'The Disinherited Child in the Poetry of Arthur Rimbaud'

Gerald M Macklin

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    This article looks closely at the theme of childhood in the work of Rimbaud. It explores his identification with the child, his fertile imagination, his lonely revolt and his role as a disinherited pariah. The child's sense of exclusion from the family is explored through the poems 'Les Poètes de sept ans' and 'Les Etrennes des orphelins'. In this latter poem we find an early insight into Rimbaud's preoccupation with the theme of the broken family and the idea of orphanhood is again apparent in 'Les Effarés' where the urchins are excluded from the warmth of the bakery symbolizing the womb. 'Les Poètes de sept ans' is a key text in the Rimbaud canon in that it displays the child-poet's rebellion againats maternal authority and at the same time his emergence into visionary and creative channels. The Derniers vers develop these elements from the earlier verse and 'Comédie de la soif' seems to theatricalize the child's separation from familial influences while' Mémoire', in a highly complex manner, evokes the formative moments in childhood that forever haunt the adult consciousness. In the Illuminations the poem 'Enfance' represents a five-part examination of the whole subject investigating the innocence of the child's imagination, the theme of orphanhood, the child's ability to play many roles and adopt endless identities and the ultimate bitterness of the disinherited child. Finally, the paper looks at the ebullience of 'Aube' where the child pursues the goddess of the dawn in an allegory of success and failure leading to a brutal awakening from his dream. The paper concludes by suggesting a link between childhood and the poet's pursuit of a new language.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)45-60
    JournalRomance Studies
    Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 1996

    Bibliographical note

    Reference text: Rimbaud Oeuvres, edited by S.Bernard and A.Guyaux, Garnier, Paris, 1987

    Baudelaire, Oeuvres complètes II, edited and annotated by Claude Pichois, Gallimard, Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, Paris, 1976

    D.Potter Seeing the Blossom, Introduction by Melvin Bragg, Faber and Faber, London and Boston, 1994

    S.Murphy Le Premier Rimbaud ou l'apprentissage de la subversion, Editions du CNRS, Presses Universitaires de Lyon, Lyon and Paris, 1990

    M-J Whitaker La Structure du monde imaginaire de Rimbaud, Paris, Nizet, 1972

    A.Kittang Discours et Jeu.Essai d'analyse des textes d'Arthur Rimbaud, Universitets Forlaget/Presses Universitaires de Grenoble, Oslo and Grenoble, 1975

    V.Minogue 'Rimbaud's 'Ophelia'', FRENCH STUDIES, vol. XLIII, no. 4, October 1989, pp. 423-436

    S. Beckett 'Drunken Boat' - a translation of Rimbaud's poem 'Le Bateau ivre' , edited by James Knowlson and Felix Leakey, Whiteknights Press, Reading, 1976

    P. Broome 'From Vision to Catastrophe in Rimbaud's Illuminations', FORUM FOR MODERN LANGUAGE STUDIES, vol. 15, no. 4, October, 1979, pp.361-379

    P. Collier 'Lectures de 'Mémoire', in Parade sauvage, Colloque no.2, Rimbaud à la loupe, Musée-Bibliothèque Rimbaud, Charleville, 1990

    J.Plessen Promenade et poésie. L'Expérience de la marche et du mouvement dans l'oeuvre de Rimbaud, Mouton, The Hague/Paris, 1967

    Arthur Rimbaud Illuminations, edited by N.Osmond, Athlone Press, London, 1976

    G.Macklin 'Rimbaud's 'Trois contes'', FRENCH STUDIES BULLETIN, no.23, summer, 1987, pp.10-12

    J.Lawler Rimbaud's Thetare of the Self, Harvard University Press, Cambridge Mass./London, 1992


    • child
    • childhood
    • innocence
    • imagination
    • orphanhood


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