Rimbaud: A Biography

Graham Robb

I’m dying and decomposing into drivel, dross and drabness. It can’t be helped: it’s my horrible persistence in worshipping free freedom and a lot of other things.
— Rimbaud

“Izambard was one of the first to see that Rimbaud’s rebellion was a form of intellectual discipline…Izambard was also right to suspect that Rimbaud’s ‘programme of studies’ involved a degree of self-destruction - the quickest way to gain control over his own destiny.”

So comments Robb in his exciting biography of Rimbaud, one of the most eccentric, wild, and fascinating human lives literature has ever seen.

Rimbaud, who never wrote another word after the age of 19, is responsible for many drunk, altered nights of mine thanks to his line “…The Poet makes himself a seer by a long, gigantic and rational derangement of all the senses.”


This was Rimbaud’s life. One long, exhausting, dirty desecration of the senses. Booze, drugs, sex, political incorrectness (man would he have sneered at the PC culture today), and a general explosion of all conventions.

But, as his teacher Izambard saw, this wasn’t a senseless savagery. Rimbaud lived with uncommon, perhaps unparalleled, devotion to freedom. He was:

“…following his own curriculum, undertaking the formidable task of ‘demolishing everything and wiping my brain clean’, re-creating that hypothetical, pristine state before school, church and mother had filled his head with prejudice.”