Make no mistake about it, Arthur Rimbaud was an amazing individual. By the age of seventeen, he had changed the face of French poetry by using imagery and obscurity in a way the literary world had never before seen. By the age of twenty, he was done with poetry forever, having completed such classics as The Drunken Boat and A Season in Hell. Influential to this day, Rimbaud is a figure who's easy to admire.
Except he's not. Truth be told, the man was a terrible person by all accounts. Mean, abusive of drugs and alcohol, an adulterer and scandalizer, Rimbaud was not the kind of individual one would want to get to know.
And yet there was that talent, that extraordinary, revolutionary talent.
Unfortunately, Rimbaud was merely a cartoonish version of people we are all familiar with in our everyday lives. In an age of web sites and paparazzi, we constantly find people we want to admire crashing to earth in hideous fashion. If fallibility means the end of heroism, then our world has become a hero-free zone.
Quite depressing, don't you think?
Perhaps we should find a way to separate people's admirable qualities from their less admirable traits. This might keep us from becoming cynical. It might also help us realize it's okay to be wowed at the abilities of athletes, politicians, actors, musicians and (of course) writers who we might otherwise find offensive.
It may also be good if we all had a little faith in human nature. Even the worst of people, after all, can morph into individuals whose personalities match the highest of talents. An interesting fact about Rimbaud is that, years after he gave up on poetry, he was asked about his Augustinian youth. His response may have shocked anyone who knew him as a young man.
He made it clear he was ashamed.