Feral Symbolists: Robert Adamson, John Tranter, and the Response to Rimbaud


John Tranter recently pointed out the irony that it was he who was interested in Rimbaud and Robert Adamson who was interested in Mallarme, since all the biographical hallmarks would seem to suggest the reverse. Adamson the drug-taking ex-convict, concerned as he has been with the lawlessness of heart's desire, would appear to have far more in common with Rimbaud, the would-be visionary who argued a systematic deregulation of the senses through manifold excess, and seemed to live this out - in the few years before his apparent total abandonment of poetry at the age of 19 or 20 (as the legend has it, though there has always been some doubt) - sexually and otherwise, perhaps most notoriously in his relationship with Verlaine. The more ascetic Tranter, on the other hand, as technician and theorist of the Generation of '68, would seem far more akin to the quiet schoolmaster-sage of Valvins whose Tuesday salons were one of the centres of French aesthetics in the 1880s and 1890s. But in fact, while I would happily suggest and attempt to demonstrate that there is a good deal in Tranter that has, if not Mallarmean origins, then at least Mallarmean resonance, the more evident, intense and protracted engagement in his work has been with the figure of Rimbaud, while, in his turn, and although there are poems enough in his work that translate, imitate and otherwise engage with the work of Rimbaud, it is Mallarme who has most preoccupied Robert Adamson. A glance at the writing history of each of these poets will readily confirm at once the extent and the complexity of the issue.

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Published 1 May 1994 in Volume 16 No. 3. Subjects: Literary influences, Symbolism, John Tranter, Robert Adamson.

Cite as: Brooks, David. ‘Feral Symbolists: Robert Adamson, John Tranter, and the Response to Rimbaud.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 16, no. 3, 1994, doi: 10.20314/als.3cb3d6f687.