Doug Bruns

Rimbaud

In Books, Life, Literature, Memoir, Writers on December 2, 2010 at 10:12 am
The Young Rimbaud

The Young Rimbaud

It probably sounds deathly esoteric, but I’ve been reading I promise to be good, The Letters of Arthur Rimbaud. A French poet, Rimbaud (1851-1891), at the age of twenty-one, abandoned poetry and disappeared into the African desert. Of the book, a Modern Library edition,the publisher writes:

A moving document of decline, Rimbaud’s letters begin with the enthusiastic artistic pronouncements of a fifteen-year-old genius, and end with the bitter what-ifs of a man whose life has slipped disastrously away. But whether soapboxing on the essence of art, or struggling under the yoke of self-imposed exile in the desert of his later years, Rimbaud was incapable of writing an uninteresting sentence.

I don’t read much poetry, unfortunately. (It is a personal shortcoming of which I am fully aware. As they say, “no culture exits until the poets arrive.”) Rimbaud came to my attention through the great American writer, Jim Harrison, who someplace wrote of Rimbaud’s lasting influence. I respect Harrison a great deal, so I followed his lead and started reading the poet. I found the book of his letters on the discount used book rack at Longfellow Books. I have the collected letters of V. Woolf and Joyce and a couple of others; but letters, as a literary form, never deliver on the promise I hold for them. Not so here. These are different. In his letters Rimbaud paints a compelling notion of a life I find equal parts exciting and tragic.

Writing from Cyprus, the young Rimbaud asks his parents to send two books: The Illustrated Book of Agricultural and Forestry Sawmills (3 francs, with 128 pictures), and The Pocket Book of Carpentry. They are tools, these books, resources for a world that knows no poetry. Indeed, by this date, Rimbaud the poet is no more. His poet self is dead. And a new man, in search of a new life, has taken his place in full. Several months later, in another letter to his family, he writes, sadly, “The books never came, because (I’m certain) someone took them in my absence, as soon as I had left for Troodos. I still need them…”

Another year later still, in a letter to his family, Rimbaud states, “I am living a really stupid, tiresome existence.” Not long after, Rimbaud disappears into the North African desert.

The phrase, “The books never came…” breaks my heart.

____________________

I have a couple new pieces at The Nervous Breakdown:
“The First-Person Singular”

“A Man Gets into a Cage With a Tiger…”

And another at The Millions:

“Who Will There Be to Talk To?”

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  1. I’ve got Saul Bellow’s book of letters on my gift list in hopes of an interesting collection. Thanks for the cites…will check them out. Perhaps I will see you at the 10th Birthday Party this evening.

    • S ~ Let me know how you like Bellow’s letters. I read the review in the Times and it sounds inviting. I made this note from the review, a comment he makes in one letter: “I know how to transform common matter.”

  2. Howabout Keats’ letters? Patrick Kurp has a brief appreciation here:

    http://evidenceanecdotal.blogspot.com/2010/11/we-must-eat-peck-before-we-die.html

I welcome your comments. Thanks for reading.

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