Thursday, October 25, 2007

EDW: Charles Baudelaire

So it might technically be Thursday by now. But the dead of night is the best time to write about the quintessence of decadence. His very appearance manages to combine all that is squalid and unhealthy with a quite magnificent dash.

His own words will surmise this dual nature better than I can: L'un t'éclaire avec son ardeur, L'autre en toi met son deuil, Nature! Ce qui dit à l'un: Sépulture! Dit à l'autre: Vie et splendeur!

Debauched, syphilitic, obsessional, deranged, immoral, demonic, obsessed with death – but never, ever dull, Baudelaire's artistry is, I hope, clear to you. If not, let me just urge you to read Les Fleurs du Mal and decide for yourself. There is, however, something especially evocative in the sensual misery with which he writes about such topics as romantic derangement, sexual debauchary, revolt against God and nihilism. It is also hard to dislike any book which has been banned for obscenity, especially when that obscenity is an enthusiastic description of lesbian sex. (Il faut épater la bourgeoisie, innit?)

The thing I especially like, though, his this supreme artist did not presume to be a great teacher to all mankind. Not that Baudelaire was apolitical, he participated in the 1848 revolution, after all – but he didn't use that as a bully pulpit. Nor would he have countenanced the sort of damn foolery I've written about below. He might have had the supreme gift of transmuting the base metal of everyday life into artistic gold, but he never made the mistake of believing that there was something morally worthy or uplifting to this sorcery. Let me give you some more lines from L'Alchimie de Doleur (Alchemy of Sorrow), the poem quoted above. It's a favourite of mine, and possibly the saddest and wisest thing written about the artist and creativity.

Hermès inconnu qui m'assistes
Et qui toujours m'intimidas,
Tu me rends l'égal de Midas,
Le plus triste des alchimistes;

I do not presume to give a translation. But it's there in the links.

UPDATE: The pic has vanished from the site, but I can see it when I'm editing the page. All very confusing and doubtless the ghost of the poet himself has something to do with this essential being there and not being there-ness.



Blogger Glamourpuss said...

He's a favourite of mine, but recently, when I went to buy a copy of Les Fleurs du Mal as a gift for someone, I was rather horrfied to find only one edition (the Oxford Classics) in print. Sadly, it would seem our man is out of fashion.


4:26 pm  

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