By the age of fifteen, Arthur Rimbaud was already one of the most brilliant poets of his time. And for the next four years – and four only – Rimbaud (the Claude Morel of this book) was simultaneously a writer of genius, a visionary idealist, and a deliberate wallower in gutters of depravity perhaps unmatched in all of human experience. But at the age of nineteen, he was through forever with both writing and debauchery, and at this point, he all but vanished, spending most of his remaining years as a vagabond wanderer through Europe and Africa.
In the epic The Day on Fire (1958), a masterwork of biographical fiction, James Ramsey Ullman retraces the steps of Rimbaud’s life from his rebellious youth in a dull provincial town to his teenage years as a homosexual, drunkard and drug addict in Paris, and his later years, wandering the desert in search of some elusive beauty or truth. As Ullman writes in his Foreword, “The truth, the inward core, of Rimbaud’s life, is a truth for all times, as long as each of us, all of us, have our nights alone and our days on fire, our seasons in hell and our hope of heaven.”