Arthur Rimbaud: Letter to his mother (1890)


Harar [Ethiopia], 10 November 1890

My Dear Mother,

I did  receive your letter from 29 September 1890.

Speaking of marriage, I have always wanted to say that I intend to remain free to voyage, to live abroad and even to continue living in Africa. I am no longer used to Europe’s climate, and would only regain it with difficulty. I would probably have to spend two winters away, supposing that I do one day return to France. And then what of my old relations, what work could I find? That’s still a question. Besides, there is one thing that remains impossible for me: to lead a sedentary life.

I would have to find someone willing to follow me on my peregrinations.

As for my capital, I have it at my command, ready when I need.

Monsieur Tian is a very honorable businessman, established for thirty years at Aden [Yemen], and I am his associate in this part of Africa. Our association has lasted two and a half years. I work alone, on my own account; and, moreover, I am free to liquidate my affairs at my convenience.

I send to the coast caravans full of this region’s products: gold, musk, ivory, coffee, etc., etc. For the business I do with M. Tian, half the profits are mine. […]

As for Harar, there is no consulate, no post office, no roads; you go there by camel, and you live exclusively with negroes. But you are free there, and the climate is good.

Such is the situation.

Au revoir.

A. Rimbaud

~ by ohkrapp on December 9, 2008.

3 Responses to “Arthur Rimbaud: Letter to his mother (1890)”

  1. this might seems like an odd piece of text to have chosen among the complete collection of rimbaud’s letters i have before me. but i don’t know any better. unfortunately, i haven’t read the nearly 600 pages of letters between rimbaud and his relations compiled in the Pleiade [which is like the french Library of America with Norton Critical features] edition of his works. i probably never will.

    it’s a book i like to flip through when i’m confined to my room late at night and i’m supposed to be writing a paper (case in point!). i also thought that it might have been the first time the letter had been translated into english, but then i found wyatt mason’s selection of rimbaud’s letters, I Promise To Be Good, which is 1) a great title – i’ll tell you why in a second, and 2) no joke, i found his translation of this same letter on Amazon and they are almost exactly the same!, although his does reads a little more contemporary and he used n66@z instead of ‘negroes.’ hm.

    i like rimbaud’s letters because we can compare his account as he reported it to his mother, who was perpetually worried about her son, versus what was actually happening. as you may know, rimbaud, after giving up poetry at a very early age, became a polyamorous gun runner. you may notice that among the list of regional’products,’ he neglects to include the large amount of bullets, etc. that he details, for example, in his letters to Ilg.

    i should really say no more. unlike with shakespeare, where i can at least present some kind of amateur’s authority of passion, with rimbaud – in his life and poetry – i remain an utter dilettante.

    but.. ‘I Promised to be Good.’ it might not be my most immediate psychic burden, but i admit feeling a constant, gnawing guilt about how i present myself to some people versus how i actually behave in private. i guess i appear clean-shaven to most of the dignitaries (faculty, employers, roommates) i come into contact with during the week– and maybe i really am that way– but i tend to, in terms of identity, privilege the way i am when fewer people are watching over my public persona, and in private i have said, done and (oh! oh!) thought some absymal, abysmal things.

    but haven’t we all? .. sometimes, i fear not.

    (…for: sebastian)

  2. here’s another telegram that sticks in my mind.

    ‘Today, you or Isabelle, come to Marseille on express train. Monday morning, leg to be amputated. Grave danger. Serious matters to resolve. Arthur. Hopital Conception. Respond. RIMBAUD.’

  3. Great letter I am looking for information regarding the mother o Rimbaud if anybody can could help I’ll be very much appreciated thank you

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