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This article is taken from PN Review 78, Volume 17 Number 4, March - April 1991.

Rimbaud after Sixty Years F.T. Prince

TO COME BACK to Rimbaud after such an interval is necessarily to see him with new eyes, and it seems to me that I cannot do better than give the outline of that experience, balancing my sense of him now with my memory of what it once was.

At the age of eighteen in South Africa I understood that Rimbaud was important for modern poets, but could do no more than search in university and public libraries for the handful of poems one might find in standard anthologies. But in 1931, in Oxford and London, I soon acquired the current editions of the poems, the Illuminations and Une Saison en Enfer, and read them repeatedly over the next five years. Some of the earlier poetry meant little to me, some of the rest was too difficult. Some of the Illuminations I knew by heart, others were merely baffling. The poems I came to prefer were the later lyrics quoted by Rimbaud in the Saison, in Alchimie du verbe.

Sixty years ago I was an aficionado; now I can only be, and am happy to be, more a scholar. The decades of Rimbaud studies represented by the Pléiade volume edited by Antoine Adam (1972) have built up an astonishingly full and detailed picture: astonishing because Rimbaud's years as a poet, no less than the years of travel that followed, were marked by disorder and lacunae, abrupt unexplained appearances and disappearances. If Rimbaud offers what may be ...

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