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Paul Verlaine: Arthur Rimbaud, Page 2
by Harold Nicolson (1921).

There were verses also, such as the "Bal des pendus," in the macabre manner of Baudelaire, and in "Venus Anadyomène" rings out already the cruel jarring of Rimbaud's demonical laughter. But all this was not enough: Charleville had become too small to hold his flaming arrogance. The kindly encouragement of M. Izambard, the conscientious interest of the other masters, were intolerable to Rimbaud, whose most consistent hatred was that of human charity. He announced to his family that he had decided to leave school, that he had abandoned all desire of obtaining a University degree. His mother, with her usual decision, immediately locked him up in a garret, but he managed to escape. And then began that wild and syncopated Odyssey which in its course was to ruin poor Verlaine's brittle little life, and to drive Rimbaud himself hungrily across Europe, and out into the wilds of Central Africa.

On September 3, 1870, at the moment when, not so very far from there, Louis Napoleon was engaged on surrendering France to Graf von Bismarck, Rimbaud slouched down to the station at Charleville, and taking a ticket for the next station on the line, proceeded, under the seat, to travel to Paris. At the Gare du Nord he was discovered and arrested. He refused sulkily to give either his name or his references. His strange appearance, his Ardennais accent, aroused at that neurasthenic moment the gravest suspicions. Rimbaud was at once imprisoned in Mazas, on the vague charge of vagabondage. After twelve days he consented to give his name, his address and the reference of M. Izambard. By then, however, the Prussians had cut the lines to the Ardennes, and Rimbaud was accordingly sent to M. Izambard at Douai, from where he eventually found his way back to Charleville.

On his return his mother gave him so fierce, so vindictive, a welcome, that he at once escaped again. Without a penny in his pocket he walked across the Belgian frontier to Charleroi, where he endeavoured, without success, to obtain employment on a local paper. Leaving Charleroi he tramped through Belgium and Eastern France without food or covering until at last he was arrested by the gendarmes and returned, half starved, to Charleville. On this occasion his mother was frightened by his lamentable condition: little was said about this second escapade, and from October 1870 to February 1871 Rimbaud consented to remain at home. The time was spent in reading and writing, in drinking, in quarrelling with his friends and family, and in other occupations equally deleterious:

Elle était fort déshabillée,
Et de grands arbres indiscrets
Aux vitres penchaient leur feuillée
Malinement, tout près, tout près.


The two editions of the Parnasse contemporain had by then reached Charleville, and Rimbaud conceived therefrom a fierce and militant contempt for all contemporary writers, with the exception of Verlaine, whose poems struck him as having some faint breath, at least, of the wind of freedom. The moment he heard of the raising of the siege of Paris, Rimbaud, having pawned his watch, left a second time for the capital, and went straight to the studio of André Ghil, whose drawings he had seen in the illustrated papers. Ghil, who was absent at the moment, returned to find a fierce and arrogant peasant stretched on his sofa. He gave the boy ten francs and told him to go back to his mother. For eight days Rimbaud wandered about the streets of Paris, shelterless and feeding only on the garbage in the dustbins. Finally he could bear it no longer and started to walk back to Charleville, passing himself off as a franc-tireur in hiding, and obtaining thereby a little food from the farms on his way. When tramping one night through the forests of Villers-Cotterets, he was nearly discovered by some Bavarian Uhlans, and only escaped by flinging himself into a ditch, while the troop clattered by above him singing under the stars. Echoes of these wanderings along the high roads of France linger in his earliest poems:


PAGE 2 OF 21.

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