George Rawlins

Chatterton Meets Rimbaud

Arthur Rimbaud by Henri Fantin-Latour

This poem is from the forthcoming book Cheapside Afterlife (April 2021, Longleaf Press at Methodist University). The book reimagines in 57 sonnets the life of the 18th-century poet Thomas Chatterton. At age 16, Chatterton invented the imaginary persona of a 15th-century poet he named Thomas Rowley and tried to pass off the poems as the work of a previously unknown priest to the literati of London. When that and other attempts to help his mother and sister out of poverty failed, at age 17 he committed suicide. Decades after his death, he was credited by Coleridge and Wordsworth as the founding spirit of Romanticism.


Alone, fingers pressed to butcher board, a crimso
bandage wrapped ‘round

his brow to hold him here a moment
more, until like sails unfurled Auntie, another

please! To the public house, where sale petit
Cagot fondles another bulbous absinthe glass. Circling

till one espies the other, they follow the flowing
gowns of la fée verte, hallucinating

their merry way to Senegal. In Sahara heat, a frocked
buzzard from that burning heaven impersonates the gentle

nightingale of their youth. What shall
become of them—gun runners in the Sahel or back-

home suicides? Shall they leap
hand-in-hand together?


About the writer:
George Rawlins has recent publications in Th Common, New Critique (UK), New World Writing, Nine Mile, and One Hand Clapping (UK). His forthcoming poetry collection, Cheapside Afterlife (April 2021, Longleaf Press), reimagines in 57 sonnets the life of the 18th-century poet Thomas Chatterton.

Image: Arthur Rimbaud by Henri Fantin-Latour (1836-1904). No medium specified. No size specified. By 1904. Public domain.