Friday, December 03, 2010

The Last Photo of Rimbaud

by Dick Mac

Jean Nicolas Arthur Rimbaud was born in Charleville, Ardennes, France on October 20, 1854 to a family of modest means. At the age of 17 he was acclaimed as one of Paris' best poets and became a close friend of Paul Verlaine, who was perhaps the best-known, most talented poet of that era.

Verlaine was a reputable married man who enjoyed a bourgeois lifestyle and the affection of a wife and children. He became Rimbaud's mentor upon the younger poet's arrival on the scene. Living the party life of 19th Century celebrity, the two carried-on a life of poetry, absinthe, wine, and good living. Verlaine withdrew from his family and family obligations to pursue a more decadent lifestyle with Rimbaud. The two became lovers and the intensity of their relationship has been the fodder of rumour, stories and films ever since.

Rimbaud was young and pretty and Verlaine was older, financially established and well-connected. Rimbaud's entre to the privileged life of a Paris star was facilitated in no small part by Verlaine's largesse. As Rimbaud became more popular and well-known, his interest in Verlaine diminished.

Verlaine, at this point obsessed with Rimbaud and desperate for his affection, became incensed by Rimbaud's apparent dismissal of him and the quick end to their romance. Verlaine shot Rimbaud in 1873, and was sentenced to prison.

When Verlaine was released in 1875, the former lovers had one more meeting, where Rimbaud announced that he would be leaving France to make his fortune elsewhere. Verlaine became a penitent Catholic and lived the remainder of his life as such.

Rimbaud was by this point a major influence on popular culture and the arts (and he remains a major influence today); but, at 19 he was done writing poetry and set off to conquer the world.

Rimbaud is known to have been an arms smuggler and gold dealer, and it has been suggested that he was also involved in the slave trade. He settled in Abyssinia, married, and lived the remainder of his short life in obscurity. He died at 37, in 1891. There is little documentation about his post-Paris life, and this has added to his allure as the world's first punk: famous and infamous, well-known and completely secretive, a child of the world not to be found anywhere, rebellious and debauched. The picture to the left has always been assumed to be the last image of him, taken as a self-portrait, in 1883.

The images we usually see of Rimbaud are of his youth, when he was an up-and-coming poet, a man-child, living a life of celebrity among the most famous names of Paris.

Interest in his adult life is, as he would probably like, minimal. Only those of us who love his work and his legacy have ever cared much about the last part of his life.

It is very exciting to have a new photo of the adult Rimbaud appear. The photo (at the top of this article) was taken at the Hotel de l'Univers, in Aden, Abyssinia, where Rimbaud is known to have spent the last years of his life before dying of cancer aged 37.

The link below is to an article from today's issue of The Telegraph.

French booksellers discover first adult Rimbaud picture

Thanks to Rodney for the tip!

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