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Poetry and Drama: Arthur Rimbaud
by Harold Monro (1913).

Arthur Rimbaud was born in 1854; he began writing at the age of fifteen; he burned his manuscripts at the age of nineteen; he died at thirty-seven. Endowed with the faculties of a man of genius, this lad, says M.Claudel, appeared in France, "comme Jeanned'Arc," at a time of disaster and of material and moral dejection. His story is the strangest in literature. M. Paterne Berrichon's book, Jean-Arthur Rimbaud, le Poète (Mercure de France, 3.50), gives the outward course of that story, the biographical details, until Rimbaud's disappearance from the world of letters. He puts events into their right connection with documents, deals with the legend of illicit relationship with Verlaine, and supplies a textual commentary on Rimbaud's work. For all this, those who admire Rimbaud's work — all those who know it must be grateful to M. Berrichon; in fact, his book is indispensable. But the real story of Rimbaud is not biographical at all; the events of his life are the outward manifestations of the inner conflict: the escapes from Charleville to Paris; the extenuating tramps between those two towns; the drunkenness, the responsibility for which M. Berrichon lays to the charge of Rimbaud's companions; the suffering in Paris; the relationship with Verlaine and its lamentable end, — these are just the noise which a caged spirit made against its incomprehensible bars.

The true story of Rimbaud can only be told by men like Claudel. I think his Preface to the Œuvres de Arthur Rimbaud — vers et prose — revues sur les manuscrits originaux et les premières éditions, mises en ordre et annotées par Paterne Berrichon (which the Mercure de France has just published in a fine, well-printed volume at 7 fr.) brings out the real Rimbaud, the "mystique à l'état sauvage, une source perdue qui ressort d'un sol saturé," a seer, an austere spirit. How the dust, the dirt — earthly, moral, human — the vermin vanish! And Rimbaud appears like an angel from a suit of rags, a terrible angel. On the death-bed in Marseilles, to which he had been brought from Africa with a leg to be amputated, he dreamed aloud. He had renounced literature at the age of nineteen to dream; perhaps he had renounced dreaming simply to live; he finishes his life in a dream. "He says now," relates his sister, "strange things, very softly, in a voice which would delight me, if it did not pierce my heart.

What he says are dreams, yet it is not at all the same thing as when he had the fever. You would say, and I believe, that he did it purposely." Sometimes he asked his doctors whether they could not see the extraordinary things he himself perceived; and he described his impressions marvellously. But there was something in his case which they did not understand. There is something in his case which we shall never understand; we may grope and meditate. Happy we if we are ever so fortunate as Sainte Chantal (quoted by M. Claudel): "At the dawn of day, God gave me to enjoy, almost imperceptibly, a little light in the highest, supreme point of my mind. All the rest of my soul and its faculties did not participate: but it only lasted about half an Ave Maria." In L'Histoire d'une de ses folies, Rimbaud says:

J'inventais la couleur des voyelles! — A noir, E blanc, I rouge, O bleu, U vert. — Je réglais la forme et le mouvement de chaque consonne, et, avec des rhythmes instinctifs, je me flattai d'inventer un verbe poétique accessible, un jour ou l'autre, à tous les sens. J'en réservai la traduction.
Ce fut d'abord une étude. J'ecrivais des silences, des nuits, je notais l'inexprimable. Je fixais des vertiges. — Une Saison en Enfer.


In the four years of his literary life he absorbed all the styles, and invented new; then his vision transcended language, and he wrote no more. But French poetry, from his advent onwards, radiates with his energy.


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