AN ARTHUR RIMBAUD DRIFT is a poetic walk following the London trail of Arthur Rimbaud and his fellow poet Paul Verlaine, who first visited the English capital – which they called Leun Deun – in September 1872.

The route goes from Charing Cross Station, where the poets arrived, through French Soho, where they first lived, and ends up at the legendary 8 Royal College Street address.

There the beautiful marble plaque says that the French poets lived in the house from May to July 1873. A Season in Hell is dated ‘April – August 1873′.

Poet Niall McDevitt has gleaned the great biographies of Rimbaud by Enid Starkie, Jean-Luc Steinmetz, Charles Nicholls and Graham Robb, as well as Joanna Richardsons’ excellent biography of Verlaine, and has mapped out many of the most significant Rimbaud/Verlaine sites.

It is worth remembering that of Rimbaud’s meteorically brief literary career, 14 months were spent in London, that he wrote some of A Season in Hell in London, most of Illuminations, and that the latter is one of the city’s outstanding literary landmarks, a modernist classic 50 years before modernism.

The walk traces the poets’ doomed quest to ‘re-invent love’ as well as Rimbaud’s later sojourn with the poet Germain Nouveau, his falling ill, and his being rescued by his mother, the terrifying ‘Shadow Mouth’. We also find out about Verlaine’s truimphant return to London in the 1890s where he was feted as the prince of the Decadents.

Two dates have been scheduled for May 2018: Saturday May 5 and Saturday May 19. 

Meeting for a 2pm start, the walk will commence at Charing Cross station by the Eleanor Cross in the forecourt on Strand. More details to be announced very soon.

Further blurb is in EYEWEAR:

Here is Paul Blezard’s photos of one such walk:


Comparing Rimbaud/Verlaine  to Bosie/Wilde. Rimbaud and Wilde were both born in 1854. By the time Rimbaud had abandoned literature, Oscar was merely getting ready to win the Newdigate Prize at Oxford.


At the site of the Alhambra Theatre which Rimbaud and Verlaine frequented and which was the inspiration for much of the theatrical imagery of Illuminations.


Maison Bertaux opened in 1871. Rimbaud and Verlaine arrived in London in 1872. They’d probably have had a coffee there, and French Soho was a natural habitat for them.


The absinthe arrives by bicycle courier. This walk was exceptionally good value for money if you consider that absinthe is normally £4 a shot in the West End. But it was Oct 20, Rimbaud’s birthday.


Verlaine is the bearded man in the brown coat. Rimbaud is not in the mural. Other visible geniuses include Mozart, Marx and John Flaxman. Rimbaud and Marx were in town at the same time, and would have met. ‘Ouvriers’ (Workers) is one of his greatest prose poems.


Rimbaud was – mythologically – hailed by Victor Hugo as ‘a child Shakespeare’. If Hugo didn’t say it, whoever did had an excellent way with words.


The Post Office Tower marks the site of Rimbaud and Verlaine’s first address in London, 34 Howland Street. Ithyphallic enough for you? Blezard’s photo gets it.


Fitzroy – Fils Roi – Square, where Rimbaud met Oliver Madox Brown, son of Ford Madox Brown, grandfather of Ford Madox Ford.


Interesting that Yeats was friends with Verlaine; yet in none of the Yeats books I’ve looked at is there any mention of Rimbaud. Yeats was Frenchless though.


Chez Rimbaud and Verlaine, apres le deluge de l’absinthe….

I like to do this walk annually, around the Oct 20 date.

If you’re really interested in Rimbaud’s London, read my review of John Ashbery’s translation of Rimbaud’s Illuminations

About Niall McDevitt

Niall McDevitt > poet > author of b/w (Waterloo Press, 2010) and Porterloo (International Times, 2012) > urban explorer > radical pedestrian who leads Shakespeare/Blake/Rimbaud /Yeats walks, among others.
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  1. Pingback: Psychogeography | N7 streets: photographing my local area

  2. Sandy says:

    I’ve been thinking of arranging one of these in Reading, where Rimbaud lived, and taught for a brief period whilst he compiled Illuminations. He lived at Montpelier House on the Kings Road (from whence he advertised himself as a travelling companion for Gentlemen seeking to explore Swittzerland). Not far from where Rimbaud stayed (the building still exists) there are canals and I’m pretty sure part of the geography of Reading seeped into Illuminations

    • Very interesting. Let me know if you do anything. It is highly likely that the geography of Reading did seep into his prose. I would like to see the sites and sights of Reading myself.

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