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[Read] ♗ Les Fleurs du mal ☿

This is a step towards possession.

Certainly the possession does not last the entire way through, but even in the less interesting or repetitive poems there are some jarring lines, amplified by a soul in Heat.

Like any elevated piece of literature, Flowers of Evil consumed me to such an extent that at times I forgot I was reading words on a page, its intensity moving my mind into some unknown zone where images, thoughts, and recollections screamed by, colliding with each other. So, too, did I feel at times that even the writer himself was "not all there," taken away by a demon, merely the vehicle for some phantasm. Yes, Baudelaire sold me on his deal, not merely because of content or form, but because of the legitimacy and authenticity of his spirit that comes through them. At its best I lost the idea that Baudelaire was “writing,” or “constructing thoughts and ideas.” More often I felt like I was seeing a living reality and the spirit behind it, the dreams he “knows.”

We can look at a whore and see nothing poetic just as we can look at the sun and see nothing poetic. But the poetic is everywhere and, for me, the more I can tap into, the better life is. Is it more and more rare to find a person who sees anything poetic in the sun? Is the modern mind still trying to convince itself that myth doesn’t work? Whatever one's answer to those questions, most will agree that it’s even rarer to find someone who sees anything POETIC in the heist, the hell, the holey handbag. And then even rarer yet again to find someone who can see the poetic in such things and communicate it to others on a convincing level. And then perhaps it’s only a very singular visionary who can not only see the poetic in such things, but communicate it in such a way that it creates its own inspiring beauty while remaining true to the original inspiration. Sure we have heists, whores, and holey handbags a dime a dozen, but do they even recognize their own beauty much? Are they as tuned in to their own spirit as Baudelaire was?

I hate cars, but I love to watch the rare person who is passionate and soulful about them. I don't read books on toepicking, but show me someone passionate about their toepicking and I'll gladly sit down beside them to observe and ask engaging questions, join in a little. Baudelaire. Hate his whoring if you will, but there is a passion, a depth, a profound nature to it that would have me in rapid pursuit to follow him anywhere. And the guy never seems disappointed! That is what twists the knife in me time and time again!

But he’s not just writing of whore houses and opium dens, telling us of their ugly and vile colors. No! He’s not just heading out on a heartless, gutless, mindless hedonistic romp. No! This is the debased as Ideal, wrapping the demon up in lovely meter, rhyme, and high metaphor, carrying the gutter into the heavens! The Saint of Whores! The Divinity of Syphilis! The God of Pooping your Pants! I love it. He loves! Not foul for a moment! There is goodness in it all!!!! I can’t even crystalize Baudelaire without sounding silly! To find Beauty in the Gutter! This is the Man! Far too much of it to originate from mere constructs and ideas. No, there are demons and gods at work.

Baudelaire wouldn’t even spit on a Renoir painting. He’d just undress it and fly. The Corpse on the lip, a taste from God. Possessed. I can not get so close to It, except through Baudelaire. Beautiful Ugliness. Goodness. When literature helps you live a new life, or at least revitalize it.
Les Fleurs du Mal or The Flowers of Evil or, let’s extrapolate here, The Beauty of Evil is a masterpiece of French literature which should have pride of place in any bookcase worth its name, right between Milton’s Paradise Lost and Dante’s Divine Comedy. For indeed the beauty of evil, what with its mephitic yet oh so alluring aroma, is exactly what this book is about—a collection of poems and elegies reflecting Baudelaire’s views on our poor human condition stemming mainly from our doomed lives upon which hovers like the sword of Damocles the inevitability of death, while all the while we keep on fooling ourselves by pursuing the ever so elusive quest for a perfect world, a perfect existence, and, dare I say it, immortality. Baudelaire’s answer to this plight of ours, tentative though it may be, is escapism—pure but mainly impure escapism—which, under his pen, takes various forms, ranging from travels to drugs, sex to faith, sleep to contemplation—like so many petals of the flowers of evil the author plucks off one after another in a fateful game of Loves me, Loves me not.

