Out of the many poets who have ever been featured on stamps, Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891) is probably one of the least prominent – at least this is how it looks at a first glance. However, among the “poètes maudits” (“accursed poets“), he is definitely the posterboy!
What’s more, some of the stamps featuring Arthur Rimbaud hide some interesting stories, so keep tuned!
In 1951, the French Post issued a series of 3 stamps devoted to the Symbolist poets, in which Arthur Rimbaud is featured next to Charles Baudelaire and Paul Verlaine.
Each poet is featured against an intricated background of images referring to the imagery from their poems. In the case of Rimbaud, the illustration alludes to his poem “Le Bateau ivre” (“The Drunken Boat”).
Romania issued in the early 2000’s a couple of series related to cultural anniversaries. Among these, in 2004 a series featuring Arthur Rimbaud.
The personalities featured in the set pertain to different areas of interest: there’s Salvador Dalí, there’s the Romanian physician and bacteriologist Victor Babeș, but there are also poets: Alexandru Macedonski, and Arthur Rimbaud. The addition of the latter two is not incidental: Macedonski was one of the major promoters of French Symbolism in Romania. The stamp featuring Rimbaud includes the text “changer la vie”, which is taken from his text “La Vierge Folle” (“The Foolish Maiden“): “Il a peut-être des secrets pour changer la vie ? Non, il ne fait qu’en chercher, me répliquais-je.” (“Did he, perhaps, have secrets that would remake life? No, I told myself, he was only looking for them.“).
One of the most courageous depictions of Arthur Rimbaud on stamps comes, however, not from Rimbaud’s native France, but from neighboring Belgium.
This sheetlet, issued in 2010 is devoted to literary anniversaries and includes Paul Verlaine, Arthur Rimbaud, Charles Baudelaire, Eduard Douwes Dekker, (pen name: Multatuli), Charlotte & Emily Brontë, and Victor Hugo). Since Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud had a fiery relationship, this stamp may well be the first stamp depicting a gay couple, be it an avant-la-lettre one.
It may seem weird, but Arthur Rimbaud also made it on the stamps of Djibouti as well. Not once, but twice!
The first time, in 1985, he is featured in a 2-stamp set together with Victor Hugo. I like the fact that although for the profiling of Rimbaud a traditional portrait photography was used, the designer chose to give it more personality by coloring Rimbaud’s hair in an excentric, parrot-like choice of colors.
The second time, however, in 1992, a more traditional approach was used for the 90F stamp – using the same gaze from the classical portrait photography; however the striking element comes via the 150F stamp: an older, more tired and apparently ill Rimbaud, hard to recognize after all, and all for a good reason; the accursed poet stays in history with his young, adolescent portrait, and not with his later life image.
And this is nothing surprising. Rimbaud died early, at the age of 37. His literary career per se was done when he was barely 21. Most of his known portraits date from the period 1871-1875 – when the young poet was at the height of his career. What about the later image from the second stamp? There are only a few images left from this later period, so the stamp design may very well be a work of fiction.
Last but not least, some words about the fascination with Rimbaud in Djibouti (which in a sense, I expect has little to do with his overt sexual orientation). After escaping the tumult of Parisian life and exile (London, Bruxelles), and after putting an end to his relation with Paul Verlaine, Rimbaud actually changed his lifestyle completely: gave up poetry and life in artistic cirlces, escaped from Europe altogether, and set base in different parts of the world – ultimately in Harar, Ethiopia – from where he traveled oftentimes to Obock in current-day Djibouti, trading in coffee and firearms.