Paul Verlaine: His Life-His Work: Rimbaud, Page 10|
by Edmond Lepelletier (1907); translated by E.M. Lang (1909).
The young man boasted overmuch. He was not so vicious as he wished to appear. He did not hold work in such horror, seeing that he chose the hard calling of camel-driver and purveyor of negroes in Harrar, Arabia, and Ethiopia. Later on he cries out in a sort of profession of demoniac belief:
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"Priests, professors, masters, you err in delivering me over to Justice. I have never been a Christian. I belong to a race who sing while they suffer; I know no laws; I have no moral sense; I am a brute: you deceive yourselves. Yes, my eyes are closed to your light. I am a beast, a negro. But I can be deaf. You are not true negroes, you ferocious, miserly Moors. Merchant, you are a negro; magistrate, you are a negro; genius, you are a negro; . . ."
Evidently the ebony he was afterwards to become acquainted with haunted the feverish brain of the interesting youth. He took care of his skin, in spite of his Magnificat in honour of the king of shadows: "Am I an old maid that I should fear to love death?"
Rimbaud was neurotic and hysterical in his youth, but not to any great extent, being sufficiently robust to undergo a speedy reaction and become a rough, unsentimental cultivator of reality. When we sing of sorrow, we no longer feel it; when we argue about our madness, it is past, and reason and health have returned.
"To me the story of my follies!" cried Rimbaud, and he narrated how he loved idiotic pictures, decorations, mountebanks' tricks, flags, posters, out-of-date literature, Church Latin, ill-spelt, erotic books, old-fashioned novels, fairy tales, children's books, old operas, silly choruses, simple rhymes; he tells us how he invented colours for the vowels: a black, e white, i red, o blue, u green. "I wrote down the silences of night," he said again. "I noted the inexpressible. I fixed vertigoes. Many old, worn-out, practical things went to my alchemy of words. I explain magical sophisms by the hallucination of words."
In this last formula a whole future school of poetry was foretold, founded, greeted.
The destruction of the book Une Saison en Enfer was the annihilation of Arthur Rimbaud's existence as a poet. After having definitely broken off all relations, not only with Paul Verlaine—he refused to meet and even to receive the poet, who, after his liberation from the Belgian prison, went to rejoin him at Stuttgart, where he had gone to learn German—but with his old friends at Charleville, and the literary world generally, Rimbaud began a new life of travel and adventure. The vagabond in him survived the poet, voluntarily killed. Serving his apprenticeship as a trader and explorer at a distance, Rimbaud set himself to learn German, English, Italian, Dutch, Russian, modern Greek, and Arabic. He travelled over nearly the whole of Europe, and in order to maintain himself, followed the most diverse, and often the hardest and most anti-literary callings: he was successively, like an emigrant in a new world, working-man, labourer, professor, interpreter, clerk, and sailor. He ended by establishing himself in Cyrus, where he opened a branch on behalf of a Marseilles house, MM. Bardey & Co., for whom he travelled through Arabia and Abyssinia, and opened another branch at Harrar. He entered into relations with the Abyssinian authorities, with Makonnen, and even with Menelik, and M. Félix Faure, then Minister of the Navy and the Colonies. He had to negotiate diplomatically for the landing at Obock of the plant necessary for the manufacture of cartridges for the King of Abyssinia.
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