Needless to say that Les Fleurs du Mal isn’t a book for everyone, and that if you’re looking for a read to put a smile on your face, you’d do well to turn around and look somewhere else. It is fair to say that with his masterful poetry Baudelaire pierces not only our heart but our soul. His words undress us completely and let us see us for what we really are—just human beings living our lives. Which, when we think about it, isn’t so bad. That is, as long as we keep remembering to put into practice this little quote from yet another master of his genre, “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” And indeed, it matters not how long we live, but how well we live. If anything, Les Fleurs du Mal taught me that much. Oh, and The Lord of the Rings, too, of course!

Author of the SEBASTEN OF ATLANTIS series
The Forgotten Goddess (Sebasten of Atlantis, #1) by Olivier Delaye [Read] ♳ Les Fleurs du mal ♷ SPLEEN AND IDEAL
CONDEMNED POEMS Superlative. Thrilling. Sensual. Naughty. Macabre. Joyous. Liberating. Essential. Poetry for the reluctant poetry reader, i.e. me. (A little distracted here listening to Belle & Sebastian’s Write About Love which I finally acquired. Hence the choppiness). Great translation. Don’t care about reading in the original or what is lost in translation. Each translation adds to or improves the previous and this one reads pretty swell to me. Where do I go from here? Verlaine? Rimbaud? Mallarmé? Pam Ayres? (No one’s on GR at the weekends anyway, I don’t have to bust too many vessels being erudite). Read this shit now. Truly a unique an haunting voicea visionary poet who forces you to question all that you find comfortingimmersion of the self into the torrent of humanity. Receuillement/ Blues

Blues, be cool, keep quiet, you mutha,
Intruder, secondstory man, you enter with dusk,
It descends. It's here, an atmosphere
Surrounds the town. Builds some up, knocks me down.
Meanwhile the rabble ruled by body
Pleasures, thankless beasts overburdened
Build toward a bundle of remorse
In drugged dances. Blues, take my hand,
Come from them, come here. Look behind me
At the defunct years, at the balconies
Of heaven; in tattered copes, rise out
Of the waters of Regret. The sun sleeps
Moribund on a buttress; and listen,
My trueblues, hear dusk's sweet steps.

see my Goodreads writings for my trans of L'Imprévu

We have Baudelaire to thank for the world renown of our secondrate 19C poet Edgar Allan a Popopoe deeoh. (First rate storyteller, imitated fairly well by Dickens, once.) When a genius translates a lessthan; other examples, TS Eliot's LaForgue? Moliere's anybody?
Baudelaire also took crap from the French Government same year Flaubert got off because of the rank of his father: his defense lawyer argued a guilty verdict would impugn Dr Flaubert, much as Lizzie Borden's father was used in her defense in the courtroom a few miles from my house. Since they lost the Flaubert case, they went with zeal after Baudelaire, managed to win, stop his publisher and him in their tracks until they dropped ten poems, later printed as Les épaves (below).
I think Charley B was a nasty little prick (a word I use advisedly, rarely, un petit bite); see his love poem to a corpse. But..and this is a bigger but(t) than Charley's…he was a genuine genius. Unfortunately. His first addresses me, his reader (well translated by R Lowell in "Imitations") as his Brother Hypocrite: insightful for our recent US presidential winner, who could start every rally so. (And of course, he calls me, his reader, his brother hypocriteas I condescend from the great heights of my superior morality.)
I am sure I would be disgusted by Charley B0bobodeebaudelaire. I would not vote for him, but I must vote for his disgusting verse. (One demurer, B himself says that writing draws one away from screwing, so he has created the disgust as an artistic enfranchisement.)
And, may I say having translated from a half dozen languagesand published themCharley's Blues evoked a bit of his genius in me.
As an American "babyboomer," I've never understood the Russian / Pushkin's obsession with скучно, boredom, but I find its source here in empire France, Russia's birthculture (as ours is England). Peut être it's a remnant of upper class, Marie Antoinette France. Baudelaire's opening address to his reader ends with the descent of the Monster, "Ennui."
Gems throughout, almost any poem can be praised in its concentrated, tidal pull. Say, a little sheaf, Les épaves, "Wrecks" like the two schooners that rested on the shore of my childhood in Wiscasset, Maine (Hesper and the Luther Little). Awakening very late, he must pursue the sun god as s/he retires, loses out to the god Nuit, humid and full of chill. An odor of the tomb, the swampy residence of snails and toads.
Or the artpainting in Prison, by Delacroix, Tasso on his bed, turning pages with his feet, inflamed with a terror of the dizzying (circular) stairs into the depths of his soul. Laughter fills the prison, with Doubt and Fear (again not unlike US politics 2016) circling with grimaces and wails, awakening from horrid dreams to find himself surrounded by four walls. The Real.
His wonderful praise of Daumier defends the comedic historian's mockery, not the harsh laugh of Satan, but the gentle satire of the benevolent. (Europeans often suspect laughter; only the English writer embraces it always...though not in the 2017 Nobel winner.)
Two short poems are among Les épaves, which he ends by addressing his harsh critic Monselet; but first, Part II of his Monster, the Macabre Nymph:
Fool, you should go straight to the Devil!
I'm even happy to go with you,
If not for this frightful haste
Which leaves me agitated. Then,
Well, better Yougo straight to Hell! (Garnier, 199)
Then, finally, "A Frisky Cabaret" (un cabaret folâtre):
You who dote on skeletons
And detestable cliches
To spice your voluptuous taste,
(Stick to simple omelettes!)

