The poet who came to symbolize alienated genius for French letters was the son of an army captain who deserted his family when his son was six years old. (Rimbaud cherished an image of this absent father as a man of action, a powerful force--while his mother represented restraint and weakness.) He was a brilliant student at a provincial school in Charleville, a town in northeastern France, until the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian war (July 1870), when the boy turned rebel and fled his home.
Almost a year of vagabondage followed. He had sent some of his poems to Paul Verlaine, and in 1871 the older poet invited him to Paris. The Parisian literati rejected him as an arrogant and boorish drunk, but he and Verlaine became lovers. Their difficult relationship continued sporadically over two years and was a source of the great spiritual disillusionment that formed the core of A Season in Hell. (It was during this time that Rimbaud wrote "The Spiritual Hunt," a poem that Verlaine called his masterpiece. The manuscript vanished during the pair's chaotic travels.) Soon after the affair ended, Rimbaud abandoned his writing. He had not yet attained the age of 20. In another dramatic transformation he became a trader and gunrunner in Africa. Eighteen years later, on Nov. 10, 1891, he died in Marseille following the amputation of his cancerous right leg.
Bibliography: Fowlie, Wallace, Rimbaud (1966) and, as trans., Complete Works with Selected Letters, by Arthur Rimbaud (1966); Frohock, Wilbur M., Rimbaud's Poetic Practice (1963); Houston, J. P., The Design of Rimbaud's Poetry (1963); Petitfils, P., Rimbaud (1988); St. Aubyn, Frederic Chase, Arthur Rimbaud, rev. ed. (1984); Starkie, Enid, Arthur Rimbaud, 3d ed. (1961; repr. 1978).
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