As today is Michaelmas, our favorite Feast Day, we are having trouble wrapping our collective minds around a suitable topic for the ever-scintillating subject of abusing ourselves.
Michaelmas, not really celebrated in America, honors the Holy Saint Michael the ArchAngel, who gave old God a hand by throwing Satan into Hell. It is the only ‘Mas’ you will find in the english dictionary aside from Christmas. Christ and I have the concession on the Mas business. When collecting free birthday drinks at various wateringholes, I often throw in the fact that me and Jesus are the only two guys with our birthdays in Websters, which usually leads to an argument and results in me getting yet another free drink when I hold my driver’s license up and match the date with Webster.
In England and Ireland, the Michaelmas Daisy is blooming right about now, a fact that brings me great solace.
But enough of that. I am nothing. Twenty or thirty years and I will be lost to obscurity, even moreso than I am now. That did not happen to Arthur Rimbaud, though. He became more and more popular after he died.
Born in 1854, he was a passionate and bright young man who astounded his teachers and, in his teens, set 19th Century French poetry on its ear. He won awards, won acclaim and quit writing poetry before he was twenty, in favor of gaining personal experience – the ultimate goal of the poet. He ended up running guns and slaves in Africa, losing a leg and dying at age 37 – done in by cancer.
His mother found him trying. He exhibited great genius from an early age but also drank alcohol, stole from shops, cursed and wrote foul, scatalogical verse. He took great pride in having no pride in his appearance. Dirty, disheveled, smelling of drink, one day somebody told him he had lice in his hair. Acknowledging the presence of the itchy mites, he replied that he cultivated them in his scalp and kept them handy so he could throw them on passing clergymen. He ran away from home often, to escape the wrath of his mother. He usually ended up on the streets of Paris.
Once, he was taken in by Paul Verlaine, a leading Symbolist poet who’s talent was soon eclipsed by that of his young friend. Though Verlaine was married, he entered into a sexual relationship with the boy. He left his wife and the two poets moved into a basement together (as is mentioned in Bob Dylan’s Tangled Up In Blue).
They shared a love of hashish and absinthe and shocked the society of poets around them with their frequent indulgence. The relationship, as Rimbaud, was highly volatile and ended with Verlaine shooting Rimbaud in the wrist at a hotel in Brussels. Verlaine ended up in prison for two years and Rimbaud returned home to write A Season In Hell, a book of prose poetry which established him as a master, a pre-eminent writer of the Symbolist Movement. He is also known as a leading writer of the Decadent Movement, the Beauty Movement and subsequently influenced Dadaism and Surrealism, to the extent no other man achieved. He finished writing at age 19.
In Rimbaud’s poems, we see the first fusion of word and colour – the absinthian dream that certain sounds lay inert in the Word and had the power to invoke those colours in the mind of the reader, when repeated. This is something LSD users caught onto a hundred years later. Speaking of which, we hear many infuential artists speak of the debt they owe to Rimbaud. If the hippies were “Woody’s Children” (see Woodrow Wilson Guthrie), then who were Rimbaud’s children but Bob Dylan, John Steinbeck, Patti Smith, Jim Morrison, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, William S Burroughs, Jeff Buckley, Leonard Cohen – his influence is almost too deep to be felt, all these years later, but the fibre of his spirit hides in the cloth of all true art produced today.
Here are a few good quotes from Arthur Rimbaud. His birthday will be soon, October 20…
“Genius is the recovery of childhood at will.”
“I played sly tricks on madness.”
“Morality is the weakness of the brain.”
“Life is the farce which everyone has to perform.”
“I have stretched ropes from steeple to steeple; garlands from window to window; golden chains from star to star, and I dance.”
Please read more about Rimbaud. This blog was not nearly enough to do him the justice he deserves. He will enrich your life and make you see things differently. He is a drug.