Music as the Intangible: Arthur Rimbaud and the Antithesis of Representational Poetry


Frist Main Atrium
My research defines the musical philosophy of the French late 19th-century poet and prodigy Arthur Rimbaud, whose works were all composed before the age of 21. A self-pronounced “seer," Rimbaud believed that instead of creating order out of experience, a poet must engage in a deliberate “disruption of the senses" to gain access to the “unknown," another mode of being removed from our ordinary way of perceiving reality.

Although most scholars recognize the importance of music in Rimbaud's works, they neglect to define what he finds so valuable in it. Examining in detail his letters and poems from “Illuminations," my research explicates his view that music, unlike the written word, is uniquely capable of approaching the “inexpressible" — a primordial
experience of thought as “sung" rather than a rational, syntactical process. I demonstrate that his intention is to obfuscate the precision of language by mimicking music's nonrepresentational and inherently metaphorical qualities.

Beyond contributing to Rimbaud studies, my project of uncovering the poet's symbiotic relation to music could find an interest in the study of the interrelatedness of various artistic expressions, especially considering the poet's influence on 20th-century writers, musicians and artists such as André Breton, Jack Kerouac, Vladimir Nabokov, Bob
Dylan, Léo Ferré and Jim Morrison. As both a musician and an academic, I hope that my research will spark conversations on the aim of art and its exploration of alternate states inaccessible through conventional means.