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Arthur Rimbaud: A Personal Reflection

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Part 1:

One hundred years after the death of Jean Nicolas Arthur Rimbaud(1854-1891), a French poet, I was just beginning to find my way in the world of poetry. Rimbaud influenced modern literature and arts, inspired various musicians, and prefigured surrealism. He started writing poems at a very young age while still in primary school, and stopped completely before he turned 21. He was mostly creative in his late teens. His "genius, its flowering, explosion and sudden extinction, still astonishes."1-Ron Price with thanks to 1Cecil Hackett, Rimbaud: A Critical Introduction, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010, (1981).

In 1991, on the 100th anniversary of Rimbaud's death, I was teaching English Literature at a polytechnic in Western Australia and had begun to turn to studying and writing poetry. Unlike Rimbaud I did not really find my home in poetry until well into my middle age, and after I had turned away from novel-writing. I also turned toward poetry as several fires were also beginning to go out in my career-life, my sex-life and my emotional life. By 1991 I was fully compliant on my medications for bipolar disorder. In these last two decades my emotional life has gone through a series of smoothing-out of the edges due to changes in my medications. There were some difficult transitions but, as I write these words, my intellectual-emotional-sensory world has become more balanced than in all the previous stages and phases of my life-narrative.

Part 2:

I gradually came to know more about this French poet in the last two decades as I studied more and more of the western intellectual-poetic tradition. But Rimbaud's work is far too eccentric, wild, and lacking in common sense for my liking. The French poet Paul Valery made this same point in Graham Robb's book, Rimbaud, New York: W.W. Norton & Co.
I find that making comparisons and contrasts between myself and other poets provides insights and understandings into my own life and my own poetic work. It is this desire that has led to this particular prose-poem and many others of a similar nature.

Rimbaud, like me, was a restless soul who traveled on three continents. I, too, had a restless quality especially in my young adulthood. I traveled extensively on two continents from my 20s to my 50s; in later life, after taking an early retirement at the age of 55, I traveled briefly in Europe and the Middle East.

I had bohemian and libertine tendencies in my late teens and early 20s, but they were nothing like those of this French poet whose tendencies continued to a wide range of excesses; he died before he was 40. My tendencies to excess were largely curtailed, muted, conventionalised, by my two marriages, my career in the teaching profession, medications for my mental health problems, and my religious proclivities by sensible and insensible degrees over several decades.

Rimbaud's mother was authoritarian and controlling. He ran away from her as soon as he could. My mother, on the other hand, was kind and understanding; indeed, she was a liberating and encouraging force in my life. Still, as I look back to my early 20s, it seemed that I had to break the umbilical cord, and it was not easy. My publishing life was just beginning in my late 30s as Rimbaud was heading into a hole for those who speak no more, as that prolific Iranian figure, the Bab, put it so succinctly.

Part 3:

Rimbaud's poetic philosophy had several facets quite unlike my approach to poetry. "The idea," he stated, "is to reach the unknown by the derangement of all the senses." Any derangement of my senses, which was the result of my bipolar disorder, was not something I wanted to replicate and encourage and, by the age of 24, I began a lifetime of medications that kept my sensory experience in the bounds of normality.

"Being a real poet involves enormous suffering, but one must be strong and be a born poet," so wrote Rimbaud. "I say that one must be a seer, make oneself a seer," he continued; "the poet makes himself a seer by a long, prodigious, and rational disordering of all the senses. To be a seer he also must experience every form of love, of suffering, and of madness.

The poet must search himself, consume all the poisons in him, and keep only their quintessence. This is an unspeakable torture during which he needs all his faith and superhuman strength, and during which he becomes the great patient, the great criminal, the great accursed, and the great learned one, among men."

Part 3.1:

"Only then will be he arrive at the unknown because he has cultivated his own soul, which was rich to begin with, more than any other man! He reaches the unknown; and even if, crazed, he ends up by losing the understanding of his visions, at least he has seen them! Let him die charging through those unutterable, unnamable things: other horrible workers will come; they will begin from the horizons where he has succumbed."2-Ron Price with thanks to 2Wikipedia, 21/12/'14.

Part 4:

I can go with you, Arthur,
on some of your ideas, but
my approach to unknowns
in life has taken a different
course with senses firmly in
tact, and not at all deranged.
I, too, will die charging into
and through my visions and
all those named & unnamed
things.....And, yes, Arthur...
there is a madness in it all,
but the world knows much
more about madness now.

I have had to deal with the
poisons you mention, but
now I only keep a little of
their quintessence as I go
into the evening of my life.

Ron Price