Beyond Bohemian: The Influence of Arthur Rimbaud on Art and Culture

Arthur Rimbaud

Born on this day October 20, 1854, Arthur Rimbaud, the French symbolist poet, is a figure whose influence reaches far beyond the realm of literature. A precocious talent who abandoned writing at the age of 21, Rimbaud’s radical ideas about art and his turbulent lifestyle have made him a cultural icon, embodying the spirit of rebellion and creative freedom. His impact on the world of art and culture is immeasurable, influencing a wide range of artists, musicians, writers, and filmmakers.

Often described as the “infant Shakespeare” of French literature, Rimbaud’s innovative style and provocative themes revolutionized poetry. His most famous work, A Season in Hell, is considered one of the foundational texts of modernism, with its bold experimentation with form and its exploration of the dark corners of the human psyche. Even more than his groundbreaking poetry, however, it was Rimbaud’s iconoclastic attitude towards life and art that made him a touchstone for subsequent generations of artists.

Rimbaud’s influence can be seen in the works of many 20th-century artists and cultural movements. His rebellious spirit and disdain for bourgeois values resonated with the Dadaists and Surrealists, who saw in him a precursor to their own attempts to subvert conventional notions of art and society. In popular culture, Rimbaud has been embraced by creative figures like Bob Dylan and Jim Morrison, who have cited him as a key influence on their work.

Arthur Rimbaud’s legacy thus extends beyond his contributions to literature. As a cultural figure, he represents the idea of the artist as an outsider, a rebel against societal norms, and a seeker of new forms of expression. His life and work continue to inspire artists today, underscoring his enduring significance in the world of art and culture.



      Oh! the huge avenues of the holy land, the terraces of the temple! What has happened to the brahmin who taught me the Proverbs? From then and from there I can still see even the old women! I remember silvery hours and sun near rivers, the hand of the country on my shoulder, and our caresses as we stood in the fiery fields. —A flight of red pigeons thunders around my thoughts—In exile here I had a stage on which to perform the dramatic masterpieces of all literatures. I might tell you about unheard-of wealth. I follow the story of the treasures you found. I see the next chapter! My wisdom is as neglected as chaos is. What is my void, compared with the stupefaction awaiting you?


      I am a far more deserving inventor than all those who went before me; a musician, in fact, who found something resembling the key of love. At present, a noble from a meager countryside with a dark sky I try to feel emotion over the memory of mendicant childhood, over my apprenticeship  when I arrived wearing wooden shoes, polemics, five or six widowings, and a few wild escapades when my strong head kept me from rising to the same pitch as my comrades. I don’t miss what I once possessed of divine happiness: the calm of this despondent countryside gives a new vigor to my terrible scepticism. But since this scepticism can no longer be put into effect, and since I am now given over to a new worry—I expect to become a very wicked fool.


      In an attic where at the age of twelve I was locked up, I knew the world and illustrated the human comedy. In a wine cellar I learned history. At some night celebration, in a northern city, I met all the wives of former painters. In an old back street in Paris I was taught the classical sciences. In a magnificent palace, surrounded by all the Orient, I finished my long work and spent my celebrated retirement. I have invigorated my blood. I am released from my duty. I must not even think of that any longer. I am really from beyond the tomb, and without work.

-Arthur Rimbaud, from Complete Works, Selected Letters, translated by Wallace Fowlie.

Curated by Jennifer

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