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Rimbaud in the Pléiade

The complete works of a poet who published more in Latin than French during his lifetime
Graham Robb April 15, 2009

Jean RimbaudOn November 6, 1868, Jean-Nicolas-Arthur Rimbaud, a day boy at the Collège de Charleville in north-eastern France, sat down at his desk, read the few lines of Horace that were printed on the examination paper, and, recognizing the ode, began to develop the theme in a neat hand: “Ver erat, et morbo Romae languebat inerti / Orbilius . . . ”. He had just turned fourteen and already had an enviable ability to banish distractions from his mind. He wrote in the first person, but as though he were writing about somebody else: a schoolboy, wearied by his master’s “assiduous ferule”, allows his mind and senses to be seduced by the burgeoning spring; he lies down on a grassy riverbank and is flown off by a flock of doves to be crowned with laurel and to have his brow inscribed by Apollo with words of flame, “Tu vates eris!” (“You shall be a poet!”). After three-and-a-half hours, Rimbaud handed in fifty-nine almost perfect Latin hexameters, which were deemed worthy of publication in the official Bulletin of the Académie de Douai.

This was just the first of several triumphs by which Rimbaud brought honour to his school. As André Guyaux points out in his splendid new Pléiade edition of Rimbaud’s works, letters and fragments, Rimbaud published far more Latin verse in his lifetime than French. His father, who may be the fantasy first-person narrator of Rimbaud’s poem, “Le Bateau ivre”, had left home years before. His mother, whom he called “la Bouche d’Ombre”, after Hugo’s apocalyptic poem, was a rigid disciplinarian. Arthur was always acutely conscious of what was expected of him. Rules were like reliable friends who could be teased or even insulted. Until 1872, he wrote his poems in fairly regular verse, with fewer formal eccentricities than can be found in poems written two generations earlier. In August 1870, he was mightily impressed by Verlaine’s caesura-flouting line in Fêtes galantes, “Et la tigresse épou / vantable d’Hyrcanie” – a “forte licence”, he called it, as though he had seen a classmate straddling the school wall and running away. He relished the discipline of his Latin exercises, and the game of trying to be “as unscholastic as possible within the confines of school” (“ut in scholâ minime scholasticus videretur”), to quote another of his prizewinning discours.

Rimbaud was “practising the art of obeying the rules of an academic dissertation whilst wittily denouncing it”, says Guyaux. Instead of relegating his Latin compositions to an appendix, Guyaux places them in chronological order among Rimbaud’s other early work. They show the muscular apprentice learning his trade. In one exercise, he plagiarized a translation of Lucretius by Sully Prudhomme, but considerably improved it in the process. In another, he fashioned a subtly erotic evocation of the graceful young carpenter of Nazareth from a bland poem whose author, says Guyaux, has not been identified. (It was a Vendean poet called Eugène Mordret, who had published “Le Christ à la scie” in the prestigious Revue contemporaine.) The “scholâ” changed, but Rimbaud continued to write poems as though they were exercises. Even the notorious “Sonnet du trou du cul” was a cunning pastiche of another poet, a technically irreproachable example of the traditional blason enumerating a lover’s charms. The “Arsehole Sonnet” was written in Paris, in collaboration with Verlaine, at the Cercle Zutique, which was a squalid coterie of cheerful eccentrics, drug addicts and latent geniuses. As Guyaux nicely puts it, “Rimbaud felt at home there; he was soon to be top of the class”.

