At the Age of Seventeen

Portrait of Arthur Rimbaud at the age of seventeen, taken by Étienne Carjat, c. 1872.

 

“When I was seventeen, I fell in love with a sodomite.
His eyes were a dazzling blue, and he had the face of an angel. His hands were large and awkward, with dirty nails: a peasant’s hands. He was a poet, and I thought – and I still think, in my middle age – that he was one of the most brilliant poets the human race has ever seen. He belongs in the company of Callimachus, and Sappho, and Horace.

No, not Horace, who was shrewd and successful, at ease with his rich and powerful friends, the Seamus Heaney of his age – no; he was more like Catullus, the spoilt kid from the north whose frank and erotic poems scandalised Rome: odi et amo, Catullus had written. I hate you, and I love you. That says it all.

I fell in love with a ghost, an illusion, one I’ve been trying to shake off ever since. By the time I came under the spell of his beautiful lies, his body – minus the amputated right leg – had been rotting in a lead-lined coffin in the damp earth of northern France for seventy years. World War One had rolled over him, with its terrible thunder, and then World War Two. He’s been dead, now, for over a century.”

Charles Nicholl

Arthur Rimbaud in Africa

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