Rimbaud’s mother maintained total control over her children and called this control motherly love. Her acutely perceptive son saw through this lie. He realized that her constant concern for outward appearances had nothing to do with love. But he was unable to admit to this observation without reserve, because as a child he needed love, or at least the illusion of it. He could not hate his mother, particularly as she was so obviously concerned for him. So he hated himself instead, unconsciously convinced that in some obscure way he must have deserved such mendacity and coldness. Plagued by an ill-defined sense of disgust, he projected it onto the provincial town where he lived, onto the hypocrisy of the system of morality he grew up in (much like Nietzsche in this respect), and onto himself. All his life he strove to escape these feelings, resorting in the process to alcohol, hashish, absinth, opium, and extensive travels to faraway places. In his youth he made two attempts to run away from home but was caught and restored to his mother’s “care” on both occasions.
His poetry reflects not only his self-hatred but also his quest for the love so completely denied him in the early stages of his life. Later, at school, he was fortunate enough to encounter a kindly teacher who gave him the companionship and support he so desperately needed in the decisive years of puberty. His teacher’s affection and confidence enabled him to write and to develop his philosophical ideas. But his childhood retained its stifling grip on him. He attempted to combat his despair at the absence of love in his life by transforming it into philosophical observations on the nature of true love. But these ideas were no more than abstractions because despite his intellectual rejection of conventional morality, his emotional allegiance to the code of conduct it prescribed was unswerving. Self-disgust was legitimate, but detestation for his mother was unthinkable. He could not pay heed to the painful messages of his childhood memories without destroying the hopes that had helped him to survive as a child. Time and again, Rimbaud tells us that he had no one to rely on except himself. This was surely the fruit of his experience with a mother who had nothing to offer him but her own derangement and hypocrisy, rather than true love. His entire life was a magnificent but vain attempt to save himself from destruction at the hands of his mother, with all the means at his disposal.