A perspective on the relationship of nineteenth century French poets Arthur Rimbaud and Paul Verlaine based on their letters and poetry. "I can only pity you now, removed, luck is that I can't th...
I would never be dependent on you. You that loved so stupidly and loves yourself. I watched you drown yourself in easy suffering, complacently miserable- I became the newest torturer in your line of toxic fascinations. Weren't you ever tired of martyrdom? Did you really need a reason to excuse your shiftlessness?
If you had come to me completely, lucid and without any hesitation, I never could have promised you anything, or marred your simple idiocy with my filth. Inexplicably, I became a mirror for your fumbling reflection, your despotic love and pathetic bouts of violence. You begged that your victims would cry for you.
I can only pity you now, removed, luck is that I can't throw you to the ground.
If I stepped on your face would it leave me?
If I helped you up again would it negate my own cruelty?
I thought you could never bring yourself to really hurt me; me the corrupted, the infamous man shrouded in ruinous talk and an overwhelming callousness.
You drank with me, you should have been waiting for it.
There is only ever silence in his wake. My life since is always quiet, following his strange example. He only took joy in abominations. He rampaged around everyone, throwing his blindness at them like wisdom.
Looking too closely, I let him lead me, him, my immense and devastating sin, my pathetic and painful remorse-
I thought his strangeness was a violation, a product of his drunkenness at best or at worst the work of a cruel child. He talked unabashed of debasement, dismantling everything with an easy mockery; recriminating reality, beauty, love, all things meant to soothe or pacify were locked in his jaw. He pretended to know everything, just so he could tear it apart justified.
Always laughing, sick on our own disgusting pleasures, how could we be anything but happy?
And I only wanted him damaged, drunk, unbearable. I didn't want him to need me. It made him too whole, too clear and lucid for him to need anything.
I feared clarity, I needed to cling to something broken. It always seemed somehow that he would be dying soon, always soon, his last breath reaching over us. I think (he sensed it to, I promise. he spoke of death like a warm breast or the awaiting womb) he ran faster, was that much more deplorable, that much more unbearable because of that.
He would sink into moments of incredible silence. Sitting still, lost under his image of impenetrable sloth, and waiting for something new to grasp him. Or for me- disgusting. I never would have believed it if he said something like that.
Visionaries are not silent, they have nothing to awe them anymore. They rage constantly at the world, trying to pull it down around them. Visionaries are our last chance for purity only because they repulse us and condemn everything we know, everything that bores them.
He would push that away only to pull it back and clutch it to him every time he left, or tried to; he wrote best on the verge of leaving- well, that's why I don't say anything.
We carved ourselves away, drugged on promises. I had to force you out, you so contemptible, so immaculately hollow, to trail after me. It seems ridiculous- that I was such a fool.
I called him. I saved him from a dirty and prolonged death and brought him up, out of the depths of Christian bounds and animal hardship. He despised work, too young to have ever felt it at all. He owed everything to my lapse of reason, or maybe-my saving grace.
He was so young too, white and fragile and stupid. He laughed on his back, on his side, in hallways, like a debauched angel, his face glowing, delighted by the simplest of sadisms, lazy and elegant as he tortured, throwing everything away under his feet. He laughed like a child.
Everything he said was on purpose, or he'd pretend so later. Life spun around his mouth, centered on his gaping throat. He could draw violent scenes from a whim. Unafraid of anything (maybe he slept too much), he pissed naked in parlors, alienating everyone with a spiritual sort of disembowelment. He could slap you by blinking.
He crawled sullen and precocious- if his skin hadn't been so soft I'd never have noticed his genius. We did our best work together.
Why pretend he wanted anything other than the passion, bodies negligible and easily replaced? Who could insinuate that he wanted anything more than the feeling itself?
It always goes back to him, reflected back at me in windows, furniture, the way my hair vanishes, my sagging skin and fading eyes. News of Africa or Indonesia make my heart leap, afraid of his return, or that it'll be even a little longer. Afraid of Germany. Afraid of Brussels. Afraid to be at sea again. Paralysed with loathing, with the sad lingering of loss.
And he laughed when I'd said I had a choice.
Once I'd arrived you came after me, throwing yourself at the service of my petty needs. If I'd asked then and not later, you would have left the bitch without a thought, with any hesitation or remorse even. But of course you let her linger over us. Couldn't you see the shadow she cast over everything? Disgusting that someone so useless, so ignorant and happy in her ignorance could have had a hold over either of us.
I didn't understand it, love was stupid and instantaneous- bonded, we found true love in a bottle of liquor! And I pretend I'm not a Gaul!
