Arthur Rimbaud was an "angel in exile", according to his lover and fellow poet Paul Verlaine. But Rimbaud's terrorising of established literary figures (calling them "cunty" or "ink-shitter") and his hosts (he once spiked a glass of milk with his own semen) meant that few shared Verlaine's admiration. He was born on this day in 1854
法 韓波 (Rimbaud) "在地獄裏一季" (莫渝譯 ，高雄:大舞台書苑 ，1978)
Rimbaud "彩畫集" (王道乾譯， 台北:麥田， 2005)
Rimbaud Arthur (Jean-Nicolas-Arthur Rimbaud) (1854-91). Few poets can have acquired so high a reputation as Arthur Rimbaud on the basis of so slender an œuvre and so brief a career. From the moment his legendary Illuminations saw print in 1886, the sheer inventiveness of his writings, seemingly indissociable from the eventfulness of his life, has been the subject of fervent and noisy debate, to the extent that the strict data of biography and literary production are now engulfed in innumerable theories and conflicting interpretations. Rimbaud remains the outstanding example in French literature of a meteoric talent giving rise to enduring controversy.
A crude summary of his life reduces it to two stretches of relatively steady existence on either side of the eruptive creative adventure at its centre. A model schoolboy, Rimbaud seemed content to please his mother by gaining annual prizes at his college in Charleville (in the Ardennes), until his early satirical verse began to voice his hatred of an environment he saw as totally debilitating, with abrasive attacks on the sanctity of bourgeois routine in ‘A la musique’, on Christianity in ‘Les Premières Communions’, and on orthodox notions of the beautiful in ‘Vénus Anadyomène’, a sonnet about a hag stepping from her bath-tub. Disruptions to local life due to the Prussian invasion of mid-1870 coincided with symptomatic episodes when the teenager repeatedly ran away from home; it is thought he may have witnessed the brief apogee of the Paris Commune in the spring of 1871. The period of his late teens (c.1870-c.1874) saw the abrupt flowering of a unique talent as, like a gambler whose daring never fails, Rimbaud moved in the space of a few months from structured verse through progressively more liberated verse (the poems known as ‘Derniers vers’) and on to the prose poem, of which he would become one of the first masters. In September 1871, still not yet 17, he had tucked into his pocket an astonishing poem, ‘Le Bateau ivre’—a maritime allegory of the visionary process—and taken leave of Charleville, journeying to Paris to take the literary establishment by storm. Almost at once he entered on a turbulent erotic relationship with Verlaine, and travelled with him to London, the backdrop to several of the dream-like scenarios elaborated in Illuminations. After a violent break with Verlaine, Rimbaud spent some years drifting through casual jobs in northern and southern Europe, having by now effectively abandoned literature. By the end of the decade he had also abandoned Europe, pursuing a mercantile career in the obscure regions of Abyssinia, and only returning to his homeland because of illness. He died in Marseille in 1891, aged 37.
The terms of the Rimbaud legend were dictated by Verlaine, who first dubbed him a poète maudit and published Illuminations without their author's knowledge as the relics of a genius who had touched perfection and then moved on to the alternative ascesis of day-to-day existence. This narrative of striving and renunciation is consistent with the confessional themes of Une saison en enfer, completed in the summer of 1873, where the writer describes ecstatic visions which he later relinquishes because of the physical torment they entail. A plausible interpretation of the chapter ‘L'Alchimie du verbe’, when read in conjunction with two earlier texts which had excitedly announced the new visionary approach, the so-called ‘Lettres du voyant’ of May 1871, is that Rimbaud induced actual states of voyance by way of drugs and alcohol and then transliterated his experiences into an image-laden idiom embodying ‘l'hallucination des mots’. The 40-odd prose pieces of the Illuminations cycle amount to a phantasmagorical documentation of the creative process, one which charts the itinerary of a consciousness visited by chimerical spectacles, by turns monstrous and ravishing and seemingly inseparable from the literary tropes wherein they find expression. Cryptic allusions to apocalyptic omens and ineffable harmonies, and the hint that ‘illumination’ is a transcendental (and thus extra-literary) event, have laid such texts open to religious readings which cast their author in the role of an unorthodox prophet. Other readings stress the virtuosity of a poetic discourse which marries baffling enigma to thrilling suggestion, and at a stroke transforms the reading experience from one of intellectual construal to one of emotional participation. ‘J'ai seul la clef de cette parade sauvage’, the poet warns us, although recent research indicates that many of his impenetrable formulations embody empirical references to contemporary society. Yet to acknowledge that Rimbaud's mature work echoes the lexical and cultural codes of his age is not necessarily to reduce all he wrote to mimetic explicitness and a univocal legibility. The irreducible strength of Rimbaud's ‘alchemy of the word’ remains its sheer rhetorical confidence, the inimitable assertiveness, the beguiling violence, of its imagery and tone.
- Y. Bonnefoy, Rimbaud par lui-même (1961)
- R. G. Cohn, The Poetry of Rimbaud (1973)
- A. Kittang, Discours et jeu: essai d'analyse des textes d'Arthur Rimbaud (1975)
- A. Borer (ed.), L'Œuvre-Vie d'Arthur Rimbaud (1991)