Historical Figures

Arthur Rimbaud - Short biography

Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891) is a French poet with a precocious genius who largely contributed to revolutionizing poetry, before abandoning it abruptly at the dawn of his twenties. Rimbaud will have marked literature as much by his life, which took hold of the myth, as by his unprecedented work, the foundation of the modern poetic revolution and a source of inspiration for the surrealist current. His passionate and tumultuous relationship with Verlaine would become legendary. Revolted against power, religion and war, he leaves a revolutionary work, aroused by passion and a thirst for thrills. This ultimate quest will lead him to the Middle East where he will lead an adventurous life before dying in 1891 at the age of 37.

Arthur Rimbaud, a poet's youth

Arthur Rimbaud was born on October 20, 1854 in Charleville, in the Ardennes. His father was an infantry captain, rarely present at the family home, which he ended up leaving definitively in 1860. His mother, of peasant origin and very pious, raised her five children alone, imposing strict discipline on them. Entering college in 1865, the young Arthur distinguished himself in religious education. He also excelled in composing verses in Latin and secretly addressed a poem to the Prince Imperial, son of Napoleon III. On his mother's orders, he takes private lessons. A teacher has a premonitory judgment concerning him “Intelligent as much as you want; but will end badly”...

Rimbaud read a lot, mainly poetry, with a predilection for romanticism:from lamartine to Vigny, from Victor Hugo to Musset and Baudelaire. The “Contemporary Parnassus ”, a collective work published in 1866 introduced him to new poets such as Théophile Gautier, banville and … Verlaine. Enrolled in a famous institution in Charleville, Rimbaud led a brilliant education there, winning an academic competition, while sliding towards anticlericalism. He caught the attention of one of his teachers, George Izambard, who taught him rhetoric. The latter encourages the young student to develop his talents as a poet. The Valley Sleeper will look like the many poems written by Rimbaud at that time.

A rebellious and rebellious adolescent (he had read Zola), Rimbaud often ran away to the capital, where he tried to get in touch with the circle of Parnassus, led by Banville. He arrived in Paris in the midst of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 and tried unsuccessfully to enlist in the National Guard (he was not of age). Forced to return to Charleville, Rimbaud refuses to resume his schooling and pass his baccalaureate, and returns to Paris, besieged by the Prussians. He is expected there by Théodore de Banville and especially Paul Verlaine, already convinced by the few poems that Rimbaud sent them. Equipped with, among other things, the famous "Bateau ivre », Rimbaud began to frequent the Parisian literary community, where he shocked as much as he fascinated.

The Rimbaud-Verlaine couple

Quickly isolated because of his insolence and the jealousies aroused by his talent, Rimbaud clings to Verlaine who takes him in . During their affair, which has become public knowledge, he wrote many prose poems evoking the inner journey of the Seer carried away by hallucinations (long and immense and reasoned disruption), allowing him to reach "superhuman" sensations (The Drunk Boat, The Illuminations ). In February 1872, Rimbaud, tired of the conflict with his companion's in-laws and disappointed by the world of letters, put an end to his stay in Paris and moved to Charleville. In July 1872, he convinced Verlaine to abandon his wife and leave Paris for Brussels. There he frequented the community of communards in exile and composed poems on the theme of travel.

On July 22, Verlaine is joined by his wife who tries to convince him to resume married life. Verlaine pretends to consent to it but leaves her to find Rimbaud. In August 1873, a police report will indicate:“The two lovers were seen in Brussels, openly practicing their love….” Their affair will however be tumultuous and interspersed with numerous separations and reunions.

On July 10, 1873, tired of Verlaine's inconsistency, Rimbaud announced to his lover his intention of leaving him for good. Verlaine buys a revolver and, after alcohol and other stormy discussions, shoots his companion, wounding him in the left wrist. Treated, Rimbaud persists in his decision to leave. On the way to the station, fearing new threats from Verlaine, he alerted a police officer. Verlaine was arrested and imprisoned in prison on July 11 for attempted murder. Before leaving Brussels, Rimbaud renounces on July 19 all criminal, correctional and civil action against Verlaine. Rimbaud moves to Roche with his mother to finish his latest collection, Une saison en enfer .

Arthur Rimbaud:the man with the soles of wind

Rimbaud gave up writing definitively when he reached adulthood, in a sudden, almost incomprehensible way. In 1874, he was in London as a tutor. The following year he traveled to Italy and Germany, devoting himself to the intensive study of foreign languages ​​(German, Italian, Russian, Arabic). After a stay in Vienna where he was stripped of his money, Rimbaud enlisted in the Dutch army for 300 florins and left for Java. He deserted as soon as he arrived and returned to France and Charleville on a Scottish ship.

He multiplied the adventures, which led him to Scandinavia, Egypt, then to Cyprus, where he became supervisor of worksite. Disagreeing with his employers, he leaves for the African shores of the Red Sea “to find something to do in Abyssinia ". In Aden, he was hired by the Vianney company, which traded in hides, coffee and ivory. In this Arabian port, he rubbed shoulders with various and underworld circles. weapons, hoping to make a fortune.

He eventually settled in Ethiopia, where for the rest of his life he would lead a strange life as an adventurous trader. In November 1891, a suspicious leg injury forced him to return to France. Amputated upon his arrival, he died at the age of thirty-seven, as a result of his illness (cancer?), leaving behind him one of the most original and richest works of French literature.

Arthur Rimbaud marked literature as much by his life as by his work, his taste for wandering often resulting in a certain adventure of language. This new form of poetic writing has profoundly influenced modern poetry, especially the Surrealists.


- Rimbaud by Jean-Baptiste Baronian. Folio biography, 2009.

- Arthur Rimbaud:The Thief of Fire by Sarah Cohen-Scali. Pocket, 2007.

To go further

- Arthur Rimbaud:a biography. Documentary, DVD, Arte Video, 2005.