You'd rather let yourself be gripped by nostalgia than understand anything. Do you remember how it felt? How we ran through cities, through dark allies, through the brilliant rain that struck the town, through all manners of depravity and vice together? But even I abandoned that weakness. Foolishness, what hope were we looking for in such wasted brutality.
Or would you rather have had her white skin and bloated belly? Her dull eyes and milky teats?
I could never pretend anything. Even now, idle and sunburnt and so long forgotten, so long silent; I can laugh at how closely we followed each other. Perhaps that's why you made me sick.
Maybe if I mock it fast enough, constantly, I won't have to reconcile myself to it; look at my wrist to remember what it really felt like.
I remember when the poems arrived, written on thick pieces of cheap paper, the writing scrawled, strange, obscure. His missive said he was 21. The first lie, I hope, that he told me. I couldn't imagine anything greater. He was a visionary, a genius beginning a greater revolution than the one attempted the year before. More than any commune, this could have changed the world if he had cared enough. Pretending at politics never occurred to him. If it had we'd all be sullen and lazy, replacing economics with a good shot of liquor and the universities with great schools of talk, of war and presumption. And then, all forms would vanish.
That is what he asked for isn't it? I never caught it, what he said. Nothing more and nothing less than you can see, its all spread out before you with nothing to elaborate or to explain. I guess that's why I called him. I had to know what he was searching for. If and how one finds it.
He gave me remorse, a bad back, fear of arms, alcoholism, and a recurrent Christian disease.
What else had I expected leaving with him? Love, if I remember. I never wanted to follow him.
When he came he was sixteen, ill-dressed and uncouth. He alienated everyone, insulted the most prominent poets of our time, provoked my mild mannered wife to anger.
They worship him now that he's not here to respond.
I still wonder what would have happened if he never arrived , Mathilde would have mutated from an innocent child to a fat, moral, middle aged wife, carrying our children on her hips. And I.....I don't know. Is there even another possibility anyways? He wouldn't have wanted to know.
And Mathilde, poor Mathilde. There was everything left for her. Money, wealth, a child. For someone as simple as that she'll be happy.
She didn't have to throw the divorce on me in prison though. She wanted us both convicted.
Maybe we would have been better off that way.
What a cunt, happy with complacent wedlock, bound emotions, forced smile grotesque and weak over your face. You were so content. I just had to break it. I think I saw a sort of remaining grace, remaining integrity intact after being so cramped. I'd found it in your poems and demanded it from you.
But no, you were soft, willing, brutal. A drunk. A social pariah, leeching off regard, leeching off convention to keep yourself fed.
If I could change the world, if I could be a genius, a visionary, jealous of everything not in my sight; I thought I could inspire you. Does it matter how it started? I was a child and you were a fool. We ran off together, steeped in a sort of liquid idyll, clutching our joy to us with a melancholy certainty. I pretended I could leave if I wanted.
We clung to each other, sparking a sort of incestuous muse, is it any coincidence I stopped writing after you were gone? I don't want to think.
When I finally convinced you away it was under delirium. Amazing that I could entice you away from such a perfect wife. You still talked about her to me, and if you didn't, she was in your writing.
I was never jealous.
So, to free ourselves of empty parlors, sitting rooms, bourgeoisie artists and imbeciles we fled across the sea. Maybe I chose you because the rest had nothing, not talent, not feeling, only an impassioned conventionalism freed of god. If anything you were honest.
Did we think a new country could save us? Exiles again. Maybe I hoped without her we could find something.
I don't know how it deteriorated.
We went to London. It was 1871. No one gave us strange looks in the streets, he was 17 and looked even younger. I was old, already balding, sprouting a wild beard. He said he loved me. No one suspected a thing from us strangers.
From over the sea the suits mounted, charges. As soon as we left they were certain, if they hadn't been before, of my adultery. Of all the words ever put to it, I bet that's the last to come to mind. She wasn't important, except to me. She was quiet. She was simple and soft and accommodating. She hated me.
We were always happy, her and I. Everything was regimented and easy to swallow.
When I left he shattered around my head, playing strange homage to his impulses with every word, every movement; every act had to be intentioned in a twisted way. He never thought anything through, or he thought of it too much.
He walked around like a criminal, throwing his chest out and hiding his eyes. He'd wait me out drunk to leap at me, speaking of death. He threatened with the same ease that he slept. I think he wanted to make himself grotesque, deformed, horrible. He spoke of infamy like honor and craved it. He'd lay in bed for days on end marveling at sloth and buy whores out of bars. He came up with cruel names of all sorts and mocked everything. He demeaned everything I loved with relish, tearing down country, ideals, beauty, he even found a way to mock death.
