This 19th-century’s literary bad boy inspired writers and musicians like Jim Morrison, Bob Dylan, Patti Smith, and Jack Kerouac.

Arthur Rimbaud was a literary genius with a wild streak. His poetic symbolism and reckless behavior influenced the Surrealist movement and continues to inspire some of the world’s most prominent artists.

The second child of French army captain Frederic Rimbaud and wife Marie-Cathérine-Vitalie, Jean Nicolas Arthur Rimbaud was born on October 20, 1854, in Charleville, France. During his youth, Rimbaud excelled in school, where he studied Greek, Latin and French classics. After publishing his first poem at 15, Rimbaud attempted to run off to Paris but wound up in jail for hopping on the train without paying.

After his release, Rimbaud continued to pursue his literary career. Believing that poets must reject a conventional lifestyle to gain inspiration, the polite and neatly-dressed Rimbaud grew out his hair, dressed sloppily, and began to drink, steal, and offend most anyone who crossed his path.

Rimbaud falls in love

Rimbaud’s life took a dramatic twist when he fell in love with French poet Paul Verlaine. The two met after the 16-year-old poet wrote to the well-known Verlaine for advice. “Come, dear soul. We await you; we desire you,” Verlaine responded, sending Rimbaud a one-way ticket to Paris and inviting the young man to live in his home.

 

Photo Courtesy: [Henri Fantin-Latour/Wikipedia]
It wasn’t long before Verlaine left his wife and infant son to embark on a tempestuous love affair with the wild-haired teen. The two took off for London hoping their romance and literary careers would blossom. It wasn’t meant to be. Instead, the two lived in poverty and eventually wound up resenting each other.

Rimbaud encounters passion and a pistol

Unfortunately, Verlaine and Rimbaud’s tempestuous relationship was fueled by liberal amounts of absinthe, opium, and hashish. In 1873, the two lovers quarreled when Verlaine announced that he was leaving Rimbaud. Rimbaud eventually tracked Verlaine down, pleading for him to change his mind. On July 10, the inebriated couple’s spat in a hotel room culminated in a near-fatal fight when Verlaine pulled out a pistol and shot Rimbaud in the wrist.

The persistent Rimbaud had the wound quickly bandaged so he could return to Verlaine. Fed up with Rimbaud’s incessant begging, the drug-addled Verlaine was arrested after pointing the pistol at his paramour while the two argued in the street. Verlaine was sentenced to two years of hard labor, where he wrote some of his most popular poetry. The dramatic ending of their relationship resulted in Rimbaud writing one of his most popular works, Une Saison en Enfer (“A Season in Hell”).

“The sufferings are enormous, but one must be strong, be born a poet, and I have recognized myself as a poet.” – Arthur Rimbaud

Rimbaud’s leaves Verlaine and poetry behind

Rimbaud moved on from Verlaine and continued to write until 1875 when at the age of 21, he abruptly ditched his writing career to globetrot and work as a merchant. He joined the Dutch Colonial Army in 1876 to get free passage to Java, then deserted. His footloose and fancy-free lifestyle took him to Ethiopia, Cyprus, and Yemen.

In February 1891 Rimbaud left Aden and returned to France, hoping to seek treatment for severe knee pain that had been misdiagnosed as arthritis. His leg was amputated that May, which later resulted in a diagnosis of cancer. He died that November at the age of 37.

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