Paul Verlaine (left) and Arthur Rimbaud. Painting by Fantin-Latour
Rimbaud visits him in September, by then having written
yet another poem titled The Drunken Boat. Arthur's rude, respectless
and scandalous behavior soon makes Verlaine's family despise him. Since
Verlaine is living in the house of his wife Mathilde Mauté de Fleurville's
parents but personally has become fond of Arthur, he finds lodging for
Rimbaud in the home of friends.
Rimbaud and Verlaine work together and contribute to the collective Album
of the Circle Zutique, a group of poets founded by poet and inventor
Ernest Cabaner, a barman at the Hotel Des Étrangers, where they usually
meet, gives Rimbaud piano lessons during which he attributes certain colors
and vowels to the notes which is considered to be Rimbaud's inspiration
for the poem Vowels.
As the love affair between Rimbaud and Verlaine, which
has become ever more serious, becomes public, scandal ensues.
Partly suffering under the psychological strain, partly knowing that there
is no good reputation to be maintained anymore Verlaine is more and more
lured into adopting Rimbaud's lifestyle.
The two men frequently indulge in drink, get high on absinthe and opiate.
A Season In Hell
Verlaine's personality starts to deteriorate under the
pressure and steady influence of drugs; conjugal violence causes his wife
Mathilde and her son to leave home. In March 1872, Rimbaud sets off to
Charleville. Verlaine promises Mathilde to cut all ties with Arthur and
she agrees to return back home with their son.
But in May Rimbaud returns to Paris and manages to persuade Verlaine to
join him on his voyage to Brussels. They leave in July, regardless of
the pleading from Mathilde who follows them to the station, trying till
the moment of their departure to make her husband change his mind. All
efforts to save their marriage being in vain, she returns home alone and
files for divorce soon after.
Rimbaud and Verlaine in London, September - December 1872. Drawing
by Felix Régamey.
At the beginning of September Rimbaud and Verlaine move
to London, where they get in touch with the exiled communards Eugène Vermersh
and Félix Regamey and find a place to live at 34 Howland Street, near
Soho. Rimbaud starts writing on Illuminations and Verlaine completes
Romances sans Paroles.
As the news of his wife demanding legal separation reach Verlaine - his
alcoholism and fits of violence having been made public, as well - his
conscience starts to torment him; and when Rimbaud goes back to Charleville
for three weeks in December, Verlaine becomes even more depressive. He
writes Arthur who is moved to return, bringing Verlaine's mother with
Verlaine recovers and they continue working in London until April 4, 1873
as Verlaine's fervent wish to be reunited with his wife causes him to
leave for Namur, where Mathilde has settled; but she refuses to see Verlaine.
Feeling left alone, Arthur moves to Roche on April 11 and
starts to write A Season in Hell. At the beginning of July, Rimbaud
and Verlaine find together again, settling at 8 Great College Street,
Camden Town, London. Besides writing, the couple gives French lessons
to support themselves.
As their love affair becomes known in London as well, they're being excluded
from the group of communards they used to be a part of. Realizing that
his formerly "good reputation" is now completely lost forever and comprehending
that this also means that his wife's arguments for being granted a divorce
are now stronger than ever, Verlaine starts to drink again and gets into
fights with Arthur which become more and more serious and physical.
Love Is Depression Is Madness Is The Death Of Love
After one of these quarrels Verlaine leaves Rimbaud and moves back to
Brussels. Deeply missing both his wife and Rimbaud, he grows ever more
suicidal and also addresses suicide in his letters. His mother visits
him and Verlaine sends a telegram to Arthur asking him to come, too.
Rimbaud visits Verlaine, but as he lets him in on his intention
of traveling on to Paris soon, Verlaine, in rage, fires two shots at him.
One bullet gets stuck in Rimbaud's wrist.
After being treated at Saint-Jean Hospital, Rimbaud heads directly for
the station where Verlaine already awaits him to hinder his departure.
Rimbaud calls the police and Verlaine is arrested and sentenced to two
years in the prison of Petites Carmes on August 8, in spite of a repentant
Rimbaud having renounced the charges a day after Verlaine's arrest.
In despair, Arthur goes back to Roche where he finishes
A Season in Hell and has the manuscript printed in August.
In October, realizing he's unable to afford having more copies printed
he gives up on publishing a book and sends the few copies he already has
to a few friends also intending to have one brought to the imprisoned
Verlaine. Yet, since most of their mutual acquaintances are blaming Rimbaud
for Verlaine's misery, he encounters much hostility and resent.
In March 1874, Rimbaud returns to London joined by Germain Nouveau, a
poet who had helped him with his Illuminations. They live at 178
Stamford Street for a while, but as Nouveau realizes to what extent Rimbaud's
bad reputation might impact his young career he decides to go back to
Paris in June.
Depressed, Arthur writes a letter to his family, and in July his mother
and his sister Vitalie visit him. On July 31, Rimbaud leaves London to
work in Scarborough, goes back to Charleville in December and leaves again
on February 13, 1875 to work as a tutor in Stuttgart, where Verlaine,
recently having been released from prison, visits him on March 2.
It occurs to Rimbaud that the prison experience has turned
Verlaine into an almost hysterically religious person.
Verlaine stays for two days only, then travels back to Paris taking Rimbaud's
manuscript for Illuminations with him to see to that it's published.
It shall be the last time the two men meet.
As Arthur, broke again, sends Verlaine a letter asking
for financial support and upon receiving a negative answer writes back
one more letter full of insults, this marks the end of their friendship.
Verlaine continues to send letters to Rimbaud but never again receives
At the beginning of May, Rimbaud starts traveling again,
spends time in Stuttgart, Milan, Marseilles, Paris and returns to Charleville
in October, where he spends the winter studying Russian and Arabic, as
well as improving his piano play.
December 18, his sister Vitalie dies of tuberculosis synovitis and Arthur,
deeply saddened, shaves his head as a sign of mourning.
Arthur Rimbaud after having been robbed and stripped (Spring, 1876).
Drawing by Paul Verlaine.
In spring 1876, Rimbaud travels to Vienna where he's being
robbed. Not having any money left the police escorts him out of the country
and he returns to Charleville on foot. In May, he leaves for Belgium and
joins the colonial Dutch army which takes him to Batavia, where Rimbaud
deserts after three weeks and returns to Europe on a Scottish boat.
He spends the winter in Charleville again, then resumes his travels, visiting
Cologne and Bremen, then working as a translator for a circus that's touring
Denmark and Norway. His restlessness leads him to Marseilles, Rome, Paris
and Alexandria, always returning to Charleville in between and - becoming
ill more frequently now - spending some time in hospital.