How he's avoided it I'll never know, so obnoxious, so horrible, so absolutely reviling.
And I clung to him. He was my diversion. He said he could leave, that I had nowhere else to go, being so old, so poor and defamed and drunk. It was him that was stuck.
I suppose I proved that.
But sometimes, sometimes he'd speak in a tender dialect, talking of the death that brings remorse, or the nightmare of his lost art, the exhaustion of lonely wretches all around us, and the most heart-rending departures. He'd recall sorrows of all kinds, lament for everything. He'd tell me everything about what he thought, about running away, about the freedom and abandon of wide open spaces. The colorless revelations he claimed from the plains of France, trying to walk to Paris. In those moments he gleamed like a sort of strange angel, brilliant and pure, defying all hope of logic or faith come morning. Those moments, which always felt like night, were the closest I ever got to escaping the reality he abhorred so much and fled from, clawing and screaming, intoxicated, rasping forward.
Afterwards he'd sulk or call me names, drinking until green spilled down his cheeks, sending me on useless and incomprehensible searches for books, pieces of paper which never existed. Under that petulance, I never forgot those moments. That's what I clung to.
I wondered, once, if his cruelty was an unconscious repulsion of that innocence, to prevent it from ever baring itself to what he considered an unacceptable horror. From reaching the victims of poverty he sometimes cried for, if I'm not trying to humanize him too much. He wanted so much to be insane, tried so hard to ruin himself, to derange all of his senses, to mock the use of his body, to indulge in all sorts of filth. He had fleas. He allowed himself every vice. And still all he achieved was a genius he himself silences and threw away.
I saved you. Didn't you know, there was no freedom except with me. Not for you.
I was so stupid. Callous.
Is it my fault for compulsion too? I tried so hard to make you see. I'm sick of doubt. I was tired of hearing about her.
We really were happy. I was. Did my resentment slip through too often? I thought you understood.
I said everything all the time. You were disgusting. A cunt. A horrible balding bastard, a complacent fool. A drunk. A miser. A petty aging lyric poet, incapable of muse, that clung to youth because he would not have death.
If she had taken you back would you have even stayed a year with me?
With my bruises on your back, scratches on your arms, all manner of wounds, displaying my stupid anger, you were right to hate me. I didn't think.
I was wrong.
Can you hear that? Do you care? I was wrong! Too violent, I should have ignored my whims, my experiments with your reaction. I had to know you wouldn't leave. I had to find some limit.
What could you really get by leaving?
He was a terror. A terror of a joy, of a child. A beautiful sort of monster. The only thing worse than his violence was his obliviousness. I was just another chapter of his own private epic, to be ignored in favor of revelation, of animal impulse, of singular cruelty. I loved him immensely. I could not refuse him anything. He bore down on me. His insults running like knives into my skin, a terrible chilling act of humiliation letting him rage at me.
After knowing violence for so long I needed some peace. Time spent so long in the company of an almost cowing, demeaning genius demands stupidity. I left.
He must understand that the weight was too much. That finally, after so long, I was done. Absolutely done. I had to go. That something in me had started at the thought of taking more violence, of watching more scenes of his depravity forcing itself into him. I couldn't let myself be poisoned anymore.
Fleeing to Brussels, I even incited him to follow me.
At sea, At sea. Everything goes wrong at sea. I missed him so much I asked for my wife to come to me. I couldn't stand him anymore, so I was going to wait three days for her or for death. Either one would numb me to this hell that no longer held true, this love that meant only enough to leave passionately.
Yes, I'll say it again. It is me who was wrong? What more could you have wanted? I the great supercilious self.
I thought for sure I'd always have you, you were my only friend. I was yours for the whole life. How stupid it feels now reliving that moment, reliving all moments of obscene clarity.
When I watched you get on the boat to leave I could have sworn you smiled. Did you think of me? I guess it doesn't matter now.
I cried for days, thinking the most self-loathing, the most miserable acts of sentiment, of reassurance before your letter came. At sea. Nothing good comes from being at sea. How could you throw everything down so easily? I made you free, you were miserable without me. I saw that later.
I wanted you then, wanted your courage and sincere spirit to save us both. I promised so much to end up here? Diseased and ridden with wars? Caught up with myself, thrust into my own glorified degeneration, I have nothing not thick in blood. My skin reeks of metal. I have sold myself to thousands of deaths, caused innumerable sores. I hope you are somehow happy in your weakness.
It ended with you wrong, so incredibly wrong. If you were to kill yourself you would need an audience.
Would I be enough for that, enough eyes to watch you die? I can't promise anything except what I did then; that you would lose all your freedom with leaving me.
I was always sure I was a genius.