A scrupulous textual critic with relatively little interest in biographical minutiae, and still less in Rimbaud’s post-literary adventures, Guyaux is unusually sensitive to the poet’s unrebellious side. He precisely elucidates the outrageous obscenities of his poetry and prose, but he also reminds us that the schoolboy Rimbaud sent a congratulatory Latin ode to Napoleon III’s son on the occasion of his first Communion, and imagines his discomfiture when his classmates found out. He notes that Rimbaud failed to publish any work – apart from a few poems and the privately printed Une Saison en Enfer – not just because he was continually changing, or because of artistic integrity, but because “his early ambitions were not encouraged”. Like any writer, Rimbaud needed an audience, and many of his poems were written to please particular readers. “Angoisse”, in the Illuminations, mentions “les ambitions continuellement écrasées”, among which must be counted the fact that, by the time he gave up writing poems, at the age of twenty or thereabouts, he no longer had any readers who could understand him.

Some Rimbaldophiles prefer to enjoy his poetry in a battered paperback, stained with evidence of bohemian adventures. The pricey Pléiade, with its leather and gold uniform, its silky ribbons, its noli me tangere bible paper, and finicky notes on manuscripts and variants, might appear incongruously unRimbaldian. In fact, the proliferation of references and Guyaux’s careful erudition chime well with Rimbaud’s passionate learning. There is something autodidactically earnest about almost all his projects. His first known letter, written to his favourite teacher at the Collège de Charleville, includes a list of books that would be “very useful to me”: “1. Curiosités historiques, 1 vol. by Ludovic Lalanne, I think. 2. Curiosités bibliographiques, 1 vol. by the same. 3. Curiosités de l’histoire de France, by P. Jacob, 1st series”, etc.

Even at school, he was devouring digests and dictionaries, gobbling up all the miscellaneous wisdom that would explode in Une Saison en Enfer: “Oh! la science! . . . Géographie, cosmographie, mécanique, chimie! . . .” Parts of Une Saison en Enfer sound like a cautionary tale of the boy who read too much. If one had to name a fault, says Guyaux, it would be his excessively intellectual approach to art. Arrayed on shelves, the books that Rimbaud is known to have read would easily have covered all the “flaking plaster” of the room in the family farmhouse where he wrote most of Une Saison en Enfer. (He later claimed that this was the only point of owning books.) Ten years on, his first letters to his mother and sister from Arabia were full of similar wish-lists, relating to other, more lucrative trades: Livre de poche du charpentier, Dictionary of Engineering military and civil, Constructions métalliques, Guide du voyageur ou Manuel théorique et pratique de l’explorateur, etc.

Guyaux’s is the third Pléiade edition of Rimbaud works. His predecessors – André Rolland de Renéville and Jules Mouquet in 1946, Antoine Adam in 1972 – organized Rimbaud’s poems into apparently coherent collections, with titles that the poet himself never used: “Poésies”, “Vers nouveaux et chansons”, etc. More recent editors, following the example of Jean-Luc Steinmetz, have tried to be less tidy. Despite the dearth of chronological data, some have preferred to arrange the poems as far as possible in biographical order instead of trying to separate the serious from the ephemeral: for example, Alain Borer’s “Édition du centenaire”, in which schoolwork, sketches, letters, fragments and poems form a chaotic scrapbook-diary. In his enormous four-volume edition of Rimbaud’s Oeuvres complètes (volume three has yet to appear), Steve Murphy adopts a partially chronological solution, while emphasizing the “artificial and malleable” nature of any edition of Rimbaud.

Guyaux, too, has tried to reconcile “the old generic option with the global, chronological option”. First come the “Oeuvres”, from 1868 to 1873, ending with the Illuminations, the intended order of which, as Guyaux observes, is partly a matter of guesswork. Any undated poems are placed at the end of the supposed year of composition. Different versions of the same poem are reproduced separately, even if the variants are so small that they could easily have been indicated in a footnote. Poems for which no manuscript in Rimbaud’s hand survives are printed in a smaller typeface. This is a curious act of editorial ostentation. It means that “Le Bateau ivre”, which is known from a copy made by Verlaine, looks less significant than some of Rimbaud’s jokes and jottings: lacking official documents, the poet literally fades from sight. The London poem, “Métropolitain”, begins in the usual typeface and ends in a smaller one, because part of the manuscript was copied out by his companion in London, Germain Nouveau.

