From an early age, I have always had a profound appreciation for poetry. I remember reading poems in elementary school and becoming enamored with this concept of using words to create a beautiful image, to create an emotional experience in prose. Poetry has exposed me to many concepts and ideas that continue to influence who I am today, and I still occasionally partake in the creative writing form.
While I cannot wholeheartedly describe myself as a “poet” per se, I have a deep respect for those literary artists who used poetry to forever change the world with their writing. One such inspirational writer was Arthur Rimbaud, and the true genius of his nature can be seen in his major literary work, “Illuminations,” with the English translation by John Ashberry.
The life of Arthur Rimbaud is as perplexing and astounding as his major literary work. In order to fully grasp the raw intensity of his poetry, one must first know a little about his life. Rimbaud was born in Charleville, France, in 1854, and was a voracious student who wrote poetry in both French and Latin by the age of 15. A couple years later, he got into contact with the famous poet Paul Verlaine, who invited Rimbaud to stay with him in Paris. This marked the beginning of both the friendship and eventual love affair between Rimbaud and Verlaine, a relationship that would deeply affect the poetry of Rimbaud on a symbolic level. Before turning away from poetry forever, Rimbaud gave Verlaine his manuscript to “Illuminations” and set off to go travel the world.
What’s interesting about reviewing a book of poetry is that is does not necessarily follow a specific storyline—at least not for most of the books I have read. It encompasses many ideas and insights that the author felt the need to describe, often stemming from various events within their own life.
Rimbaud’s “Illuminations” seems to follow under this same guise, not describing a single connected series of events, but rather exhibiting a culmination of seemingly disconnected thoughts that are united in beautiful descriptions of imagery. “Illuminations” provides pure vision into the mind of Rimbaud, not focusing solely on his past or his present, but instead presenting his universal ideas of mortality, love, power, nature, and a pure beauty of life itself.
The most fascinating part of “Illuminations” is the mystic nature of the poems themselves. Most are inherently metaphorical, leaving much of the meaning hidden behind a veil that is not limited to a single concept, but which has the potential to encompass a wide variety of interpretations. With the thoughts of Rimbaud unfolding in a rather ambiguous nature, he seems to transcend the need to simply describe something literally, but instead opts to use language that continually challenges his true meaning, if there is a single true meaning to find.
Often times, I would find myself lost in his words, reading and then re-reading to make sure I had found his true intentionality. I truly feel that Rimbaud is an artist of the metaphysical realm, a man capable of creating poetry that holds a deeper significance on multiple levels.
Rimbaud uses a distinct diction that brings about beautiful mental illustrations like no poet I have read before. Every work in “Illuminations” holds its own sense of individuality, its own different philosophy, and is described in a sort of vivid detail that blankets the entire book in color and form. Reading one of his poems is like reading a masterful and abstracted description of the world that we live in, a world that seemingly makes no sense yet we are so lost in it that we never realize its very insanity. “Illuminations” did not feel like poetry; it felt like an honest journal, a carefully described outpouring of the soul onto the page, which might be what Rimbaud wanted in the first place.
Poetry is an art form that I feel is gravely underrated in our modern age. In our attempt to recreate ourselves in this new technologic, face-paced era, we have lost a bit of our humanity, a bit of our romanticism that was so highly emphasized in the written word, most notably through the medium of poetry. It’s important to remember and reflect upon the works of the poets, like Rimbaud, who sought bring beauty and art to all of humanity. The human condition is that of passion, of self-discovery and reflection, and these ideas are perfectly emphasized and brought to life within “Illuminations.”