Two of the most important and influential French poets of the 19th Century, harbingers of the modern age, their influence is still strong today.
The original enfant terrible, Rimbaud was a visionary modernist poet who transformed French poetry. A precocious literary genius from the town of Charleville, close to the border with Belgium, in 1871 he was introduced to the older and more established poet, Paul Verlaine, and started a scandalous love affair with him. Shortly afterwards the two poets ran away together to the relative anonymity of London, then a fast-developing industrial metropolis. During the brief time that he lived in London Rimbaud probably worked on his two acknowledged masterpieces, Illuminations (Illuminations) and Une Saison en Enfer (A Season in Hell). After a terrible row at No 8 Royal College Street the stormy relationship with Verlaine came to an abrupt end in June 1873 (Verlaine later shot and wounded Rimbaud in a hotel room in Brussels, and ended up in a Belgian prison). Shortly after the split Rimbaud gave up literature for ever and went off to become an explorer, trader and arms dealer in the horn of Africa. He died in Marseilles in 1891 at the age of only 37.
Paul Verlaine was a highly distinguished literary poet, renowned for the structure and the restrained classicism of his work. After early literary success, Verlaine’s career was blown off course by his affair with the 17 year old Rimbaud. Leaving his wife and baby to embark on the affair in Brussels and then in London, and as a result spending 2 years in a Belgian prison, Verlaine was for some time persona non grata in French literary circles, re-emerging only in the 1890s as a leading figure in the so-called Decadent Movement, at which time he was often to be seen drinking absinthe in the cafes of the Left Bank in Paris. Now recognised as one of the leading French poets of the 19th century, his poems have been set to music by most of celebrated French composers of the 19th and 20th centuries. Thanks to Verlaine the poems of his friend Rimbaud were published after the latter’s death, and went on to revolutionise French poetry. More accessible and less iconoclastic than that of Rimbaud, Verlaine’s poetry is some of the best literary work of his era.
If you are interested in finding out more about the poets whose life and work have inspired the Foundation, click here for a list of recommended books and films about the subject.
If you would like to see the film House of Knives, made about the poets and the time they spent at No 8 Royal College Street in London in 1873 click here