Arthur Rimbaud Biography

Jean Nicolas Arthur Rimbaud was a 19th-century French poet whose profound influence on the Symbolist movement and surrealism cannot be overstated. Despite his young age, Rimbaud displayed exceptional talent and wrote prolifically for a brief period before abruptly abandoning his literary pursuits. Raised in a troubled household, he faced the challenges of an overbearing mother and the absence of his father, resulting in a melancholic and solitary childhood. Seeking solace in writing, Rimbaud poured his emotions onto paper, producing a vast collection of poems. However, in his early 20s, he abruptly ceased writing and embarked on a new career as a merchant, driven by his restless nature and libertine lifestyle. During his travels, Rimbaud maintained a strong correspondence with his loved ones, with many of his letters later published. Notably, he engaged in a passionate and tumultuous romantic relationship with fellow poet Paul Verlaine, which endured for two years. Sadly, Rimbaud’s life took a tragic turn in his mid-30s when he was diagnosed with what was initially thought to be arthritis, but was later revealed to be cancer. He ultimately succumbed to the illness, leaving behind a legacy of extraordinary poetic genius.

Quick Facts

  • French Celebrities Born In October
  • Also Known As: Jean Nicolas Arthur Rimbaud
  • Died At Age: 37
  • Family:
    • Spouse/Ex-: Mathilde Mauté
    • Father: Frédéric Rimbaud
    • Mother: Marie-Catherine-Vitalie Cuif
    • Siblings: Isabelle Rimbaud, Jean Nicolas Frédéric, Victorine Pauline Vitalie, Vitalie Rimbaud
  • Born Country: France
  • Quotes By Arthur Rimbaud
  • Bisexual
  • Height: 5’10” (178 cm), 5’10” Males
  • Died on: November 10, 1891
  • Place of death: Marseille, France
  • Cause of Death: Bone Cancer

Childhood & Early Life

Arthur Rimbaud was born on 20 October 1854, in Charleville, France. His father, Frédéric Rimbaud, was an infantry captain of Provençal heritage. He was known to be good-tempered and easy-going. His mother, Marie Catherine Vitalie, was a farmer’s daughter. She was a devout Catholic with rigid beliefs.

Arthur was his parents’ second child. He had one elder brother and three younger siblings, of whom one died as an infant.

His parents had a troubled marriage that lasted around seven years. His father was hardly ever home and didn’t attend his children’s births or baptisms. Though the couple never divorced, his father abandoned the family in 1860, leaving his estranged wife to raise the children single-handedly.

Arthur had a difficult relationship with his mother, an overbearing and authoritarian woman. She expected him to excel in studies and often abused him for trivial reasons. This kindled in the young boy a dislike for authority and formal education.

He was drawn to literature from a young age and was a voracious reader. He began composing poems as a teenager and won the first prize for a Latin poem at the Concours Académique in 1870.

Later Life

Arthur Rimbaud began writing in earnest when he was 16. Lonely and unhappy, he channeled his angst into his poems, expressing his disgust with the constraints of small-town life. He loathed religion as well and longed for a life free from the bondage of all sorts.

The Franco-Prussian War broke out in 1870. During this time, Arthur ran away to Paris, where he was arrested and locked up in Mazas Prison. He secured his release with the help of his former teacher and returned home. He ran away once again after a few days.

In the 1870s, he began leading the life of a vagabond, taking to heavy drinking and adopting a rude demeanor. He also stole things from others. Interestingly, this period also saw marked productivity in his literary career–he wrote almost all of his poetry between 1870 and 1875.

He quit writing in 1875 and began looking for other means to placate his restlessness. He studied several languages and enlisted as a soldier in the Dutch Colonial Army in 1876 to get free passage to Java in the Dutch East Indies. A few months later, he deserted the army and fled into the forest. He eventually returned to France by ship.

In late 1878, he went to Larnaca in Cyprus. There, he took up a job as a stone quarry foreman in a construction company. He fell ill after a few months and had to return to France.

He spent the ensuing months traveling from one place to another and finally settled in Aden, Yemen, in 1880. He found employment in the Bardey agency and went on to run the firm’s branch in Harar, Ethiopia.

In 1884, he quit his job to start his own business dealing in coffee and firearms among other goods. The first European to set up a business there, he found considerable success in the coffee trade. Despite being a successful merchant, he continued to be dissatisfied with life.

Major Works

One of Arthur Rimbaud’s best-known works is Voyelles, a sonnet in alexandrines he composed even before he turned 17. In this poem, he associates the different characters of the vowels with different colors. It is one of the most studied French-language poems.

His extended poem in prose Une Saison en Enfer was written and published in 1873. Critic Bernard Mathieu describes the work as “a terribly enigmatic poem” as it can be interpreted in numerous entirely incompatible ways.

Relationship With Paul Verlaine

As a teenager looking to become a poet, Arthur Rimbaud wrote letters to several poets, including Paul Verlaine. Verlaine was intrigued by Rimbaud’s poems and invited him for a visit.

Rimbaud and Verlaine met for the first time in September 1871. At that time, Verlaine was married to a young woman called Mathilde, and the couple was expecting a child.

Despite being married, Verlaine became smitten with the teenage Arthur Rimbaud and began a torrid affair with him. The two started living a vagabond-like life, drinking heavily and abusing drugs. Verlaine abandoned his wife and newborn baby during this time.

The relationship between Rimbaud and Verlaine was often a violent one. The men fought frequently. Once, Verlaine took a pistol and fired two shots at Rimbaud in a fit of rage and injured the young man. Following this incident, Verlaine was arrested and sentenced to two years in prison.

Illness & Death

Arthur Rimbaud developed severe pain in his right knee in early 1891. He was in Aden at that time. Initially, he thought it was arthritis and sought treatment. However, the knee failed to heal, and a doctor recommended immediate amputation, suspecting it to be tubercular synovitis.

He returned to France for better treatment, and his right leg was amputated. Post-operation, he was diagnosed with bone cancer. He spent the next few months in great pain and died on 10 November 1891. He was just 37.

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