After the “Oeuvres” come the “Lettres”, from 1868 to 1875, and then a section titled “Vie et documents (1854–1891)”, which spans Rimbaud’s entire life. There is a full dossier of documents relating to the “Affaire de Bruxelles”, when a drunken Verlaine shot his impossible lover in the wrist. (Rimbaud was trying to blackmail him.) The dossier includes the magnificently maternal letter that Rimbaud’s mother sent to Verlaine after receiving Verlaine’s suicide note: “You complain of your unhappy life, poor boy! But do you know what tomorrow will bring? . . . I, too, have known great unhappiness; I have suffered much and shed many tears; but I was able to turn all my afflictions to profit”. There are also long extracts from the diary and letters of Rimbaud’s sister Vitalie, who visited him in London with their mother. They describe an almost perfect young gentleman, happy to see his family, sacrificing valuable time at the British Museum to show them the sights, only occasionally impatient or bored. “Arthur organizes everything in less time than it takes to say it.” “He is so good at everything that everything always goes well.”

In this section, the edition is slightly less compendious. Vitalie’s diary and letters occupy sixteen tightly packed pages, yet Rimbaud’s advertisement in The Times of November 7 and 9, 1874 – a precious glimpse of the disappearing poet – is only paraphrased, though there is no doubting its authorship, since drafts of the advertisement were found among Rimbaud’s papers: “A PARISIAN (20), of high literary and linguistic attainments, excellent conversation, will be glad to ACCOMPANY a GENTLEMAN (artists preferred), or a family wishing to travel in southern or eastern countries. Good references. – A. R., No. 165, King’s-road, Reading”. The rough drafts and calculations made by Rimbaud in a school notebook when he was ten years old are reproduced in full, but there is nothing from his lists of English and German words and expressions, which probably date from the period when he stopped writing poetry.

These vocabulary lists belong with the other notes and fragments. They might have provided a fitting end to the section of “Oeuvres et lettres” – the poet in his warehouse of words, trading in his “verbal alchemy”, stocking up on words from Exchange and Mart or a similar publication: “perfect in points and markings”, “silver appliqués never taken out of parcel”, etc. They might also have allowed some further identification of his readings. One list appears to have been compiled from John Charles Tarver’s Royal Phraseological English–French, French–English Dictionary. Another contains phrases – intended for what purpose? – from one of Webster’s dictionaries: “to color a stranger’s goods”, “to bring to the gangway”, “to lay the land (to cause it apparently to sink by sailing from it)”, etc.

Once the poetry dries up, Guyaux understandably shows less interest. His concise and elegant introduction ends in 1875. He talks of “the purgatory of the letters and the hell of the commercial comptes and mécomptes” (“accounts” and “miscalculations” or “disappointments”). Since the Bibliothèque de la Pléiade is devoted to “great works” of “literature and philosophy”, Rimbaud’s report on the Ogaden region, and traces of the book he was apparently intending to write on Abyssinia, no doubt deserve less attention than his poems, even if he is now known to be an important figure in the exploration and exploitation of East Africa. But his letters from Aden and Harar, with their coolly described horrors and their skeletal style, have been pored over and admired by so many other writers that they, too, belong to the history of literature. They also contain some retrospectively illuminating evidence of Rimbaud’s cunning disguises, his savage self-pity, his dogged and ingenious self-destruction.

Many of these letters, which are scrupulously but sparely annotated by Guyaux, with a useful glossary of Amharic words by Kiflé Sélassié Béséat, would have deserved the editorial shrinking treatment given to “Le Bateau ivre”. Almost two-thirds of the hundred or so letters that Rimbaud sent to his family from Africa and Arabia are known only from the bowdlerized edition published by his sister Isabelle and his posthumous brother-in-law. The surviving manuscripts show that Rimbaud’s brutal cynicism was toned down: sanctimonious phrases were inserted, and, as Guyaux points out, his earnings (already considerable) were exaggerated. Yet some of the inserted phrases have no obvious hagiographical value and support Isabelle’s claim that she incorporated into the letters passages from her own private correspondence with Arthur, which she subsequently destroyed.

