An entrepreneur’s journey

By age 19 the subject has written all the poems he would ever write, which will revolutionize poetry for a century to come and influence art as varied as Henry Miller’s memoirs and Patti Smith’s CBGB shows. By age 27 he has traveled to all parts of the western hemisphere in pursuit of business ventures.

In his 30s, he settles in the remote city of Harar, in what is today Ethiopia, a landlocked ancient city where commerce had once thrived but is now slow, where prospects are few. More or less, this is where the story ends.

Goodreads Rimbaud in Abyssinia

Reading this biographical travel guide, the author of which pursued an abbreviated route similar to that of Arthur Rimbaud in order to experience what his subject must have, certain similarities between Rimbaud in the 19th century and a present-day entrepreneur are striking.

That entrepreneurship is a creative undertaking goes without saying, and one might even go so far as to compare the entrepreneur to the poet, as there is in many (perhaps most) entrepreneurs a spark of romance, idealism, inspiration, and the desire to touch – hopefully improve – some aspect of their environment. There is an energy in entrepreneurship – a restlessness that is almost an end in itself for some – not dissimilar to the referenced poet’s travel, his continuous quest, occasional discovery, and adventurous invention.

The story of Rimbaud’s life is a catalog of calls to action. Maybe even his poetic style – innovative and intended to shake up – were a venture that had run its course… at which point the serial entrepreneur moved on, to his next projects in succession – commodities trading, gun running – which undertakings were no different in a sense from (and really a continuation of) The Illuminations, The Drunken Boat, Season in Hell.

Arthur Rimbaud in New York

The tale, however, turns cautionary, as Rimbaud’s storm and spark take him to a remote locale where he will meet his end. Perhaps considering Harar to be an “untapped market,” the entrepreneur attacks it with his usual passion. But Harar, it seems, was fated to be untapped, and what seemed like a territory ripe for the entrepreneur’s ventures turns out to be an isolated enclave where he is cut off from the flow of commerce, where business conditions are poor, and where, worst of all, there are few other entrepreneurs around.

Thus, it is once again demonstrated that no man is an island, and that context, timing, conditions, communication, interaction, traffic, learning, are all as important to the business builder’s success as are individual traits such as inspiration and energy.

Rimbaud’s classic poetry was a product of Paris, as much as it was of Rimbaud.