I'll admit, I couldn't make much of Arthur Rimbaud's Illuminations.
On one hand, I suppose what I took from the collection was Rimbaud's skepticism of poetry, his desire to move beyond its pretense and scaffolding. I made this out clearly in two poems - The Bridges and Vigils - where Rimbaud undermines the poetic impulse by engaging in a sort of self-sabotage. In the former, he concludes with a cynical allusion to poetry's "theatricality," while in the latter, in Vigils, he crafts a vision of life and love - only to second guess himself and wonder: "Then it was only this?" He continues: "The dream cools."
I'm no expert on poetry - and my difficulty with Illuminations speaks, I think, to my frustration with it as a form. Still, there were moments in the collection where Rimbaud ascends to a higher plane, where he captures a timeless quality as well as a quality very much of his time. For me, that was the most interesting part of Illuminations: the time at which Rimbaud was writing - right around 1875. Europe had entered a period of peace, and of pronounced artistic experimentation. You can see that experimentation, especially, in Rimbaud: there are hints of everything that was to come next: Dadaism, Surrealism, Psychoanalysis...the list goes on.
But what I enjoyed most were those moments of beauty Rimbaud was able to weave: those moments - like in Phrases - where we he imagines a world reduced to nothing, but a world in which he still manages to find his love. There were other moments, too (like in Workers), where Rimbaud reaches for more, where he refuses to drag an image "behind him," opting instead to embrace a different "destiny."
Ultimately, I craved the moments most where Rimbaud trades the "suburban pastoral" for the emergent city, for what he calls "death without tears," the "mud of the street." Rimbaud does not always complete the trade, and it's often unclear what exactly he means in his poems dedicated to cities. But regardless, there's something there - and in 1875, on the cusp of modernity, it seems that Rimbaud both discovered and created (and in equal measure). The result is a difficult work, but one that rises to what was to come next.
"Live coals raining down gusts of frost -- Sweetness!"
...This is Rimbaud.