All editors of Rimbaud’s complete works have had to report the continuing absence of his supposed masterpiece, a five-part work in prose titled “La Chasse spirituelle”, which Verlaine left behind in Paris when he ran away with Rimbaud, and which Verlaine’s in-laws either threw away or kept as incriminating evidence of his affair. This work of “strange mysticalities” may have been one of several inspired by Rimbaud’s biblical and theological readings: the title had been used, two and three centuries before, by writers whose obscure mysticism might have appealed to Rimbaud. Guyaux’s edition does, however, contain two new items. There is an interestingly different version, in Rimbaud’s hand, of the poem “Mémoire”, titled “Famille maudite”, with the words “D’Edgar Poe” above the title. The manuscript came up for auction in 2004. It was found in papers that once belonged to Verlaine’s in-laws, which suggests that “La Chasse spirituelle” may yet come to light.

The second new item, rediscovered in 2007, and previously known only from a description by one of Rimbaud’s friends, is a short prose satire from a Charleville newspaper, Le Progrès des Ardennes. “Le Rêve de Bismarck (Fantaisie)” was published on November 25, 1870, during the Prussian siege of Paris. It describes a drunken Bismarck puffing at his pipe as he runs a greedy finger over the map of France. He falls asleep; his head slumps on to the embers of his pipe, and he “carbonizes” his nose. Like so much of Rimbaud’s perversely moralistic work, the end of this “fantaisie” has a distinct echo of his mother’s unforgettable voice: “Voilà! fallait pas rêvasser!” (“That’s what you get for daydreaming!”).

Edited by André Guyaux with Aurélia Cervoni
1,101pp. Gallimard. 49euros.
978 2 07 011601 0

Graham Robb’s books include Balzac: A biography, 2000, and The Discovery of France, 2008.

Arthur Rimbaud
Born 20 October 1854 Charleville, France
Died November 10, 1891 (aged 37) Marseille, France
Occupation Poet
Nationality French
Literary movement Symbolism, decadent movement

Jean Nicolas Arthur Rimbaud (20 October 1854 – 10 November 1891) was a French poet, born in Charleville. As part of the decadent movement, his influence on modern literature, music and art has been enduring and pervasive. He produced his best known works while still in his late teens—Victor Hugo described him at the time as "an infant Shakespeare"—and gave up creative writing altogether before he reached 21. He remained a prolific letter-writer all his life. Rimbaud was known to have been a French Libertine and a restless soul, travelling extensively on three continents before his premature death from cancer less than a month after his 37th birthday.

Family and childhood. Arthur Rimbaud was born into the provincial middle class of Charleville (now part of Charleville-Mézières) in the Ardennes département in northeastern France. He was the second child of a career soldier, Frédéric Rimbaud, and his wife Marie-Catherine-Vitalie Cuif.

His father, a Burgundian of Provençal extraction, rose from a simple recruit to the rank of captain and spent the greater part of his army years in foreign service. Captain Rimbaud fought in the conquest of Algeria and was awarded the Légion d'honneur. The Cuif family was a solidly established Ardennais family, but they were plagued by unstable and bohemian characters; two of Arthur Rimbaud's uncles from his mother's side were alcoholics.

Captain Rimbaud and Vitalie married in February 1853; in the following November came the birth of their first child, Jean-Nicolas-Frederick. The next year, on 20 October 1854, Jean-Nicolas-Arthur was born. Three more children, Victorine (who died a month after she was born), Vitalie and Isabelle, followed. Arthur Rimbaud's infancy is said to have been prodigious; a common myth states that soon after his birth he had rolled onto the floor from a cushion where his nurse had put him only to begin crawling toward the door. In a more realistic retelling of his childhood, Mme Rimbaud recalled when after putting her second son in the care of a nurse in Gespunsart, supplying clean linen and a cradle for him, she returned to find the nurse's child sitting in the crib wearing the clothes meant for Arthur. Meanwhile, the dirty and naked child that was her own was happily playing in an old salt chest.

