Arthur Rimbaud

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Rimbaud, Arthur

(ärtür` răNbō`), 1854–91, French poet who had a great influence on the symbolistssymbolists,
in literature, a school originating in France toward the end of the 19th cent. in reaction to the naturalism and realism of the period. Designed to convey impressions by suggestion rather than by direct statement, symbolism found its first expression in poetry but
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 and subsequent modern poets, b. Charleville. A defiant and precocious youth, Rimbaud at 16 sent some poems to VerlaineVerlaine, Paul
, 1844–96, French poet. He gained some notice with the Parnassian poetry of Poèmes saturniens (1866) and Fêtes galantes (1869) and became a figure in the bohemian literary world of Paris.
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, who liked his work and invited him to Paris. In 1872–73 the two poets lived together in London and Brussels. In a drunken quarrel Verlaine fired a pistol, wounding Rimbaud, and their relationship ended. Rimbaud returned home and finished Une Saison en enfer (1873), a confessional autobiography in which he renounces his former hellish life and his work. At an undetermined time he produced Les Illuminations, consisting of prose poems that transcend all traditional syntax and narrative elements.

Rimbaud is thought to have stopped writing poetry at the age of 19, and he never wrote another literary work. Thereafter, he wandered throughout Europe and N Africa, working in various jobs, from circus cashier to commercial traveler to African gunrunner, and engaging in numerous business ventures. Six months after the amputation of his leg due to cancer, he died in Marseilles at 37. 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. Rimbaud's works were published by Verlaine in several posthumous editions, the first complete collection appearing in 1898.


See W. Mason, ed. and tr., Rimbaud Complete (2002) and I Promise to Be Good: The Letters of Arthur Rimbaud (2003); biographies by E. Starkie (3d ed. 1961, repr. 1968), G. Robb (2000), and E. White (2008); studies by W. M. Frohock (1963), W. Fowlie (1966), R. G. Cohn (1974), K. Ross (1980), C. A. Hackett (1981), and C. Nicholl (1999).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Rimbaud, Arthur


Born Oct. 20, 1854, in Charleville; died Nov. 10, 1891, in Marseille. French poet.

Rimbaud grew up in a petit bourgeois environment. He studied in a lycée until 1871 but did not graduate. His poetry was influenced by T. de Banville, V. Hugo, and especially C. Baudelaire. Rimbaud sarcastically attacked the petite bourgeoisie in “The Assessors,” the Second Empire in “Caesar’s Rage” and religion in “The Punishment of Tartuffe” and “Evil.” He expressed hopes that society would become reorganized under the Republic in “The Blacksmith.”

Rimbaud’s subsequent disillusionment with the government of “national betrayal” brought on a personal crisis early in 1871. Periods of despair and ostentatious cynicism alternated with dreams of the supernatural power of a clairvoyant poet who could show humanity the way to a harmonious world order. The Paris Commune of 1871 gave Rimbaud renewed faith in social progress. He attempted to take a personal part in the struggle, and wrote such masterpieces of French revolutionary poetry as “Parisian Battle Song,” “Paris Is Filled With People Again,” and “The Hands of Jeanne-Marie” (1871). His poetry became imbued with realistic imagery, psychological insights, and satire, as seen in “The Seven-year-old Poets,” “Poor People in Church,” “The Sisters of Charity,” and the satirical verses in the Album Zutique. The onset of reaction had a detrimental effect on Rimbaud’s emotional state and his development as a poet.

Rimbaud’s transition to symbolism was seen in “The Drunken Ship” and the “Sonnet on Vowels.” During his symbolist period, he wrote Last Verses (1872) and the prose poems The Illuminations (written 1872–73, published 1886). The book A Season in Hell (1873), which combined a tragic stylistic incoherence with a devastating critique of symbolism, prepared the way for the poetic realism of the 20th century.

In the second half of the 1870’s, Rimbaud abandoned literature and after a long period of wandering was obliged in 1880 to become an agent of a commercial firm in Ethiopia.

During the 20th century, Rimbaud’s works have evoked a polemic between realists and modernists. The best of his poetic tradition influenced G. Apollinaire, P. Eluard, and the poets of the Resistance.


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Oeuvres. Paris [1966].
In Russian translation:
Stikhotvoreniia. Moscow, 1960.
[“Stikhi.”] In Ten’ derev’ev: Stikhi zarubezhnykh poetov v per. I. Erenburga. Moscow, 1969.


Livshits, B. K. Ot romantikov do siurrealistov. Leningrad [1934].
Balashov, N. “Rembo.” In Istoriia frantsuzskoi literatury, vol. 3. Moscow, 1959.
Balashov, N. “Blez Sandrar i problema poeticheskogo realizma XX v.” In B. Sandrar, Po vsemu miru. Moscow, 1974.
Etiemble, R., and Y. Gauclère. Rimbaud. Paris, 1950.
Fowlie, W. Rimbaud: [A critical study]. Chicago-London [1967].
Gascar, P. Rimbaud et la Commune. [Paris, 1971.]
Europe, 1973, no. 529–30. (Issue dedicated to Rimbaud.)


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.