Arthur Rimbaud: A Brilliant Poet

Charleville is where the precocious and rebellious child grew into an internationally recognised icon. The brilliance of Arthur Rimbaud quickly felt stunted in this small city still in its fully industrial phase. Charleville is today a city of incontestable cultural richness.

Le Dormeur du val

C'est un trou de verdure où chante une rivière,
Accrochant follement aux herbes des haillons
D'argent ; où le soleil, de la montagne fière,
Luit : c'est un petit val qui mousse de rayons.

Un soldat jeune, bouche ouverte, tête nue,
Et la nuque baignant dans le frais cresson bleu,
Dort ; il est étendu dans l'herbe, sous la nue,
Pâle dans son lit vert où la lumière pleut.

Les pieds dans les glaïeuls, il dort. Souriant comme
Sourirait un enfant malade, il fait un somme :
Nature, berce-le chaudement : il a froid.

Les parfums ne font pas frissonner sa narine ;
Il dort dans le soleil, la main sur sa poitrine,
Tranquille. Il a deux trous rouges au côté droit.

Selective Biography of Arhur Rimbaud

Arthur Rimbaud was born in Charleville in 1854, it is where he spent his childhood and adolescence before moving on to Paris and later discovering the world.

His mother, Vitalie Cuif, was a very pious and authoritative woman who raised her children alone in the absence of her husband, Frédéric Rimbaud, a military man, who abandoned her in 1860. In October 1862, Arthur Rimbaud entered the Institut Rossat, a school for children of the Charleville bourgeoisie.

  • In 1865, he left the Institut Rossat and went to the college at Charleville where he demonstrated himself to be an excellent student. It was around this time that he began writing poetry.
La rue Thiers à Charleville
Classe de l'institut Rossat

La rue Thiers à Charleville

Classe de l'institut Rossat


  • In 1870, he formed a friendship with Georges Izambard, his professor of rhetoric. This professor introduced him to Rabelais, Victor Hugo, and Théodore de Banville. Rimbaud’s mother did not appreciate the friendship between the young boy and the professor as it was not in accordance with the strict education she intended for her children. In 1870 the young Arthur broke out into the world, and it was already apparent that he had an unquenchable thirst for freedom that was stronger than any of his other drives. In August of that same year he left for Paris, as France and Prussia entered the war. Without a train ticket, he was arrested on arrival at the Gare du Nord in Paris and incarcerated at Mazas. At his request, Georges Izambard, his professor, posted his bail and paid for his lodgings for a period of time with his aunts at Douai, the Gindre women, before sending him back to Charleville at the request of Vitalie. Soon after returning, he escaped again, to Charleroi this time, where he hoped to be taken on as  an editor at the Charleroi Newspaper. He left for Brussels then Douai with the idea of meeting up with Izambard, but he returned home again to Charleville. He left a third time in February 1871 and reached the capital at the end of the siege of Paris. He stayed there for two weeks. The year 1871 is above all marked by his meeting with Paul Verlaine who invited him to Paris, officially this time, with the now famous phrase “Come dear great soul, you are called, you are awaited!”. Verlaine introduced him to Parisian literary circles like Le Parnasse and le Cercle Zutique. The friendship between the two men turned into love and they both ended up leaving together to live in London during the year of 1872.


  • In 1873, the relationship between the two men was very conflictual. Months passed as they quarrels, broke up, and made up. On the 10th of July 1873, in Brussels, their relationship would reach the point of no return when, during an umpteenth argument, Verlaine fired two shots of a revolver at Rimbaud, wounding him in the wrist. This episode marked the end of their relationship. Verlaine was sentenced to two years in prison and Rimbaud went back to Charleville and wrote “Une saison en enfer” (A Season in Hell).


  • In 1874, Rimbaud returned to London with the poet Germain Nouveau, there he wrote other poems, being inspired by the then industrial city. He met Verlaine again in Stuttgart in 1875 and gave him the manuscripts that would form the collection of Illuminations published in 1886 by Verlaine in the magazine La Vogue.
    The same year, Arthur Rimbaud decided definitely to stop writing poetry.


  • From 1876 to 1880, he travelled across Europe and the Mediterranean coast: Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Egypt, and Cyprus. This period is punctuated by return trips to Charleville.


  • In 1880, Rimbaud arrived in Aden, he was employed as a coffee sorting supervisor by Alfred Bardey who subsequently proposed he become his trading agent in Harar in the Abyssinian lands.
    Rimbaud was interested in photography and took the chance to discover the African countries. In October 1883, he wrote a report on his exploration of the region of Ogadine, published the following year by the Geographic Society.


  • In 1885, he left Bardy’s agency to bring a caravan of arms to Ménélik, king of Shoa. During this African period, Rimbaud was not interested in poetry, however he wrote to his family a lot to describe to them his numerous projects, his health problems and at times was carried away with the melancholy of what became an isolated life.
Le buste d'Arthur Rimbaud - Square de la Gare à Charleville
La Tombe d'Arthur Rimbaud dans le cimetière de Charleville
La Tombe d'Arthur Rimbaud dans le cimetière de Charleville

La Tombe d'Arthur Rimbaud dans le cimetière de Charleville

  • In 1891 he was repatriated to France after suffering a tumour on his right knee, which led to his death at the age of thirty-seven, on 10 November 1891. This was right at the time that people of letters were jostling over the undamaged copies from the Reliquary, the collection of his early poems. There had been much talk about him over the last seven years since Verlaine had written about him in Poètes maudits and published his Illuminations in La Vogue literary review.


    In 1901, the first monument commemorating the poet was inaugurated in the square in front of Charleville station, on the initiative of his friends Delahaye and Pierquin, together with his sister, Isabelle, and her husband Paterne Berrichon.

With its 'absolutely modern' Musée Arthur Rimbaud and the Maison des Ailleurs, the city is proud to pay homage to its 'enfant terrible'.

Events around Arthur Rimbaud

Two events by the contemporary poetry scene pay him homage: the Printemps des Poètes, annual national event in March and the Festival des Ailleurs, a binnial event, unique to Charleville that takes place in the alternate years of the Festival Mondiale des Théâtres de Marionnettes, but in October instead of September.


The Printemps des Poètes

The Printemps des Poètes is an event of national significance, but is of particular importance for Charleville in terms of Rimbaud legacy and its connection to contemporary poetry, which takes place in March. The “Printemps des Poètes” 2014 celebrated its 16th spring this year! The Printemps des Poètes is an event in which the sharing of poems is done throughout the city. An event that incites a great number of participants to celebrate poetry, whatever their form of expression. A major get-together for the birth city of Arthur Rimbaud, whose cultural action in favour of poetry was rewarded in October 2012 with the label “City of Poetry”.

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The International Poetry Biennale

The international Biennale of Poèsie des Ailleurs (BIP) is an event that takes place every two years in the month of October. Poets and artists of all languages and masters of their word come together for 12 days. It gives an smorgasbord of contemporary poetic creations in a sweepingly broad spectrum of styles (slam, hip-hop, of countrysides), never forgetting the young audience members. Most of the shows and events are free, and this is to make the poetry even more accessible to all.

Tours, concerts, lectures, conferences and recitals follow each other in different parts of the city to pay homage to Rimbaud and contemporary poets during these events that draw lovers of poetry and Rimbaud, from all over the world. A rich program that is organised by the cultural service of the city and the Rimbaud Museum.

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