October 20

This Day in History

Literary

Oct 20, 1853:

French poet Arthur Rimbaud is born

On this day, Arthur Rimbaud is born in Charleville, France. His father, an army officer, deserted the family when Rimbaud was six. Rimbaud was a brilliant student, and his first poem was published in a French review when he was 16. The following year, he rebelled and ran away to Paris. He joined the National Guard briefly during the Franco-Prussian War but quickly left to wander northern Paris and Belgium. He was captured by police and returned to his home.

Meanwhile, Rimbaud was writing poetry. He had concluded that poets must break through conventional morality and restraint in order to explore human experience. He sent some of his poems to Symbolist poet Paul Verlaine, who sent him money to travel to Paris and stay with him and his wife. Verlaine and Rimbaud became lovers, and Verlaine left his wife in 1872 for Rimbaud. That year, Rimbaud published his first book, New Poems. Verlaine and Rimbaud quarreled, and after a fight in July 1873, Verlaine shot Rimbaud in the wrist and was sentenced to two years in jail.

Rimbaud published A Season in Hell in 1873, and Illuminations in 1886. Most of his best poems were written before he was 20. He spent the last decade of his life roaming Africa and the Middle East. In 1891, he contracted gangrene and died in Marseilles, France.

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