The Young Seer

I just came to a close on Rimbaud Complete, the bright orange collection translated, edited and introduced by Wyatt Mason. (I’d read Graham Robb’s Rimbaud: A Biography several years ago, and loved it.) I can’t tell you exactly what I was doing in my 15th or 16th year, but it wasn’t writing poems with opening lines like this:

And so off I went, fists thrust in the torn pockets
Of a coat held together by no more than its name.
O Muse, how I served you beneath the blue;
And oh what dreams of dazzling love I dreamed!

The poem was “My Bohemia: A Fantasy,” and it ended this way: 

And there, surrounded by streaming shadows, I rhymed
Aloud, and as if they were lyres, plucked the laces
Of my wounded shoes, one foot beneath my heart.

That same year (1870), the young Rimbaud sent a spirited introductory note to a poet named Theodore de Banville, a piece of correspondence that Mason, in a footnote, calls “as brazen a cold-letter as one finds in literature.” It opens:

Cher Maitre,

These are the months of love; I’m seventeen, the time of hope and chimeras, as they say, so, a child blessed by the hand of the Muse (how trivial that must seem), I’ve set out to express my good thoughts, my hopes, my feelings, the provinces of poets – I call all of this Spring.

Rimbaud was lying, of course. He was only 15 and a half. The letter’s last line, just before his name: “Ambition! Such madness!”