Charleville Mezieres, the birthplace of Arthur Rimbaud
Arthur Rimbaud is a famous French poet born and raised in the beautiful town of Charleville towards the end of the 19th century. He is renowned and well known across France, though not so famous in the UK.
If you visit Charleville it is hard to miss him though, as many of Charleville’s restaurants, artwork and hotels are named after him and there is not one, but two museums dedicated to his memory.
Museum dedicated to Arthur Rimbeau
About Arthur Rimbaud
Arthur Rimbaud was born in 1854 and is most famous for his poetry and influence on modern literature and the arts, particularly surrealism.
He wrote all his famous poems between the ages of 15 and 21, a young genius! He was known to be a bit of a lost soul, desperate to travel and see more of the world beyond Charleville. In fact, this is what he did leaving Charleville and his writing behind to travel across 3 continents as a merchant in his early twenties, including spending a couple of years in Ethiopia in Northern Africa.
Before he left for his travels he had an affair with another famous surrealist poet, Paul Verlaine, where they briefly lived a wild life in Paris, consisting of Opium, hashish and Absinthe. He then returned to Charleville and wrote more poems (often about this time in his life) before departing on his big adventure travelling the world and stopping writing altogether.
There isn’t loads of information about his time abroad, other than a few images and books and other items he travelled with. Rimbaud returned to France after a few years due to ill health and sadly passed away from bone cancer at the young age of 37. Though he died in a hospital in Marseille, his remains were brought back to Charleville where he was buried.
You will find elements of Arthur Rimbaud’s poetry, life and influence throughout the town. Below I share some of the main things you should see and do to learn more about this famous poet!
Arthur Rimbaud is represented all over the city of Charleville-Mézières.
Learn at The Arthur Rimbaud Museum – Musée Rimbaud
The main Arthur Rimbaud museum is inside a tall former 17th century mill that sits across a tributary of the river Meuse. The building itself is majestic and beautiful and can be seen from the main Place Ducale.
Museum dedicated to Arthur Rimbeau
Though in an old building it is creative and modern inside, spread across four floors. A lift takes you up to the top of the building where you slowly make your way down learning more about Arthur’s life along the way.
On the first floor you can listen to some of his poetry being read, you sit on a chair while a recording is played on repeat from speakers above your head.
Room where you can listen to poetry
Though much of the museum is in French, you can still learn a lot about the poet through the images and artefacts that fill the museum. From quotes written across walls, to photos of Arthur as a child and images of his lover Paul Verlaine.
As you move through the building at one point you cross over a bridge inside the building, where you see the river running below you and a piece of street art of Arthur kept longer than any other street art as it is sheltered from the outside elements.
The final room of the museum is all about Arthur’s time abroad and includes a red room where you can see some of his original photographs. You will also find some of the things Arthur travelled with, including his suitcases, a vast collection of scientific books and maps.
Suitcase that belonged to Arthur Rimbeau during his trip abroad
Arthur’s original poetry and belongings sit alongside modern art inspired by the poet.
After learning all about Arthur you can head out the back entrance and will see a former boathouse, now named ‘La salle de l’Auberge verte’, again inspired by a Rimbaud poem, where they host conferences, meetings, lectures and more on the river.
Visit Maison Des Ailleurs – Arthur’s former house
As part of your ticket price you also get access to Maison Des Ailleurs, the house Arthur lived in from 1869 to 1875. This is the house Arthur lived in when he wrote the majority of his poetry so offers a real look into Arthur’s former life.
The rooms are left largely bare as any furniture has since been lost. Instead each room of the house has a projector that shows different maps of places he visited on his travels and journeys he took. For example, one room shows the streets of Paris in 1875 where he had a wild time with Paul Verlaine, and was inspired for much of his poetry.
Films and texts are also projected across the walls of each room, though again it was all in French so hard to take much in beyond the pictures.
The interior courtyard area behind the house is a space where today’s poets can sit and be inspired by Arthur and write their own modern day poetry.
The Maison Des Ailleurs is only a few yards down from the main museum and between the two and opposite the house you will find a number of silver chairs with parts of Arthur’s poems on them. Again these are designed to inspire today’s poets while they sit and reflect between the river and Arthur’s former home.
Court of Maison Des Ailleurs
Visit Arthur Rimbaud’s Grave
It may seem quite morbid visiting a grave, but it is an essential spot when on an Arthur Rimbaud style tour of the city. The old cemetery is situated about a 20 minute walk from the museum and is looked after by someone who lives in the original cemetery house by the gates.
Arthur’s grave is beside his sister and is well looked after and surrounded by a low fence and a sign so you won’t miss it. At the entrance of the cemetery on the right you will see a gold letter box which is where people can write letters to Rimbaud and post them ‘to him’. A few of these letters are later read out and shared with other fans in the town at particular celebrations.
