Writer’s Quote Wednesday – Arthur Rimbaud

Congrats! You’ve made it halfway through the week, whew! I had a rough start but since then things have improved and I am making my way to Friday in a much better mood. If you are in need of a little push to get you the rest of the way check out Colleen’s weekly event Writer’s Quote Wednesday. Every week bloggers pull their favorite quotes from other writers to keep us all inspired and motivated.

My contribution this week is from the poet Jean Nicolas Arthur Rimbaud.

Portrait of Arthur Rimbaud at the age of seventeen, Étienne Carjat

Born October 20, 1854 in Charleville, Ardennes, Rimbaud was a French poet who started writing verse at the age of 16 and then abruptly stopped before he was 21. It is said that his “genius, its flowering, explosion and sudden extinction, still astonishes”. He made an incredible impact on the Surrealist movement and is a major figure in symbolism.

Rimbaud was very much a libertine and an adventurer. He ran away from home a few times and wandered the countryside until he ended up in Paris. He was 16 by then and met the poet Paul Verlaine. Verlaine was impressed by what is probably Rimbaud’s most famous work, Le Bateau ivre (The Drunken Boat) in which he sends a toy boat on a journey, an allegory for a spiritual quest.

Verlaine and Rimbaud eventually became lovers but their relationship was erratic and often hostile. They lived together for eighteen months and in three different countries. Their relationship ended abruptly, after a particularly bad fight where a drunk and hysterical Verlaine shot Rimbaud in the hand.

Rimbaud continued to write but by the age of 19 or 20 he began to think seriously about his finances. He quit poetry and took jobs in African towns as a colonial tradesman. He never wrote prose again.

These jobs caused considerable stress in his adult life. He struggled to secure financial success, the traveling left him sick, and he hated the culture and climates of the towns he worked in. He was quite racist but fear of the French military draft kept him from returning home. In 1891 he began to experience pain in his knee and after being misdiagnosed his doctor recommended amputation. Unfortunately, what was really wrong with his knee was bone cancer, which actually continued to spread, even after the amputation.

He died on November 10, 1891 at the age of thirty-seven. Four years later, his ex-lover Verlaine published his complete works, securing Rimbaud’s fame.

“I turned silences and nights into words. What was unutterable, I wrote down. I made the whirling world stand still.”

— Arthur Rimbaud

This quote, and Rimbaud’s story moved me greatly. The fact that he only wrote as a teenager and then abruptly stopped, for financial reasons, makes me think of the worries all creative types have of never being able to live on their talent and passion. The starving artist myth can feel very real when you read stories like this.

The quote is a beautiful one. Sometimes writing feels like such a logical, tedious, and boring thing but we writers are always working to give words to the things that can’t easily be explained. Those profound and abstract things like what exactly emotions are, what it means to alive and to be a human, the way the night sky looks, or what silence sounds like are things for which no words quite describe. Yet we have this drive to try and try again to form them into paragraphs and chapters.

When we do this we freeze time and force the world to stand still so we can really see what these things are. We examine them from every angle and share our findings, hoping that in doing so we give others the chance to feel as deeply about these moments as we do.

Original image via https://flic.kr/p/qGQJwT


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