Illuminations (poems) - Influence and Legacy

Influence and Legacy

Professor at the University of Exeter, Martin Sorrell argues that Rimbaud was and remains influential in not "only literary and artistic" circles but in political spheres as well, having inspired anti-rationalist revolutions in America, Italy, Russia, and Germany. Sorrell praises Rimbaud as a poet whose "reputation stands very high today", pointing out his influence on musician Bob Dylan and writers Octavio Paz and Christopher Hampton (cf. his 1967 play on Rimbaud and Verlaine, Total Eclipse, later made into the movie of the same name).

Symbolism: The Paris literary review La Vogue was the first to publish Illuminations. Knowing little about Rimbaud, the editor Gustave Kahn mistakenly introduced him as “the late Arthur Rimbaud", thereby facilitating his adoption by the Symbolists as a legendary poetic figure. Rimbaud's style and syntactical choices pointed to Symbolist tendencies, including the use of abstract plural nouns.

Dadaism: In its rejection of the sensible and logical, Dadaism embraced Rimbaud’s ability to write in abstractions and impossibilities. This supports Rimbaud’s role in revolutions as the Dadaist movement was a protest movement against capitalist ideals believed to be at the root of all war.

Surrealists: Rimbaud’s poetry was "Surrealist before the word was invented or became a movement". Although Surrealists often disowned all art before their time, Rimbaud is one of the few predecessors the group acknowledged. Like Dadaists, Surrealists do not accept rationality as they believe it to be the cause of unhappiness and injustice. Rimbaud’s passion to change life is echoed in the Surrealist's call to change reality through (only currently) impossibilities. A main difference, however, is that Rimbaud did not “abandon himself passively” to automatic writing like many Surrealist writers.

Rimbaud's life and works have inspired many musicians. Vocal works (operas and short songs), symphonies, trios, piano pieces, and rock songs exist, taking as their subjects Illuminations and Rimbaud's earlier work, A Season in Hell.

British composer Benjamin Britten (1913–1976) set a selection of Illuminations to music. Les Illuminations for tenor or soprano and strings, Op. 18 uses nine prose poems: "Fanfare", "Villes", "Phrase", "Antique", "Royauté", "Marine", "Interlude", "Being Beauteous", "Parade", and "Départ". The Decca Record Co. (London) released a historic recording featuring Britten conducting the work, with Britten's lifelong companion Peter Pears singing the tenor part (Britten had dedicated his setting of the song "Being Beauteous" to Pears).

American composer Harold Blumenfeld (b. 1923) devoted an entire decade immersing himself in Rimbaud, producing four compositions, namely: La Face Cendreé, Ange de Flamme et de la Glace, Illuminations, and Carnet de damné. Three of these works are based on prose poems from Illuminations. La Face Cendreé is a work for soprano, cello, and piano; it takes the prose poems "Aube" and "Being Beauteous" as subject. Ange de Flamme et de la Glace, a work for medium voice and chamber ensemble, is based on the prose poem "Barbare". Blumenfeld's two-part orchestral work, Illuminations, is based on five prose poems from Rimbaud's work: "Mystique", "Diluvial", "Après le déluge", "À Une Raison", and "Soir Historique".

Other composers inspired by Rimbaud are Bulgarian composer Henri Lazarof (b. 1932) and German composers Georg Katzer (b. 1935) and Andreas Staffel (b. 1965). Henri Lazarof's Fifth Symphony uses two French texts, one by Lazarof himself and the other by Rimbaud. Georg Katzer's Trio for Oboe, Cello, and Piano uses an essay by Rimbaud. Andreas Staffel's work Illumination is for piano, based on Rimbaud's Illuminations.

Hans Krása's 3 Lieder After Poems by Rimbaud, was composed in the confines of the Terezín ghetto (Theresienstadt) in Czechoslovakia. The Bohemian composer Hans Krása (1899–1944) was a pupil of celebrated composers Zemlinsky and Roussel. These "Rimbaud Songs" are set for baritone, clarinet, viola, and cello. On the last page of Krása's original manuscript was a rehearsal schedule in the concentration camp: four were held in the Magdburg Barracks and one in the Dresden Barracks.

Rock musicians Bob Dylan, Jim Morrison, and Patti Smith have expressed their appreciation for Rimbaud (the latter calling Dylan the reincarnation of the French poet). The essay "Rimbaud and Patti Smith: Style as Social Deviance" by Carrie Jaurès Noland features a critical analysis of Rimbaud's influence on Patti Smith's work. Bob Dylan's song "You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go" makes a direct reference to Rimbaud and his companion Paul Verlaine. Wallace Fowlie's book, Rimbaud and Jim Morrison: The Rebel as Poet, attempts to draw parallels between the lives and personalities of Rimbaud and Jim Morrison, demonstrating how the latter found Rimbaud a constant source of inspiration. Fowlie argues that some of Morrison's "lost writings" (a volume of poetry published posthumously, entitled Wilderness) bear strong resemblance to pieces from Illuminations.

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