by Mandy de Waal
Click on over to the New York Times and you'll find a gallery of tortured artists. First up is a youthful, but ghostly looking Jean Nicolas Arthur Rimbaud. The caption for the dark painting on the NYT site reads: “The Poet Rimbaud. Serial runaway. Absinthe and hashish benders. Shot by poet-lover Verlaine.”
Born in October 1854 in the Champagne-Ardenne region of France, Rimbaud started writing poetry in primary school. By the time he was 16 he'd already written Le Dormeur du Val [The Sleeper In The Valley].
“It is a green hollow where a stream gurgles,” the poem begins, before telling the story of “A young soldier, open-mouthed, bare-headed, With the nape of his neck bathed in cool blue watercress,” sleeping stretched out on the grass under the sky.
Written during the French-Prussian war, the denouement of this piece is tragic:
“No odour makes his nostrils quiver;
He sleeps in the sun, his hand on his breast
At peace. There are two red holes in his right side.”
Arthur Rimbaud – A poetic genius whose talent flowered early, but who turned his back on verse at the tender age of 21.
Rimbaud's life was no less grim. His genius flowered early, and then stalled. By the time he was 21 he'd stopped writing. Four years earlier he'd send Le Dormeur du Val to celebrated French poet, Paul Verlaine, who'd forsake his wife and child for Rimbaud. The relationship would end after a few short years after Verlaine discharged a gun at Rimbaud in a jealous, drunken rage. Rimbaud wouldn't die then, but at at the age of 37 after suffering many agonising months from bone cancer.
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by Maniza Naqvi
One perfect morning over several hours and cups of Tomoca macchiatos, under a clear blue sky and a sun whose warmth is like the perfect heat of a clay oven—I sit listening in at a café to the conversation at the table next to mine. Impossible not to, the short story which has engrossed me has come to an end. What better option then, but to keep the magazine open in a habit of reading and just listen instead. Two recently acquainted friends, I decipher, by way of an embassy dinner party two nights ago, sitting at the adjacent table and as Fereng as I, are arguing, or so it seems to me, about the local newspapers.
I find myself educated thus on Rimbaud and on how to read the local broadsheet and tabloids. I write here only what I have heard, from the two and not at all an opinion that I may hold myself. Far be it for me to hold such opinions for I am only here to mind my own business, and in the intervals to enjoy the mild climate and the coffee that the day has presented to me.
The scholar amongst the two, whom I have mistaken by his accent at first to be South Indian, is from Mauritius, and who, as I have understood from the conversation till this point, is on his way to Harar tomorrow, to deliver his own opinion at a local university on a paper on Arthur Rimbaud, who in this paper has been presented as the resident of Harar 1801-1807 and as the arms salesman and importer of brilles. Apparently, Arthur Rimbaud had inside information on market demand, through his friend in the palace of Emperor Menelik, the Swiss born Alfred Ilg, who was the chief advisor to the Emperor. Ilg kept Rimbaud informed about the royal household’s demands for such things as mini carafes or brilles for Tej. All this is news to me, this sunny morning, not only the poet, but also his trade. And it bears repeating, that he was the importer of arms and of the fragile long necked glass decanters from Italy called brilles, favored by the elite of Ethiopia as the vessels of choice for serving the traditional honey wine, Tej. So while other scholars would comment on his poetry, this scholar was to shed further light on the paper to be delivered there on Rimbaud the businessman in Harar, contributing to the weapons and alcohol trade. He was in the rather novel position of having to speak not of the poet’s art but rather his reasons for being in Ethiopia and his craft.
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