"Here’s a portrait of Rimbaud. Rimbaud lived here, it says. And here’s Verlaine….Did he live here too?"

The poets of hell, 17-year-old Arthur Rimbaud met 27-year-old Paul Verlaine in Paris in 1871. Both were volatile, wild souls, seething with passionate intellectual energy.

Arthur Rimbaud
Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike Arthur Rimbaud - Credit: PRA

Verlaine soon fell in love with the cherubic yet noxious Rimbaud and they fled for London. The smoggy, pulsing energy of the British capital electrified the pair, who blazed a lunatic trail through the city, drinking and fighting with terrifying vigour. Following a particularly vicious lover’s tiff, Verlaine shot his lover in the arm and spent the next two years in prison. After release he converted to Catholicism and forsook his torrid earlier life for a steady existence and extensive travel. However, his final years were marred by penury and alcoholism. He died aged 51 in 1896. Rimbaud enlisted in the army and later became an arms dealer in Ethiopia. He died in 1891, aged 37.  Despite their vagabondage, Rimbaud and Verlaine produced violently beautiful Symbolist poetry.

Paul Verlaine
Public DomainPaul Verlaine

Rimbaud’s Illuminations, now a byword for modernist prose, included his deranged masterpiece ‘A Season in Hell’. Verlaine’s prose was mostly written in later life, and his narcotic-fuelled visions of sex, death and the flotsam of humanity made him one of the greatest fin de siècle poets.