ARTHUR RIMBAUD, French poet born (d. 1891); a French poet, born in Charleville. His influence on modern literature, music and art has been pervasive. Born into the provincial middle class of Charleville (now part of Charleville-Mezieres) in the Ardennes departmement in northeastern France. He was the second child of Captain Frédéric and Vitalie Rimbaud (née Cuif). It is evident through his writing that he never felt loved by his mother. As a boy he was a restless but brilliant student. By the age of fifteen he had won many prizes and composed original verses and dialogues in  Latin. In 1870 his teacher Georges Izambard became Rimbaud’s literary mentor and his original French verses began to improve rapidly.

He frequently ran away from home and may have briefly joined the Paris Commune of 1871, which he portrayed in his poem L’orgie parisenne (The Parisian Orgy or, “Paris Repopulates”). He may have been raped by drunken Communard soldiers (as his poem Le Coeur supplicié (“The Tortured Heart”) perhaps suggests). By this time he had become an anarchist, started drinking and amused himself by shocking the local bourgeoisie with his shabby dress and long hair. At the same time he wrote to Izambard and Paul Demeny about his method for attaining poetical transcendence or visionary power through a “long, intimidating, immense and rational derangement of all the senses” (Les lettres du Voyant [“The Letters of the Seer”]).

He returned to Paris in late September 1871 at the invitation of the eminent Symbolist poet Paul Verlaine (after Rimbaud had sent him a letter containing several samples of his work) and resided briefly in Verlaine’s home. Verlaine, who was married, promptly fell in love with the sullen, blue-eyed, overgrown (5 ft 10 in), light-brown-haired adolescent. They became lovers and led a wild, vagabond-like life spiced by absinthe and hashish. They scandalized the Parisian literary coterie on account of the outrageous behavior of Rimbaud, the archetypical enfant terrible, who throughout this period continued to write strikingly visionary verse. Rimbaud’s and Verlaine’s stormy love affair took them to London in September 1872, Verlaine abandoning his wife and infant son (both of whom he had abused in his alcoholic rages).

In July 1873, Rimbaud committed himself to journey to Paris with or without Verlaine. In a drunken rage, Verlaine shot at him, one of the two shots striking the 18-year-old in the left wrist. Rimbaud considered the wound superficial and at first did not have Verlaine charged. After this, Verlaine and his mother accompanied Rimbaud to a Brussels train station where Verlaine “behaved as if he were insane”. This made Rimbaud “fear that he might give himself over to new excesses”, so he turned and ran away. In his words, “it was then I (Rimbaud) begged a police officer to arrest him (Verlaine).” Verlaine was arrested and subjected to a humiliating medico-legal examination, including his intimate correspondence with his lover and the accusations of Verlaine’s wife about the nature of their relationship. Rimbaud eventually withdrew the complaint, but the judge sentenced Verlaine to two years in prison.

Rimbaud returned home to Charleville and completed his Une Saison en Enfer (A Season in Hell) in prose, widely regarded as one of the pioneering instances of modern Symbolist writing and a description of that “drôle de ménage” (domestic farce) life with Verlaine, his “pitoyable frère” (“pitiful brother”) and “vierge folle” (“mad virgin”) to whom he was “l’époux infernal” (“infernal groom”). In 1874 he returned to London with the poet German Nouveau and put together his groundbreaking Illuminations, including the first-ever two French poems in free verse. Eventually, he wandered the world, finally becoming a trader in Abyssinia. He died, aged 37, with the name of his faithful native boy, Djani, on his lips.