Victor Hugo once described Rimbaud as “an enfant Shakespeare”, and it is often said that this young French poet has had a significant influence on the arts, music and modern literature that is both lasting and timeless.
When looking at the life of this truly respectable young writer, he actually produced his most famous work while only a teenager, and he even gave up his writing career altogether before his 21st birthday. (he did not stop writing though, but his words instead came out in letter format – he was a very active letter writer throughout the rest of his life).
Rimbaud was born into the middle class of Charlesville in the northeastern part of France. He grew up without a father, and never felt loved by his mother. Perhaps these influences in his childhood was part of what made him a restless but brilliant student – a student who often ran away from home, became an anarchist, started drinking and behaved as provocatively as he could towards the local bourgeoisie.
In 1871 he went to Paris, by invitation from the famous Paul Verlaine. Verlaine, who was married, fell in love with Rimbaud and the two started a wild life bordered by travel, absinthe and hashish. But it was also during this time that Rimbaud wrote his perhaps most striking visionary verse.
Their passionate love took them to London the year later, where they were very poor. Rimbaud supposedly spent his time mostly in the British Museum where he could find heat, light and free ink to write with. The couple later returned to Paris, for a violent and turbulent end to their love affair.
After his relationship with Verlaine, Rimbaud returned to his birthplace of Charleville where he also completed “A Season in Hell”, which by some is seen as an astonishing work of modern Symbolism. On a return trip to London he later completed yet another one of his greatest works, “Illuminations”.
While his most turbulent years were perhaps those spent with Verlaine, Rimbaud was indeed a very restless creative soul. He traveled the world (sometimes even took on long journeys on foot) before dying a young death from cancer, at the mere age of 37.
His most famous works include: Poésies (c. 1869-1873), Le bateau ivre (1871), Une Saison en Enfer (1873), Illuminations (1874) and Lettres (1870-1891).