Soon after the birth of Isabelle, when Arthur was six years old, Captain Rimbaud left to join his regiment in Cambrai and never returned. He had become irritated by domesticity and the presence of the children while Madame Rimbaud was determined to rear and educate her family by herself. The young Arthur Rimbaud was therefore under the complete governance of his mother, a strict Catholic, who raised him and his older brother and younger sisters in a stern and religious household. After her husband's departure, Mme Rimbaud became known as "Widow Rimbaud".

Schooling and teen years (1862–1871)
Fearing that her children were spending too much time with and being over-influenced by neighbouring children of the poor, Mme Rimbaud moved her family to the Cours d'Orléans in 1862. This location was quite improved from their previous home and whereas the boys were previously taught at home by their mother, they were then sent, at the ages of nine and eight, to the Pension Rossatr. For the five years that they attended school, however, their formidable mother imposed her will upon them, pushing for scholastic success. She would punish her sons by making them learn a hundred lines of Latin verse by heart and if they gave an inaccurate recitation, she would deprive them of meals.[10] When Arthur was nine, he wrote a 700-word essay objecting to his having to learn Latin in school. Vigorously condemning a classical education as a gateway to a salaried position, Rimbaud wrote repeatedly, "I will be a capitalist". He disliked schoolwork and his mother's continued control and constant supervision; the children were not allowed to leave their mother's sight, and, until the boys were sixteen and fifteen respectively, she would walk them home from the school grounds.

As a boy, Arthur was small, brown-haired and pale with what a childhood friend called "eyes of pale blue irradiated with dark blue—the loveliest eyes I've seen". When he was eleven, Arthur had his First Communion; despite his intellectual and individualistic nature, he was an ardent Catholic like his mother. For this reason he was called "sale petit cagot", a dirty little hypocrite, by his fellow schoolboys. He and his brother were sent to the Collège de Charleville for school that same year. Until this time, his reading was confined almost entirely to the Bible, but he also enjoyed fairy tales and stories of adventure such as the novels of James Fenimore Cooper and Gustave Aimard. He became a highly successful student and was head of his class in all subjects but sciences and mathematics. Many of his schoolmasters remarked upon the young student's ability to absorb great quantities of material. In 1869 he won eight first prizes in the school, including the prize for Religious Education, and in 1870 he won seven firsts.

When he had reached the third class, Mme Rimbaud, hoping for a brilliant scholastic future for her second son, hired a tutor, Father Ariste Lhéritier, for private lessons. Lhéritier succeeded in sparking the young scholar's love of Greek and Latin as well as French classical literature. He was also the first person to encourage the boy to write original verse in both French and Latin. Rimbaud's first poem to appear in print was "Les Etrennes des orphelines" ("The Orphans' New Year's Gift"), which was published in the Revue pour tous's 2 January 1870 issue. Two weeks after his poem was printed, a new teacher named Georges Izambard arrived at the Collège de Charleville. Izambard became Rimbaud's literary mentor and soon a close accord formed between professor and student and Rimbaud for a short time saw Izambard as a kind of older brother figure. At the age of fifteen, Rimbaud was showing maturity as a poet; the first poem he showed Izambard, "Ophélie", would later be included in anthologies as one of Rimbaud's three or four best poems. When the Franco-Prussian War broke out, Izambard left Charleville and Rimbaud became despondent. He ran away to Paris with no money for his ticket and was subsequently arrested and imprisoned for a week. After returning home, Rimbaud ran away to escape his mother's wrath.

