Monday, April 12, 2010

Arthur Rimbaud: The Legacy of The Visionary Poet

“The poet makes himself into a seer by a long, involved and logical derangement of all the senses.”

When the seventeen-year-old Arthur Rimbaud wrote the above line in a letter to Paul Demeny dated May 15, 1871, he had already fully committed himself to being a visionary poet. Like William Blake and Charles Baudelaire before him, Rimbaud believed that the true quest of the poet was to obtain the unknown. And like Baudelaire and the shamans of indigenous cultures around the world, Rimbaud believed that gate between the known and unknown could be unlocked with the use of various rituals and drugs.

“It doesn't matter if these leaps into the unknown kill him: other awful workers will follow him; they'll start at the horizons where the other had fallen!”

Arthur Rimbaud's visionary quest ended in 1874 at the ripe old age of twenty, not from his own destruction as he had romanticized, but by his total abandonment of poetry. In 1875, Rimbaud, now living in Stuttgart, handed the poet and his ex-lover, Paul Verlaine, his final manuscript, which Verlaine would later work to get published under the title 'Illuminations'. After that, Rimbaud severed all ties he had to the literary world.

The mythic persona and writings of Arthur Rimbaud have been a major influence on art and the counter- culture since the time of his death in 1891. Writers such as Dylan Thomas, Vladamir Nabokov, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, JD Salinger, and Henry Miller all cited Rimbaud as a major influence on their lives and writings. In 1956, Henry Miller published The Time of The Assassins: A Study of Rimbaud.

Even more than writers, Rimbaud has been cited as being a major influence on musicians. When Bob Dylan shed his Woody Guthrie folk hero persona, he adopted that of a rock and roll Rimbaud. The lyrics of his songs turned away from social protest and became lengthy, hallucinatory songs that were carried by strong imagery and clever wit, much like the poetry of Rimbaud. Other musicians such, as Patti Smith, Jim Morrison, The Clash, Courtney Love, Frou Frou, Manic Street Preachers, and Richard Hell have also, in one way or another, paid tribute to the influence Arthur Rimbaud has had on them.

The cinema has also felt the presence of Arthur Rimbaud. In 1995 Leonardo DiCaprio starred as Arthur Rimbaud in the film Total Eclipse. Director Jean-Luc Godard made reference to Rimbaud in his films, Bande a Part, and Pierrot Le Fou. In 2007, Todd Haynes' film, I'm Not There, which was a symbolic biographical film about the life of Bob Dylan, had a character named Arthur Rimbaud, who was played by Ben Whishaw, and was meant to represent Dylan's own Rimbaudian period.

Amongst the poets, there will always be a rebel. And in the case of Rimbaud the myth of him as poet and rebel has grown to the point of continuing to influence the generations that have followed him, just as he had hoped.       

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