It’s the birthday of the poet Arthur Rimbaud (books by this author), born in Charleville, France (1854). He began writing letters to the poet Paul Verlaine, whose work he admired, and Verlaine invited him to stay at his house. When he arrived, Rimbaud had his first masterpiece in his pocket, a poem called “The Drunken Boat” (1871), describing the journey of an empty boat as it wanders the ocean and eventually breaks apart.
Rimbaud didn’t get along with Verlaine’s family or his friends. He had a habit of taking off his clothes and shouting obscenities in public, and that tended to put people off. But everyone agreed that his poetry was the work of a genius and Verlaine fell in love with him. The two had a scandalously open affair that shocked the rest of the Paris literary scene. But they had a bitter break-up, and the relationship ended when Verlaine tried to murder Rimbaud with a pistol, shooting him in the arm.
Verlaine went to prison and Rimbaud went back to his mother, and he wrote one of his last books, A Season in Hell (1873). Rimbaud had been 16 when he started publishing his poetry, and he was 19 when he gave up on poetry and took off to wander around the world, winding up in Africa, where he became an arms dealer. He kept writing letters to his family, but he never wrote another poem, and never gave any hint that he missed writing them.
Rimbaud, who said: “I turned silences and nights into words. What was unutterable, I wrote down. I made the whirling world stand still.” / The writer’s almanac