Would I like to kiss you while you're dying (you asked so long ago, so uselessly. You'll never die, not before me, you said it yourself)?
No. I've seen too much and would rather avoid that sort of catharsis.
When he met me in Brussels I was overjoyed. He returned to me!
All of it was a joke, a grotesque mistake. He even swore to be nicer in the future. I can't imagine that now. It was so alien to him. For him kindness would be forced. That didn't matter.
July 8. It was July 8 when he came into the room again, entirely there, an awkward apology still on his lips. I hadn't read much of the letter he sent to be honest. The words were blurred with crying. I didn't mark its recriminations until later.
He accused me of so much! His very name reproaches me. I spent two days drunk to try and accept his presence, lingering around shops, wasting money. There was an apprehension to my joy.
How easily he said that, packing his manuscripts up to leave. I'd go out and buy a copy two years later only to try and maintain some contact, to spark some anger. Those damned manuscripts he couldn't finish, that obsessed him, that "changed" him (the way he put it to his friends). Was two days enough to "be with me", to get over his hesitation? His amused selling of my clothes before he came? Did he finally get what he wanted out of them?
"You love your wife? Than wait for her, I won't watch you hang yourself. Let her be your audience".
The words blur, I can only make up what I can't remember. His recriminations mirrored themselves; he was always one for reinforcement. And he was so shocked when I pulled it out, gripping the handle tight to hide my drunkenness. My hand was shaking from intoxication. The barrel waved up and down between us. I begged him not to go. He stared at me blankly, absurdly terrified.
It rang out once, twice. I couldn't see anything, liquor crowding around my eyes.
I can't believe you missed. We wrapped the wrist quickly, certain someone in the hotel had heard the shots. With the gun still hot in your hand I complied. Easy. Carrying our bags and the gun in your coat we were going to return home to France and your wife be damned. I suppose. Your eyes darted around, you promised me everything through a haze of pain. I was too hurt to run anyways.
The train station was crowded. Your voice came low, threatening. I could feel the gun against my shoulder where you pressed into me. Seeing a flash of gold braid I snapped, running to catch up with it.
The accusations came out fast, scared. They wrote something up for me. Bags were forgotten. They sent them to me later, back in that damned hotel room.
You were hauled off, crying. They took the gun from you.
I withdrew the charges. I even wanted to see you again, to go back to you.
It didn't matter then. They took it out of my hands.
They came up with all sorts of things. My wife threw in her charge of sodomy and I was pushed down by impersonal hands, flat in the view of a judge and invaded. Yes. The examination only proved my immorality further, despite my protest. It was so stupid, lying there with a finger up my ass and proclaiming my innocence. Of what? Sodomy? Of never shooting Rimbaud?
I wanted nothing to do with the whole fiasco. They gave me two years before I could forget about it.
In my cell I pretended I had something to say and wrote to everyone but him to complain of his absence. I hated him. I wanted him dead. I missed him horribly. It kept me sane to think of games we could be happy at, a new life of innocent love.
He ignored me completely. I asked for no news about him.
A year after my imprisonment, the message came that Mathilde had been granted a divorce. It flattened me. I lay on the floor of my cell and cried. I asked for books of all sorts to find an answer. They would only give me a Bible. I lost myself in Christ and have again at intervals when I have been stripped yet again of debauchery for whatever reason. The other prisoners called me "Jesus Christ" and asked to borrow my rosary. Maybe it would have been easier to be a praying drunk if I'd been Catholic.
Finally, after my release he contacted me. I met him in Germany after hearing rumors of his wandering. I'd follow them afterwards, laughing a bit when I heard news of his desertion of the Dutch army. He'd threatened to enlist somewhere if I wouldn't take him back after London.
"So I heard you're a Christian"
He thought it was ridiculous. I think he preferred me an alcoholic.
"I don't want anything from you."
Has it been so long? He forgave so much, why not now?
But I let him go, yelling back at me for my idiocy. Never to see me again. So you won't want to kiss me while I'm dying?
After all that I gave up. Gave up honor, gave up mystery. My youth wasted! Haven't I been in enough pain without you?
I'll get used to it.
Here in Africa the sun can clear me of my sins through my knee. I can find peace in the painful heat, in a blissful and ignorant stillness, and merciless idle.
My hands are smeared with enough blood to distract me from ours; it's only appropriate, I want nothing untainted. If you were to come, now so burdened, bent down and old, I bet you reek of green liquor and diseased sweat, I'd have to slit my throat to suppress my laughter or weeping. I'll never differentiate the two. But to touch your face, so thick with scars, so ruined. Never. I have been silent for so long I can't say it again.