From late October 1870, Rimbaud's behaviour became outwardly provocative; he drank alcohol, spoke rudely, composed scatological poems, stole books from local shops, and abandoned his hitherto characteristically neat appearance by allowing his hair to grow long. At the same time he wrote to Izambard about his method for attaining poetical transcendence or visionary power through a "long, intimidating, immense and rational derangement of all the senses. The sufferings are enormous, but one must be strong, be born a poet, and I have recognized myself as a poet." It is rumoured that he briefly joined the Paris Commune of 1871, which he portrayed in his poem L'orgie parisienne (ou : Paris se repeuple), ("The Parisian Orgy" or "Paris Repopulates"). Another poem, Le cœur supplicié ("The Tortured Heart"), is often interpreted as a description of him being raped by drunken Communard soldiers, but this is unlikely since Rimbaud continued to support the Communards and wrote sympathetic poems to their aims.

Life with Verlaine (1871–1875)
Rimbaud was encouraged by friend and office employee Charles Auguste Bretagne to write to Paul Verlaine, an eminent Symbolist poet, after letters to other poets failed to garner replies. Taking his advice, Rimbaud sent Verlaine two letters containing several of his poems, including the hypnotic, gradually shocking "Le Dormeur du Val" (The Sleeper of the Vale), in which certain facets of Nature are depicted and called upon to comfort an apparently sleeping soldier. Verlaine, who was intrigued by Rimbaud, sent a reply that stated, "Come, dear great soul. We await you; we desire you" along with a one-way ticket to Paris. Rimbaud arrived in late September 1871 at Verlaine's invitation and resided briefly in Verlaine's home. Verlaine, who was married to the seventeen-year-old and heavily pregnant Mathilde Mauté, had recently left his job and taken up drinking. In later published recollections of his first sight of Rimbaud, Verlaine described him at the age of seventeen as having "the real head of a child, chubby and fresh, on a big, bony rather clumsy body of a still-growing adolescent, and whose voice, with a very strong Ardennes accent, that was almost a dialect, had highs and lows as if it were breaking."

Rimbaud and Verlaine began a short and torrid affair. Whereas Verlaine had likely engaged in prior homosexual experiences, it remains uncertain whether the relationship with Verlaine was Rimbaud's first. During their time together they led a wild, vagabond-like life spiced by absinthe and hashish.They scandalized the Parisian literary coterie on account of the outrageous behaviour of Rimbaud, the archetypical enfant terrible, who throughout this period continued to write strikingly visionary verse. The stormy relationship between Rimbaud and Verlaine eventually brought them to London in September 1872, a period of which Rimbaud would later express regret. During this time, Verlaine abandoned his wife and infant son (both of whom he had abused in his alcoholic rages). Rimbaud and Verlaine lived in considerable poverty, in Bloomsbury and in Camden Town, scraping a living mostly from teaching, in addition to an allowance from Verlaine's mother. Rimbaud spent his days in the Reading Room of the British Museum where "heating, lighting, pens and ink were free." The relationship between the two poets grew increasingly bitter.

By late June 1873, Verlaine grew frustrated with the relationship and returned to Paris, where he quickly began to mourn Rimbaud's absence. On 8 July, he telegraphed Rimbaud, instructing him to come to the Hotel Liège in Brussels; Rimbaud complied at once. The Brussels reunion went badly: they argued continuously and Verlaine took refuge in heavy drinking. On the morning of 10 July, Verlaine bought a revolver and ammunition. That afternoon, "in a drunken rage," Verlaine fired two shots at Rimbaud, one of them wounding the 18-year-old in the left wrist.