Tombs of Arthur Rimbaud and his Sister Vitalie Rimbaud
Still today Arthur Rimbeau receives letters from all over the world to the box that dedicated to him.
Arthur’s grave is just one stop on the wider Arthur Rimbaud walking tour which you can follow yourself and download in advance. As part of our tour we walked past Pierquin house and through a pretty public park that was donated to the city by a friend of Arthur’s who helped encourage his family to publish his poems after Arthur had died. It takes you past his old school, to different spots that inspired his poetry and past the vast number of street art that has been inspired by him.
Walk the Rimbaud Art Trail
The Arthur Rimbaud trail around the city has been more recently enhanced by beautiful giant street art on different walls across the city.
A poem by Arthur Rimbeau in town
They are known as ‘frescoes’ and depict different Arthur Rimbaud poems across towering walls, each designed and created by an artist. There were originally just 3 across the city, but these keep growing with applications for more artists to be part of this beautiful city art.
“Voyelles”, “Ophélie” and “Le Dormeur du val” are the three original pieces of street art that were shared across the city, each inspired by a different one of Arthur’s poems. The art work enables everyone to see, enjoy and learn from Arthur’s poems without having to find them in a book. Instead they are written across huge walls, with different eye catching art work to interest those who might not normally be interested in poetry. Below you will find a link to where you can find a couple of my favourites via Google maps.
A poem by Arthur Rimbeau in town
Ophélie – Rue Michelet, in front of the Multiplex Cinema
Ma Bohème – 13 Rue de Gonzague
We saw four more frescoes at the end of our bike journey along the EuroVelo Route 19. These are four of the newer frescoes found on Rue Louis Fraison at the end of floor different apartment blocks. They bring colour and creativity to these otherwise fairly bland apartment blocks and it was a great way to end our 20km bike ride.
Fresco that decorates the city
You can pick up a booklet from the tourism office in Place Ducal which includes a map showing you all the key points along the Arthur Rimbaud trail. This is currently only in French, but the map itself is super useful so it’s worth picking up a copy.
Eat at Table D’Arthur
Table D’Arthur is one of many places in Charleville inspired by Arthur Rimbaud, translated as Arthur’s table, it has nothing to do with King Arthur and the round table and everything to do with Arthur Rimbaud.
Meals at Arthur Rimbeau’s table
On the main shopping street ‘Rue de la Republique’ their small A board points you down a narrow alley to the entrance of the restaurant. The house Arthur was born in is opposite the restaurant entrance, but you wouldn’t realise unless you look up to the small plaque on the wall. It is now privately owned.
When you enter you are faced with a smart open plan kitchen where you can see a number of chefs busily turning out delicious looking food.
The cellar restaurant was buzzing at 12.30pm on a Thursday lunchtime and we were sure in for a treat at Table D’Arthur.
Beyond the name and location I’m not sure how much more of the restaurant and food is inspired by Arthur, as with an ever changing modern menu I’m sure they wouldn’t want to restrict themselves to whatever Arthur ate in the 19th century!
The cellar atmosphere makes you quickly forget it’s the middle of the day and so when we were greeted with a champagne aperitif to start our lunch we knew we might be here a while.
We had a 3 course meal for €64 for the two of us which seemed a great deal for such well thought out, creative and delicious food. Table D’Arthur is fine dining at its best and still at a reasonable price.
I had a luscious Viccisois de moule with a towering ile flottante, I’ve always been against the idea of cold soup, but this was delicious and I didn’t want it to end. They say the French do the best food and the more meals we had in Charleville the more we agreed with this statement.
Table D’Arthur puts as much thought into its wine as it does its food. Being in a cellar we were surrounded by bottles of all sizes hidden in every nook and cranny. We were brought different wines to match each course by our knowledgeable waiter.
For our main I had a trio of poultry dishes on a plate, that included duck croquettes and two different chicken dishes. All three were exquisite and I didn’t want them to end. Olly had a mouth-watering piece of smoked sirloin.
Whether you are an Arthur Rimbaud fan or not a visit to Table D’Arthur is essential on any visit to Charleville
My favourite Arthur Rimbaud Quotes
It is hard to translate poetry as often it can start to lose some of its meaning and flow, but I have enjoyed reading some of Arthur’s most famous quotes. He was a man ahead of his time in his surrealist work and perhaps a genius for his age when looking at some of his thought provoking words in his poems. Below are a few of my favourite Arthur Rimbaud quotes. Some make me laugh, others show you what a tortured soul young Arthur was.
‘A thousand dreams with me softly burn’
‘The only unbearable thing is that nothing is bearable’
‘Life is the farce which everyone has to perform’
‘You will always be a hyena’
Whether you have heard of Arthur Rimbaud before or not, you are sure to know a lot about him by the end of any visit to Charleville. The people speak proudly of him and the city is a showcase to his short but creative life!