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Patti Smith Buys Childhood Home of Arthur Rimbaud

It’s been reported that Patti Smith recently purchased a replication of the childhood home of 19th century French Symbolist poet Jean-Arthur Rimbaud for an undisclosed amount.

From Bob Dylan and Jim Morrison to Iggy Pop and David Johansen, rock ‘n’ roll performers have cited Arthur Rimbaud as an influence on their work.

What is it about Rimbaud (1854 – 1891) that strikes a chord with so many in the world of rock ‘n’ roll? Is it his reputation as a libertine? A scruffy rebel?  The archetypal “L’Enfant terrible”? His personal philosophy of suffering and “the derangement of the senses” in search of truth and beauty? Perhaps it’s the mystery and romantic vision of his life and his talent. Rimbaud wrote his major work between the ages of 15 and 20, before abandoning poetry to travel.  He worked in the coffee trade, finally running guns to Africa before dying of cancer at the age of 37.

Perhaps no performer in rock music has been more influenced by Rimbaud than Patti Smith – early on with her own poem “Rimbaud Dead” from “Babel” (1978), and in her music – the song “Land” on her first album “Horses” (1975) – her incandescent chanting of “Go Rimbaud”…

Arthur Rimbaud at the age of seventeen, by Étienne Carjat, c. 1872.
Arthur Rimbaud at the age of seventeen, by Étienne Carjat, c. 1872. (PD-1923)

In 1976, Smith told Rolling Stone, “I saw the cover of ‘Illuminations’ with Rimbaud’s face, y’know, he looked so cool, just like Bob Dylan. So Rimbaud became my favorite poet.”

In an interview with Thurston Moore in BOMB Magazine in 1996, Smith talked about her youthful influences: “I had devoted so much of my girlish daydreams to Rimbaud. Rimbaud was like my boyfriend.”

It came as no surprise then, when I read in Architectural Digest that Patti Smith recently purchased “a reassembled version” of Arthur Rimbaud’s childhood home in Roche, a small French village near the Belgian border. Like Bob Dylan (who famously went on a public tour of John Lennon’s boyhood home and in 2008, showed up by himself at Neil Young’s childhood home in Winnipeg, asking to see Neil’s old bedroom), Patti Smith has an affinity for visiting the important places of the heroes and inspirational figures in her life. It was at his farmhouse in Roche where Rimbaud spent much of his childhood at age 19, wrote his most famous work, “A Season In Hell.”

Rimbaud (self-portrait) in Harar in 1883. (PD-1923)

The farmhouse has a long history. According to the 1987 biography Rimbaud by Pierre Petitfil, the farmhouse was acquired in 1789 by the poet’s great-grandfather. In 1918, it was destroyed by the Germans in World War I. It was rebuilt in 1933, only to be destroyed again in 1940, during World War II. The current farmhouse is said to be in a state of reconstruction.

To read more about Patti Smith’s acquisition of Rimbaud’s home:

“Some of us are born rebellious. Like Jean Genet or Arthur Rimbaud, I roam these mean streets like a villain, a vagabond, an outcast, scavenging for the scraps that may perchance plummet off humanity’s dirty plates, though often sometimes taking a cab to a restaurant is more convenient.” – Patti Smith