Arthur Rimbaud’s endlessly fascinating manuscripts
‘Le Bateau Ivre’ (The Drunken Boat), ‘Voyelles’ (Vowels), ‘Ma Bohême’ (My Bohemia), ‘Le Dormeur du val’ (The Sleeper of the Valley)... More than a century after his death, the poems of Arthur Rimbaud continue to quench the poetic imagination of readers around the world. In leaving behind the scattered manuscripts of poems now known by heart, he continues to feed a fascination that can border on idol worship, as if the poet's handwriting conceals the secrets of his genius.
From his youthful poems to his Illuminations, including the brilliant ‘Lettres du Voyant’ (Seer Letters) and his contributions to Album Zutique - an album composed of poems written by Paul Verlaine and his friends - , the Rimbaud manuscripts reproduced in this edition present the moving traces of his most decisive moments of creation. In turn, they reveal the brilliant prize-winning pupil, the adventure-loving teenager, the scandalous enfant terrible of poetic circles who would in time become the most revered of the ‘accursed poets’.
The secrets of Rimbaud's manuscripts:Verlaine’s copies
This edition presents the manuscripts of all of Rimbaud's poems known to date, some of which are in several versions. For example, ‘Le Cœur du pitre’ (Heart of a Clown) exists in three other versions, all reproduced in this book: ‘Le Cœur supplicié’ (The Tortured Heart), ‘Mon pauvre cœur’ (My Poor Heart)… et ‘Le Cœur volé’ (The Stolen Heart). Among these versions, which offer notable variations, two of them hold the distinction of being written by the hand of Paul Verlaine.
Evidently, Verlaine often made copies of Rimbaud's texts. Some of his most famous poems such as ‘Tête de faune’ (Faun’s Head) or ‘Le Bateau Ivre’ (The Drunken Boat) only exist in Verlaine’s hand. Poems that are hand-copied from Verlaine are listed in the index. Only two poems, ‘Dévotion’ (Devotion) and ‘Démocratie’ (Democracy), do not appear in the book – their manuscripts, probably lost or destroyed, have never been found.
A patient process of assembly and composition
In 1888, Verlaine announced that poems from the Illuminations, thought to be lost, had resurfaced. The history of Rimbaud's manuscripts, dispersed through the years and passed from hand to hand, is a catalogue of such disappearances and reappearances./p>
Highly popular among enthusiasts, some Rimbaud originals belong to collectors who choose to remain anonymous, though a large number of them are kept in European institutions and libraries. In the spring of 2018, the city of Charleville-Mézières acquired the poem ‘Patience. D’un été.’ (Patience. Of a Summer.) at auction for 187,500 euros.
In composing this edition, we started with an inventory of the poet's manuscripts and then contacted every collector, museum and institution in France, Switzerland and England. Once all the manuscripts were collected, we ordered them chronologically with the help of André Guyaux, professor at the Sorbonne, specialist in Arthur Rimbaud, and editor of his complete Œuvres published by Bibliothèque de La Pléiade. To finish, we carried out considerable restoration work to restore the manuscripts to their original splendour.
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The Illuminations: ‘A series of superb fragments’
The afterword by Arthur Rimbaud specialist André Guyaux, "A Series of Superb Fragments", sheds light on the fascinating history of the Illuminations. The poems assembled in this collection remain shrouded in mysteries. The title itself was given and has been passed down through Verlaine. And some of the poems, written on sheets of different sizes and not numbered, have disappeared several times …
Verlaine had feared that the fragments were ‘forever lost’ before they resurfaced. These then gave rise to several editions, incomplete at first, before reaching us today. Close reading of the manuscripts that make up the Illuminations even reveals an occurrence of the word ‘Illuminations’ – the only one in existence – in the upper left hand corner of the page bearing the poem entitled ‘Promontoire’ (Promontory).
Further surprises from Rimbaud
In the fall of 2018, an unknown letter from Rimbaud resurfaced, suggesting the possible emergence of other writings by the poet. This letter is the only letter of his dated 1874 known to exist. Addressed to Jules Andrieu, it reveals plans for an ambitious work entitled ‘Histoire Splendide’ (Splendid History) – a project imagined by Rimbaud at the time he was sharing a room with the poet Germain Nouveau in London and working on crafting several poems for his Illuminations.
The project of an ‘Histoire Splendide’ seemed particularly important to him, with the aim of painting among many things the ‘backdrop of religions, the rights of law, the harmony of our common fate’. He ends the letter of 1874 with the following words, announcing the completion of a work of which no trace has ever been found: ‘Moreover, now the matter is down on paper, I am free to make it mystical, vulgar or erudite. But the draft is indispensable.’
This Vermilion edition is presented in a large format handmade slipcase.
Printed with vegetal ink on eco-friendly paper, each book is bound and sewn using only the finest materials.
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