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Reflections of a working writer and reader



Rimbaud – the one who got away

A nice piece on Arthur Rimbaud from Ellis Sharp. These are extracts, but the whole article is worth your attention.

Rimbaud provides the exemplary example of a writer who packs it all in. What is even more astonishing than this case of a writer who quits is how early, in his case, it happened. Before his twenty-first birthday he had changed the course of French literary history. As Arthur Symons put it in his pioneering monograph The Symbolist Movement in Literature (1899):

He catches at verse, at prose, invents a sort of vers libre before anyone else, not quite knowing what to do with it, invents a quite new way of writing prose, which Laforgue will turn to account later on; and having suggested, with some impatience, half the things that his own and the next generation are to busy themselves with developing, he gives up writing, as an inadequate form, to which he is also inadequate.

In the words of Charles Nicholl, author of Somebody Else, a fictional account of Rimbaud’s life would come to an end at the moment when he crossed the remote salt lake of Assal, 500 feet below sea level:

if Rimbaud’s years in Africa seem like a flight from what he was – from Europe, from poetry, from himself – then it is surely here, on this desolate desert trek, that he reaches the furthest point of that arrow-flight, arriving at this utter privation, at this landscape of nothingness . . .

2 Responses to “Rimbaud – the one who got away”

  1. “I am completely paralyzed, and so I wish to embark in good time. Tell me at what time I must be carried on board.”

    –Rimbaud’s closing words in a letter regarding his hospital debts. He apparently could not sail home until his accounts were settled.

    Thanks for letting me know about the novel, “Somebody Else.”

    jb says: I believe he liked a little drama in his life.

  2. Bill says:

    Somebody Else is not a novel, but a non-fiction account of Rimbaud’s life after he abandoned poetry to wander through Europe and eventually settling in Abyssinia. Charles Nicholl has done a fine job of researching Rimbaud’s life in East Africa during the final ten years of his life, which is every bit as interesting as his scandalous relationship with Verlaine was.