A visionary poetry achieved through systematic derangement of the senses; absinthe, opium, and sexuality, hallucinogenic and transgressive, but also informed by a rigorous scholarship of classical Latin literature and inspired by Baudelaire; Arthur Rimbaud set out on a heroic quest to transcend himself, a magician on a shamanic journey to the Infinite and the transhuman, whose greatness lay in not abandoning the history and civilization which had come before. He absorbed and drew inspiration from the vast and rich treasure of our cultural heritage; these were his wings as he soared like Icarus to the heavens.
Arthur Rimbaud was in Paris during its occupation by Prussia, when the Garde Militaire of the Commune was manning the barricades and the Bacchantes were hunting collaborators with torch and ax; this was the disruptive event and life-altering trauma that launched his mission to find meaning and value through poetry and redeem the madness of the world.
This transformative period of his life, in which a teenage genius and runaway became the great poet-seer who influenced Symbolism, Surrealism, Dadaism, and so many others including Bob Dylan, who modeled himself on Arthur Rimbaud, ended also with a traumatic break, when he was shot by his drunken unbalanced lover Verlaine. Edmund White’s biography Rimbaud: The Double Life of a Rebel, is an excellent context reading. Delirium: The Rimbaud Delusion by Barbara Scott Emmett is also fascinating.
A Season in Hell, Illuminations; his great works chart the course of his degeneration and unmooring from consensus reality which was also a liberation of the spirit and of the imagination, a madness and rapture which transformed him into an angelic figure, combining in one being illumination and darkness, depravity and exaltation.
He followed the Green Fairy, trickster and underworld guide, past the place marked Here Be Dragons and entirely off the map. If you would do the same in pursuit of becoming a poet-seer, I have but one message of warning and advice; you will need Ariadne’s Thread to return to the human world of other people. This is one among the many true purposes of literature; to help us navigate our dreams and provide guidance in becoming human.