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Friday’s Snapshot … Arthur Rimbaud

October 19, 2012

This week I was researching Patti Smith and discovered that she like other songwriters such as Bob Dylan and Jim Morrison was influenced by Arthur Rimbaud (1854- 1891)  I was not familiar with this poet until I started work at the Reading University Library, and in particular Special Collections, where we have a collection of books published by the Two Rivers Press.
Here I found  a translation of Rimbaud’s Le Bateau Ivre (Drunken Boat) by Geoff Sawers.  I cannot pretend to be well versed in the poem. I am assured that it is supposed to be the first modern poem; written by Rimbaud before he was 19 years old. It is a very a visual and lively poem, the ‘colourful’  remix by Geoff Sawers and the illustrations by Peter Hay; keep it so.  

Jean Nicolas Arthur Rimbaud (1854- 1891) was born in France. His mother was from a local farming family and his father an army captain. As a boy he was a poet and later in life a trader.  Of his poems the Drunken Boat was written between 1870 and 1871 while living with his mother (now separated from Arthur’s father)  in Charleville .  In 1871 he went to Paris to live with the family of  Paul Marie Verlaine (1844-1896) a poet associated with the Symbolist Movement.  Rimbaud and Verlaine became constant drinking partners.
During this time Rimbaud wrote the rest of his poems.  In the months that followed they travelled to Belgium and England and he wrote 40 poems in prose.  Most of these were published in a book called Illuminations in 1886 in which Verlaine wrote an introduction.
In 1873 the relationship between Rimbaud and Verlaine ended violently and Rimbaud returned to his family in France. Where he burned all his manuscripts and gave up poetry altogether.
For the next six years he wandered between many countries; he joined the Dutch army and deserted in Java.  Rimbaud wandered in the jungle before working his passage as a seaman on a British ship to Liverpool. He travelled to Scandinavia as an interpreter for a circus.  He went on to be a farmer’s help in Alexandria, a shipwrecker in Suez and a foreman in a stone-quarry in Cyprus.  In June 1879 he became a clerk in Aden to a French trader called Bardey.
From 1880-1891 Rimbaud travelled as a trader between Aden, the Somali coast and Abyssinia; he lived in Hassar.  He traded in guns and slaves ; but gained a reputation as an explorer.
In the spring of 1891 a tumour on his knee compelled him to return to France where he had his leg amputated. The disease diagnosed as carcinoma caused his death the winter of 1891.

This little overview does nothing I am sure to describe why; Arthur Rimbaud gave up writing when he was so young and reacted so dramatically when his stormy relationship with Verlaine ended.  With, for Verlaine; a two year prison sentence and for Rimbaud a shortened life without roots or focus.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Gill Learner permalink
    October 19, 2012 4:39 pm

    I’m a great admirer of Geoff Sawers and his version of ‘Le bateau ivre’ but have another, also produced in Reading and published in a limited edition by Whiteknights Press in 1976. The translation is by one S. Beckett! It was designed by someone still well-known on campus and typeset and printed in the Department of Typography & Graphic Communication.

    • October 19, 2012 6:25 pm

      Oh Gil Thanks for that. I know the translation you mean but discarded it because there were no nice pictures. I will pop down and have a look and rethink a further post … this is what I have found so exciting and rewarding. Thanks again!!

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