Arthur Rimbaud by Vincent Smith
Arthur Rimbaud was born in Charleville in 1954. He was a prodigy but also a bit of a delinquent, rude and undisciplined. One of his teachers made a prophetic statement – “he is intelligent but has eyes and a smile I do not like … he will end badly. He will be the genius of good or evil”. As a teenager he ran away to Paris on several occasions and tried unsuccessfully to get his poems published. Later he thought of sending copies to the established poet Paul Verlaine, who invited him to come to Paris to stay with him and his family. However, Rimbaud was so dirty, unkempt and rude that he upset everybody and was ordered out of the house. Verlaine was so besotted with the young genius that he went with him and they spent a period living together and having a homosexual relationship. They went to London and worked as French teachers, but Verlaine wanted to end the affair and one evening after a drunken quarrel he produced a pistol and fired two shots at Rimbaud. He was arrested and although Rimbaud was not seriously hurt, was imprisoned for two years.
Rimbaud took up with another writer, Germain Nouveau and in 1874 went with him to London. But Nouveau saw the danger to his own reputation of being associated with Rimbaud and he quickly ended their relationship.
Rimbaud gave up his literary pretensions and spent the rest of his life wandering around Europe and farther afield, doing largely unsavoury jobs. He worked as a mercenary in Java and a gun runner in Ethiopia, where, under the cover of a legitimate business he was also involved in the slave trade. In 1891 he developed what was almost certainly bone cancer and had an unpleasant last few months. He had a leg amputated but the cancer spread rapidly and he died in late 1891 at the age of 37. All his poetry had been written before the age of 21, yet he had an important influence on the direction poetry was to take.
One of his most famous poems is about vowels, in which he assigns a different colour to each one. Much has been written trying to analyse the meaning, but Rimbaud himself said it had none, that he was just experimenting with ideas and sounds. Here it is in the original, followed by a literal translation.
Both the original French and the English versions can be found here