Arthur's Last Days
Isabelle Rimbaud's letter to her mother

Marseilles, Wednesday 28th October 1891.

spaceMy dear mummy,

spaceGod is thousand times blessed! On Sunday I experienced the greatest happiness I can have in this world. This is not any more a poor unfortunate reprobate who will die near me: this is a Just, a Saint, a Martyr, a Chosen!

spaceDuring the last week, the chaplains had come to see him twice: he had received them, but with so much lassitude and discouragement that they didn't dare to speak to him about death. Saturday evening, all the nuns made prayers together for him to have a good death. Sunday morning, after the high mass, he seemed to be calmer and fully conscious: one of the chaplains returned and proposed to him to be confessed;and he accepted!

spaceWhen the priest left, he said to me, looking at me with a disturbed air, a strange air: "Your brother has the faith, my child. What do you thus say to us? He has the faith, and I even never saw faith of this quality!" Me, I kissed the ground while crying and while laughing. O God! what a joy! what a joy, even in death, even by death! What can make me Death, Life, and all the universe and all the happiness of the world, now that his soul is saved! Lord, soften his agony, help him to carry his cross, still have pity of him, still have pity, you who are so good! oh yes, so good - Thank you my God, thank you!

spaceWhen I returned near Arthur, he was very moved, but did not cry;he was serenely sad, as I never saw him before. He looked me in the eyes as he had never looked me. He wanted that I approach very close, he said to me: "You are of the same flesh and blood than me: do you believe, tell me, do you believe?" I answered: "I believe;others more erudite than me believed, are believing;and then I am sure now, I have proof, that is!" And it is true, I have proof today!

spaceHe still said to me with bitterness: "Yes, they say that they believe, they pretend to be converted, but it is just for us to read what they wrote, it is a speculation!" I hesitated, then I said: " Oh! no, they would earn more money while blaspheming!" He was always looking at me with the sky in his eyes;me too. He insisted to kiss me, then: "We can have the same soul, since we have the same blood. You believe then?" And I repeated: "Yes, I believe, you have to believe." Then he said to me: "All must be prepared in the room, tidied up: he will come back with the sacraments. You will see, the candles and the laces will be brought: white linens must be put everywhere. I am so sick thus!..." He was anxious, but not desperate like the other days, and I very well saw that he wishes ardently the sacraments, and above all the communion.

spaceSince then, he does not blaspheme anymore;he calls Christ in cross, and he prays. Yes, he prays, him!
But the chaplain could not give him the communion. First, he fears to impress him too much. Then, Arthur is spitting a lot actually and cannot stand anything in his mouth, so we were afraid of an involuntary profanation. And him, believing that he was forgotten, became sad;but he did not complain.

spaceDeath comes with great steps. I told you in my last letter, my dear mummy, that his stump was extremely swollen. Now it is an enormous cancer between the hip and the belly, just in top of the bone. This stump, which was so sensitive, so painful, practically does not make him suffer anymore. Arthur did not see this fatal tumour: he is surprised that everyone comes to see this poor stump that he practically does not feel anymore;and all the doctors (ten are already come since I signalled this terrible ache) remain speechless and terrified in front of this strange cancer.

spaceNow, it is his poor head and his left arm which make him suffer the most. But he is generally deep into a state of lethargy which is an apparent sleep, during which he senses all the noises with a singular clearness.

spaceFor the night, he has a morphine injection.

Awaken, he ends his life in a kind of continuous dream: he says odd things very softly, with a voice that would enchant me if it did not cut me to the heart. What he says, these are dreams, - however it is not the same thing at all that when he had fever. You would almost think, and I believe it, he does it on purpose.

spaceAs he murmured those things, the nun said to me in a whisper: "He still lost consciousness?" But he heard and blushed deeply;he did not say anything any more, but, when the nun left, he said to me: "They think I am insane, and you, do you believe it?" No, I do not believe it, he is almost an immaterial being and his thought escapes in spite of him. Sometimes he asks the doctors if they see the extraordinary things he sees and he speaks to them and tells them with softness his impressions, in terms that I could not render ; the doctors look him in the eyes, these beautiful eyes which never have been so beautiful and more intelligent, and they say between them: " It is singular." There is in Arthur's case something that they do not understand.

spaceMoreover, the doctors practically do not come any more, because he often cries when speaking to them and that distresses them.
He recognizes everyone. Me, he sometimes calls me Djami, but I know that is because he wants it, and that is part of his dream wanted thus;besides, he mixes all and... with art. We are in Harer, we always leave for Aden, and we have to find camels, to organise the caravan;he walks very easily with the new articulated leg, we ride beautiful richly harnessed mules for some walks; then we have to work, to do the book-keeping, to write letters. Quick, quick, we are awaited, let us pack our bags and leave. Why did we let him sleep? Why I didn't help him get dressed? What will it be said if we do not arrive at the day agreed upon? Nobody will believe him on word anymore, nobody will trust him anymore! And he starts to cry regretting my awkwardness and my negligence: for I am always with him and it is me who is in charged of all the preparations.

spaceHe practically does not eat anymore, and what he eats, it is with an extreme loathing. Therefore has he the thinness of a skeleton and the colour of a corpse! And all his poor limbs paralysed, mutilated, dead around him! O God, what a pity!

spaceAbout your letter and Arthur: do not count at all on his money. After him, and the funeral expenses paid, travels, and so on, his resources will come to others;I am absolutely decided to respect his wills, and nevertheless there would be only me to carry them out, his money and his belongings will go to who he wishes. What I did for him, it was not by cupidity, it is because he is my brother, and abandoned by the whole universe, I did not want to let him die alone and without help. I will be faithful to him after his death like before, and what he will say to make of his money and his clothes to me, I will do it exactly, even if I must suffer from it.

spaceMay God assists me and you also: we really need the divine help.
spaceGoodbye, my dear mummy, I kiss you with all my heart,


Lettre d'Isabelle à sa mère


- Isabelle Rimbaud's letter comes from "Arthur Rimbaud, Oeuvres. Des Ardennes au Désert".
- Translation by Catherine, with the help of Angie and Dany. All Right Reserved.