A Year: Day to Day Men: 20th of October

Working in the Heat

October 20, 1854 was the birthdate of poet Jean Nicolas Arthur Rimbaud.

Arthur Rimbaud was born in the provincial town of Charleville, France, to a father who was a military officer and a mother lacking in a sense of humor, who Rimbaud nicknamed “Mouth of Darkness”. Rimbaud was a writer from a young age; at the age of nine, he wrote a seven hundred word essay objecting to his having to learn Latin in school. In 1865, he and his brother were sent to the Collège de Charleville where he became a highly successful student able to absorb great quantities of knowledge. In 1869 Rimbaud won eight first prizes in the French academic competitions, and in 1870 won seven first prizes.

Arthur Rimbaud’s first poem to appear in print was “Les Étrennes des Orphelins” (“The Orphans’ New Year’s Gifts”), published in the January 2, 1870 issue of “La Revue Pour Tous”. At the age of fifteen Rimbaud was salready howing  maturity as a poet. His poem “Ophelie” would be included in many anthologies and is regarded as one of Rimbaud’s three or four best poems. From late October in 1870, Arthur Rimbaud’s behavior at the age of sixteen became rebellious, drinking, stealing, and writing scatological poems. His friend Charles Auguste Bretagne advised him to write to the eminent Symbolist poet Paul Verlaine.

Arthur Rimbaud sent Verlaine two letters with poems, including his hypnotic and shocking “Le Dormeur du Val”. Verlaine was intrigued and sent Rimbaud a one-way ticket to Paris. Rimbaud arrived in late September of 1871 and resided briefly with Verlaine and his pregnant wife at their home. Verlaine and Rimbaud led a wild, vagabond-style life, a short and torrid affair filled with absinthe, opium and hashish. The Paris literary circle were scandalized by Rimbaud, who still writing poetry, was considered an archetypical enfant terrible. Their stormy relationship brought them to London in September of 1872, where Verlaine abandoned Rimbaud to return to his wire.

Arthur Rimbaud eventually returned to Charleville and completed his prose work “Une Saison en Enfer”, A Season in Hell, widely regarded as a pioneer work of modern Symbolist writing. He returned to London in 1874 with the French Symbolist poet Germain Nouveau, whose work was mostly published after his death. They lived together for three months while Nouveau finished his work “Illuminations”. By March of 1875, Rimbaud had given up his writing in favor of a working and traveling life.

In February of 1891, in Aden, Rimbaud developed what he thought was arthritis in his right knee. Failing to respond to treatment, he returned to France. On arrival in Marseille,, he was admitted to the Hôspital de la Conception where, a week later on the 27th of May, his right leg was amputated. The post-operative diagnosis was bone cancer. After a short stay at the family farm in Roche, he attempted to return to Africa, but his health deteriorated. He was re-admitted to the same hospital and received last rites from a priest before dying on November 10, 1891 at the age of thirty-seven.

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