Rimbaud, (Jean-Nicolas-) Arthur biographical name
(born Oct. 20, 1854, Charleville, Francedied Nov. 10, 1891, Marseille) French poet and adventurer. The provincial son of an army captain, he had begun by age 16 to write violent, blasphemous poems, and he formulated an aesthetic doctrine stating that a poet must become a seer, break down the restraints and controls on personality, and thus become the instrument for the voice of the eternal. He was invited to Paris by Paul Verlaine, with whom he had a homosexual relationship and engaged in a wild and dissipated life. The Drunken Boat (written 1871), perhaps his finest poem, displays his astonishing verbal virtuosity and a daring choice of images and metaphors. In Les Illuminations (written 1872–74), a collection of mainly prose poems, he tried to abolish the distinction between reality and hallucination. A Season in Hell (1873), which alternates prose passages with dazzling lyrics, became his farewell to poetry at age 19. After they had a falling-out, Verlaine shot and wounded Rimbaud; afterward their final meeting ended in a violent quarrel. Rimbaud abandoned literature and from 1875 led an international vagabond life as a merchant and trader, mainly in Ethiopia; he died at age 37 after his leg was amputated. The Dionysian power of his verse and his liberation of language from the constraints of form greatly influenced the Symbolist movement and 20th-century poetry.
Rimbaud, detail from Un Coin de table, oil painting by Henri Fantin-Latour, 1872; in
—Giraudon/Art Resource, New York
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