Paul Verlaine: Arthur Rimbaud, Page 1|
by Harold Nicolson (1921).
Arthur Rimbaud, "ange et démon," was not yet seventeen when he first came into Verlaine's life. He had been born at Charleville on October 20, 1854, at No. 12 rue Napoleon, subsequently rechristened rue Thiers. His father, who was an officer in the Army, did not live with his mother, who appears indeed to have been a hard and disagreeable woman, and one who endeavoured to curb the cruel truculence of her son by the application of an even more cruel discipline. Rimbaud has given a picture of the relations between his mother and himself in the verses entiteld "Les Poètes de sept ans":
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Et la Mère, fermant le livre du devoir,
S'en allait satisfaite et très fière, sans voir,
Dans les yeux bleus et sous le front plein d'éminences,
L'âme de son enfant livrée aux répugnances.
Tout le jour il suait d'obéissance ; très
Intelligent ; pourtant des tics noirs, quelques traits
Semblaient prouver en lui d'âcres hypocrisies.
Dans l'ombre des couloirs aux tentures moisies,
En passant il tirait la langue, les deux poings
A l'aine, et dans ses yeux fermés voyait des points.
At seven years old, therefore, he was already morose, precocious and ungovernable; already the mania of "Wanderlust" had seized upon his senses:
A sept ans, il faisait des romans sur la vie
Du grand désert où luit la Liberté ravie,
Forêts, soleils, rives, savanes ! . . .
At an early age he was sent to school at Charleville, where his masters, and particularly the master of rhetoric, M. Izambard, were quick to recognise that such precocity, straining in the hurricane of a wild and inhuman nature, must argue either genius or lunacy. Poor M. Izambard, he was to share the fate of all those who interested themselves in Rimbaud: he was to be exploited, robbed and laughed at, and then, when no longer useful, to be flung cynically aside. But in his case the connexion with Rimbaud was not without an eleventh-hour compensation, since in later years it was to give the function and the glory of an impresario to what would otherwise have been the colourless middle age of a provincial schoolmaster.
By the time Rimbaud was fifteen he had read practically all that Charleville could offer, and was determined at any cost to acquire wider horizons. He had already composed a score of curious, if unpleasant, poems; some genre pictures in the Dutch manner; some sonnets of an already developed paganism:
Je regrette les temps de l'antique jeunesse,
Des satyres lascifs, des faunes animaux, . . .
Je regrette les temps où la sève du monde . . .
Dans les veines de Pan mettaient un univers.
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