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Rimbaud and The Nasty Fellows


"The Nasty Fellows" by Bruce Duffy

An excerpt from Disaster Was My God: A Novel of the Outlaw Life of Arthur Rimbaud

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I don't know enough about Rimbaud or his poetry to judge Duffy's depiction, but I enjoyed the read.

Last edited by Katlin, Aug/30/2011, 12:32 pm
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Terreson Profile
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Re: Rimbaud and The Nasty Fellows


Rimbaud must be in the air, which would be a good thing even if a little dangerous. Kat, I know the period pretty well. I can speak with limited authority about that generation of French poets, Verlaine's and Rimbaud's, that followed the lead of Charles Baudelaire, at the same time following Baudelaire's introduction of E.A. Poe to them. Eventually lit history would call them Symbolist poets.

Verlaine and Rimbaud were close friends for awhile. They once took off together on a walking tour of France, something that was quite popular in 19th C. France, especially for poets and artists. Verlaine was a violent man. He was once arrested, might have in in Le Havre, for beating his mother badly. The novel excerpt's Dragoness would have been that mother. If the portrait is accurate it would seem she could provoke a man, even her son, to violence. Something I've always suspected about the case. Eventually Rimbaud would leave him. I think it was on their walking tour when they got into a quarrel and Verlaine ruffed him up badly. I don't know for a fact if the two men were lovers. I know they were close and that Rimbaud was gay. After he left France for the Middle East, became a smuggler and possibly a gun runner, he kept to a string of exotic young, Arab boys.

I am taken by Duffy's treatment of Parisian life, which is enough to suggest to me he knows what he is doing here. Many of the accounts I've read of late 19th C Paris point to what he points to: the salient need for community. Keep in mind the city was home, in 1871, to the Paris Commune, a period of less than a year when the city was governed by a labor led commune. This followed the debacle of the Franco-Prussian War when France had no effective government. I am also struck by his sense of smell, so to speak. One account of the beautiful Parisiennes of the Belle Epoche points out that when a deleiciously beautiful woman unclothed before making love, having not bathed in a while, the stench from her unstockinged legs could be overwhelming. But the French, all of Continental Europe for that matter, have never objected to the earth and flesh smells we Anglos have been potty trained to abhor.

What I particularly like about the writing is how it handles the assembled poets there for a reading. That was common in Paris in those days. A little later than the actions depicted here, the most famous such gathering occurred at the home of Stephan Mallarme, now called the Arch Symbolist. The gatherings were known as Mallarme's Tusday night meetings. Famous enough so that when Yeats visited Paris, something he did regularly, he made a point of going to the meetings. This would have been in the 1880s.

By way of introducing the gathered poets Duffy refers to them as the Parnassian poets. Exactly right. A little older than the Symbolists they were the poets the likes of Rimbaud, Verlaine, LaForgue, Corbiere rebelled against. So Duffy also here gets the scene right. The Parnassians emphasized restraint in verse, both in form and content. The Symbolists would have nothing of that. For example, for some, LaForgue is credited with having invented vers libres. I love how Duffy points out that these bad boy poets by night, the Parnassians, by day were clerks, government workers, etc. Nice touch.

Duffy knows the period all right, even in the little details it would seem. I might have to find the novel. I am now curious how, or if he approaches the emerging aesthetic of late 19 C, first in France, then how it spread though out Europe, what the Symbolists ushered in and that was taken up by others. Sometimes called the Fin de Seicle. Sometimes called the period of Decadence. Interesting term, that second one. The connotations it carries now did not apply then. The Decadents pretty much and actively carried on the rebellion against false values Baudelaire had inaugrated

Found a remembered painting of a poetry reading from the era:

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As a point of academic interest, and because I love this stuff, from left to right the poets portrayed are: F. le Dantec, E. Verhaeren, F. Viele-Griffin, H.E. Cross, F. feneon, A. Gide, H. Gheon, M. Maeterlinck. Gide, Maeterlinck, possibly Verhaeren could still be familiar names.

Tere

Last edited by Terreson, Aug/30/2011, 2:19 pm
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Katlin Profile
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Re: Rimbaud and The Nasty Fellows


Hey Tere,

Thanks for all the background info!

I came across this poem today that also held my interest:

"The Late Letters of Arthur Rimbaud" by Michael Theune

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More Rimbaud in the air:

“I say that one must be a seer, make oneself a seer. The poet makes himself a seer by a long, prodigious, and rational disordering of all the senses. Every form of love, of suffering, of madness; he searches himself, he consumes all the poisons in him, and keeps only their quintessences. This is an unspeakable torture during which he needs all his faith and superhuman strength, and during which he becomes the great patient, the great criminal, the great accursed – and the great learned one! – among men. – For he arrives at the unknown! Because he has cultivated his own soul – which was rich to begin with – more than any other man! He reaches the unknown; and even if, crazed, he ends up by losing the understanding of his visions, at least he has seen them! Let him die charging through those unutterable, unnameable things: other horrible workers will come; they will begin from the horizons where he has succumbed!” Rimbaud

Taken from:

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Last edited by Katlin, Aug/31/2011, 12:29 pm
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Re: Rimbaud and The Nasty Fellows


Kat, you can find the full text of the letter from which the passage was lifted here.

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It is the second of the two letters, both famously known as from the visionary.

An interesting bio tidbit about Rimbaud I think quite telling. After he gave up on poetry and before leaving France for the Middle East, around the age of 18 or so, he briefly devoted himself to the study of linguistics, both in France and, as I recall, in Germany. To me this is huge information about Rimbaud and his poetic ambitions, his objectives. I am inclined to think he had a specific, deliberate program that revolved around his incendiary "disorganization of all the senses" notion. Seems possible he had a template in mind, that what he did was not at all haphazard, but deliberate.

Tere

Last edited by Terreson, Sep/1/2011, 3:25 pm
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