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On this day in 1854 the French poet Arthur Rimbaud was born.
Rimbaud was born a country boy in the Ardennes in Northern France. He went to Paris as a teenager and was befriended by the older and married, but decadent poet Paul Verlaine. The two fell in love and ran away together causing great scandal. Both were heavy alcohol and drug users and the relationship soon went sour. It finally ceased when Verlaine fired a revolver at Rimbaud, slightly wounding him – for this he was later imprisoned.
Rimbaud felt that his inspiration came from excess and degradation, as he tried to explain in a letter: ‘I’m now making myself as scummy as I can. Why? I want to be a poet, and I’m working at turning myself into a seer. You won’t understand any of this, and I’m almost incapable of explaining it to you. The idea is to reach the unknown by the derangement of all the senses. It involves enormous suffering, but one must be strong and be a born poet. It’s really not my fault.’
Many poets have sought inspiration this way; Dylan Thomas called himself ‘the Rimbaud of Cwmdonkin Drive’. Rimbaud’s poetry had been described as surreal and visionary, and has inspired countless writers since. Although he lived to the age of 37, he wrote all his poetry before he was 21. The brief firework that was his genius – its flowering and sudden extinction, still astonishes us. Here is an example, Flowers:
From a terrace of gold – among threads of silk, grey gauze, green velvets and crystal discs that darken like bronze in the sun – I watch the foxglove open on a carpet of silver filigree, eyes and hair.
Yellow gold coins sprinkled on agate, mahogany columns supporting an emerald dome, bunches of white satin and fine sprays of rubies surround the rose of water.
Like a god with vast blue eyes and snowy forms, sea and sky draw hosts of young and vigorous roses to the terraces of marble. (Translated by Oliver Bernard).
Today I give thanks for the appearance of genius in our mundane lives.