Once if I remember well, my life was a feast
where all hearts opened and all wines flowed.
One evening I seated Beauty on my knees
And I found her bitter. And I cursed her.
Arthur Rimbaud - A Season In Hell, translation Louise Verase
These are the opening lines of the last poem written by Arthur Rimbaud. He was 18 years old and would double is age and add a year before he died in the town of his birth, Charleville France, in 1891.
This was a dividing line in his life, and he lived the two halves of his life with the same fevered intensity as the tone of this last long prose-poem. He was the product of a broken home run by a stubborn and bitter mother, who channeled her intense ambitions into a gifted son. The young Rimbaud learned quickly and quickly learned that he couldn't live under the strictures of this home life, running away many times. His life in Paris and his relationship with the poet Paul Verlaine produced the early poems that are collected in a volume called Illuminations. He believed that the poet was the seer on the edge of society, the visionary whose vocabulary consisted of colors, sensations that described unexplored geographies and climates in which he 'dried himself in the air of crime'. He 'played sly tricks on madness' and sometimes he saw 'what other men thought that they saw'.
Then at eighteen he was done with the life of the poet. This one last piece of writing is tellingly described as a season, for he now went out in to the world as a 'man with the wind at his heels', to seek his fortune. He never realized that fortune, either through inexperience or the restless drive that urged him on into unknown parts of Abyssinia where disease eventually drove him home to France and death at age 37.
I often think of the urgent talent of the adolescent writer and the plunge into a world as equally feverish and alien as his imagination. Of the courage to take leave of the literary world of Paris and to venture into 'a heated and violent landscape', and the rosary of afflictions that make up this final letter to the rest of us.