Jean Nicolas Arthur Rimbaud (October 20, 1854 Charleville, France – November 10, 1891 Marseille, France) was a precocious boy-poet of French symbolism and wrote some of the most remarkable poetry and prose of the 19th century. His highly suggestive, subtle work drew on subconscious sources, and its form was correspondingly supple and novel.
Rimbaud was born at Charleville, a small French town on the Meuse near the borders of Belgium. He was the second son of a Captain Rimbaud, a Bourguignon, and, coming to Mezieres with his regiment in 1852, married, apparently for her dowry, Vitalie Cuff, the daughter of a prosperous farmer of Roche, near Charleville.
Rimbaud's rebellion against the bigoted, false, pretentious bourgeois life he knew burst in obscenities and blasphemies in his poetry of this period, but at the same time he was formulating the theories of poetry that were to shape his later work and to some extent his life.
In his attempts to communicate his visions to the reader, Rimbaud became one of the first modern poets to shatter the constraints of traditional metric forms and those rules of versification that he had already mastered so brilliantly. He decided to let his visions determine the form of his poems.
Along with his idol and fellow street-poet Baudelaire, he broke literature out of the academy, writing about subjects too taboo and worldly to be addressed by the preening dullard literati, taking poetry for a waltz in the gutter and bringing new life to it by making it real again.
Rimbaud, once dubbed the "enfant Shakespeare" by Victor Hugo, wrote The Drunken Boat and A Season in Hell, two of the most enduring and influential works of the French Symbolist movement, all before the age of 20.
Their affair lasted through 3 countries until 1873 when Verlaine, prone to drunken rages, shot Rimbaud in the wrist and was later arrested and inprisoned. In 1874, Rimbaud wrote the last of his poetic works, "Illuminations". Incredibly, he was only 19 years old.
Rimbaud's poetry has been called hallucinatory because the poet seems to write not of material reality but of his dreamworld; his technique anticipates the symbolists in its suggestiveness, its abstract verbal music, and its images drawn from the subconscious. "Le Bateau ivre" ("The Drunken Boat") is an outstanding example.
He had concluded that poets must break through conventional morality and restraint in order to explore human experience. He sent some of his poems to Symbolist poet Paul Verlaine, who sent him money to travel to Paris and stay with him and his wife. Verlaine and Rimbaud became lovers, and Verlaine left his wife in 1872 for Rimbaud.
On May 15, 1871, Rimbaud wrote his famous Lettre du voyant: "I say that one must be a seer, make himself a seer. The Poet makes himself a seer by a long, immense and reasoned derangement of all the senses.... He exhausts in himself all the poisons, to preserve only their quintessences.... For he arrives at the unknown ...."
After years of wandering, Rimbaud lived as an African explorer, trader, and gunrunner. In 1888 he was at Harar working for an exporter of coffee, hides, and musk. A tumor of the knee forced his return to Marseilles in 1891, where his right leg was amputated. He died in the hospital there on Nov. 10, 1891, at the age of 37.