Rimbaud dismissed the wound as superficial, and did not initially seek to file charges against Verlaine. But shortly after the shooting, Verlaine (and his mother) accompanied Rimbaud to a Brussels railway station, where Verlaine "behaved as if he were insane." His bizarre behavior induced Rimbaud to "fear that he might give himself over to new excesses," so he turned and ran away. In his words, "it was then I [Rimbaud] begged a police officer to arrest him [Verlaine]." Verlaine was arrested for attempted murder and subjected to a humiliating medico-legal examination. He was also interrogated with regard to both his intimate correspondence with Rimbaud and his wife's accusations about the nature of his relationship with Rimbaud. Rimbaud eventually withdrew the complaint, but the judge nonetheless sentenced Verlaine to two years in prison.

Rimbaud returned home to Charleville and completed his prose work Une Saison en Enfer ("A Season in Hell") -- still widely regarded as one of the pioneering examples of modern Symbolist writing -- which made various allusions to his life with Verlaine, described as a drôle de ménage ("domestic farce") with his frère pitoyable ("pitiful brother") and vierge folle ("mad virgin") to whom he was l'époux infernal ("the infernal groom"). In 1874 he returned to London with the poet Germain Nouveau and put together his groundbreaking Illuminations.

Travels (1875–1880)
Rimbaud and Verlaine met for the last time in March 1875, in Stuttgart, Germany, after Verlaine's release from prison and his conversion to Catholicism.[37] By then Rimbaud had given up writing and decided on a steady, working life; some speculate he was fed up with his former wild living, while others suggest he sought to become rich and independent to afford living one day as a carefree poet and man of letters.[citation needed] He continued to travel extensively in Europe, mostly on foot.

In May 1876 he enlisted as a soldier in the Dutch Colonial Army to travel free of charge to Java (Indonesia) where he promptly deserted, returning to France by ship. At the official residence of the mayor of Salatiga, a small city 46 km south of Semarang, capital of Central Java Province, there is a marble plaque stating that Rimbaud was once settled at the city.

In December 1878, Rimbaud arrived in Larnaca, Cyprus, where he worked for a construction company as a foreman at a stone quarry. In May of the following year he had to leave Cyprus because of a fever, which on his return to France was diagnosed as typhoid.

Abyssinia (1880–1891)
In 1880 Rimbaud finally settled in Aden as a main employee in the Bardey agency. He took several native women as lovers and for a while he lived with an Ethiopian mistress. In 1884 he left his job at Bardey's to become a merchant on his own account in Harar, Ethiopia. Rimbaud's commercial dealings notably included coffee and weapons. In this period, Rimbaud struck up a very close friendship with the Governor of Harar, Ras Makonnen, father of future Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie.

Death (1891)
The inscription reads simply Priez pour lui ("Pray for him").In February 1891, Rimbaud developed what he initially thought was arthritis in his right knee. It failed to respond to treatment, became agonisingly painful, and by March the state of his health forced him to prepare to return to France for treatment. In Aden, Rimbaud consulted a British doctor who mistakenly diagnosed tubercular synovitis and recommended immediate amputation. Rimbaud delayed until 9 May to set his financial affairs in order before catching the boat back to France. On arrival, he was admitted to hospital in Marseille, where his right leg was amputated on 27 May. The post-operative diagnosis was cancer.

After a short stay at his family home in Charleville, he attempted to travel back to Africa, but on the way his health deteriorated and he was readmitted to the same hospital in Marseille where his surgery had been carried out, and spent some time there in great pain, attended by his sister Isabelle. Rimbaud died in Marseille on 10 November 1891, at the age of 37, and his body was interred in the family vault at Charleville.

Poésies (c. 1869-1873)
Le bateau ivre (1871)
Une Saison en Enfer (1873) - published by Rimbaud himself as a small booklet in Brussels. Although "a few copies were distributed to friends in Paris... Rimbaud almost immediately lost interest in the work."
Illuminations (1874)
Lettres (1870-1891)
Le Soleil Était Encore Chaud (1866)
Proses Évangeliques (1872)

See also:
France salutes Maurice Druon, hero from another age

Biographical notes on Michel de Montaigne

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