Rimbaud & Verlaine


Just north of Somers Town in Great College Street (now Royal College Street), the French poets and lovers Arthur Rimbaud and Paul Verlaine rented a house in 1873.  Rimbaud and Verlaine were described as “enfant terribles” and “geniuses of the tavern”. Their relationship was certainly tempestuous and fuelled by continuous drinking, particularly absinthe, but somehow Rimbaud managed to write parts of his most well known works, Illuminations and A Season in Hell. 

Their existence resembled a mixture of ‘Withnail & I’ and a 19th century equivalent of the relationship of Joe Orton and Kenneth Halliwell. There was continual fighting, sometimes dueling with knives rolled up in towels. Only minor mutilation was intended before returning to the tavern.

And then there was the fish slapping incident. One day, while looking out of the window, Rimbaud spied Verlaine coming home from the market carrying a fish in one hand and a bottle of oil in the other. Rimbaud started to laugh at him and continued to snigger and mock him when Verlaine got to their room. 

Clearly too much for Verlaine he slapped Rimbaud round the face with the fish and stormed off. Verlaine went to Belgium with Rimbaud in pursuit, several weeks later pawning his lover’s clothes for the fare.

Their reunion in Brussels ended in another row, climaxing in Verlaine shooting Rimbaud in the arm.

For this Verlaine went to jail for two years.