Paul Verlaine: Arthur Rimbaud, Page 18|
by Harold Nicolson (1921).
From this springs much of what was later to blossom into the elusive attraction of Jules Laforgue: to this the present planets of the younger generation, and Jean Cocteau in particular, render a generous tribute of indebtedness.
PAGE 18 OF 21.
Apart, however, from their literary interest, the Illuminations throw a harsh but vivid light upon Rimbaud's own life and character. Written in London during the year he was with Verlaine, there is much in them that explains the final rupture.
"Je suis," he writes, "un inventeur bien autrement méritant que tous ceux qui m'ont précédé ; un musicien même, qui ai trouvé quelque chose comme la clef de l'amour. A présent, gentilhomme d'une campagne maigre au ciel sobre, j'essaie de m'émouvoir au souvenir de l'enfance mendiante, de l'apprentissage ou de l'arrivée en sabots, des polémiques, des cinq ou six veuvages, et quelques noces où ma forte tête m'empêcha de monter au diapason des camarades. Je ne regrette pas ma vieille part de gaîté divine : l'air sobre de cette aigre campagne alimente fort activement mon atroce scepticisme. Mais comme ce scepticisme ne peut désormais être mis en uvre, et que, d'ailleurs je suis dévoué à un trouble nouveau, — j'attends de devenir un très méchant fou."
So he would start afresh: it was unworthy to dream dreams; action alone was the gate to liberty, the road to power. His fatal fault had been to imagine that he could trample unscathed upon the conventions of Western civilisation. "Les marais occidentaux !" had sucked him down. He would go to the East: to the fountainhead of eternal wisdom. He would return as an opulent but ungenerous dictator. They would regret that they had not realised him sufficiently and in time.
Rimbaud had been sixteen when he first met Verlaine: he was but eighteen at the time of that scene at Brussels: at nineteen he was to abandon literature for ever.
At the end of 1874 he proceeded to Germany, and obtained employment as a teacher in a school in Stuttgart, where he lived at Marienstrasse No. 2. Early in 1875 Verlaine was released from prison: Rimbaud's address was known only to Ernest Delahaye and through the latter Verlaine sent him letter after letter. He told him of his conversion to the Catholic faith: he described the paracletic potency of the Sacred Heart: he urged him by every argument in his power to take the same primrose path to sanity and calm. "Let us," he wrote to him, "love each other in Jesus." Rimbaud, on his side, was amused, and slightly irritated. Verlaine was pestering Delahaye to give him his friend's address: Rimbaud had no objection: after all what difference could it make? He wrote to Delahaye: "I don't care. If you like, yes! Give my address to Loyola." Verlaine left at once for Stuttgart. Poor Verlaine! He was at that date an uncouth but impatient object: his beard, which had been shaved in prison, was as yet anarchical: he arrived in so disreputable a condition that Rimbaud became from the first indignant. Verlaine, fired by his new faith, was undeterred: he launched off at once into his task of conversion. The proselyte was taken from Bierhalle to Bierhalle, and then out into the country. The argument lasted all day, and achieved its climax at midnight on the banks of the Neckar. There was a limit to Rimbaud's patience. He turned upon Verlaine and struck him again and again till he lay bleeding on the river-bank. He then left him, and walked back alone to Stuttgart. The next morning Verlaine was discovered by some peasants and taken by them to their cottage, where he remained until he was well enough to return to France. such was the last meeting between Verlaine and Rimbaud.
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