Oh great Pharaoh, King Monselet!
In front of your unforeseen
Instruction, I dream of you: In a bar
At the cemetery, six feet deep. “And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: for God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.” Genesis
Ever since the forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge was eaten any lore became an attribute of evil. So to read books in order to wide one’s horizons is just to sign a pact with the devil.
“Pillowed on evil, Satan Trismegist
Ceaselessly cradles our enchanted mind,
The flawless metal of our will we find
Volatilized by this rare alchemist.
The Devil holds the puppet threads; and swayed
By noisome things and their repugnant spell,
Daily we take one further step toward Hell,
Suffering no horror in the olid shade.”
And of course the poets, who manage to pack their words in the most seductive opuses, are the worst of tempters…
“When by an edict of the powers supreme
A poet's born into this world's drab space,
His mother starts, in horror, to blaspheme
Clenching her fists at God, who grants her grace.”
So when the poet unsheathes his stylus and applies it to vellum the flowers of evil effloresce. Such are the poet’s morose ideals:
“What my heart, deep as an abyss, demands,
Lady Macbeth, is your brave bloody hands,
And, Aeschylus, your dreams of rage and fright,
Or you, vast Night, daughter of Angelo's,
Who peacefully twist into a strange pose
Charms fashioned for a Titan's mouth to bite.”
But when poets die their poems live…
“Then, O my beauty, tell the insatiate worm
Who wastes you with his kiss,
I have kept the godlike essence and the form
Of perishable bliss!” One of my favorite poets of all time.

Baudelaire emphasized above all the disassociated character of modern experience: the sense that alienation is an inevitable part of our modern world. In his prose, this complexity is expressed via harshness and shifts of mood.

The constant emphasis on beauty and innocence, even alongside the seamier aspects of humanity, reinforce an existentialist ideal that rejects morality and embraces transgression. Objects, sensations, and experiences often clash, implicitly rejecting personal experiences and memories; only operations of consciousness (e.g., revulsion and selfcriticism) are valued and even exalted. Indeed, for Baudelaire, the shock of experiencing is the act of living.

Baudelaire's talent for poetry aside, his genius was to jolt the reader into this mindset, to feel what he wanted to feel and experience what he wanted to experience. I read Les Fleurs du Mal many years back, but it is still within me. Just a few words about this beautiful, sometimes nightmarish, masterpiece. What do you expect to feel when reading Charles Baudelaire? Nothing, I expect, falsely innocent, but superior freeflowing dream sequences of surrealism. I loved to read of prophetic dreams with occasional moments of grace, where the fallen world seems to transform itself into an eternally beautiful moment. As always with poetry we have our preferences, those that touches us deeper. I am no poet, so I have to satisfy myself to tell you that in its better moments for me it is simply splendid.

Just a taste:

Above the ponds, the rills and the dells,
The mountains and woods, the clouds and the seas,
Beyond the sun and the galaxies,
Beyond the confines of the starry shells,

O my mind, you proceed with agility,
And as a good swimmer finds joy in the tide,
You gaily traverse the heavens vast and wide
With an indescribable and male felicity.

Fly away beyond earth’s morbid miasmas;
Purge yourself in the upper atmosphere,
And drink up, divine liqueur so clear,
The pure fire suffusing the vast cosmos.

Behind the worry and vast chagrin
That weigh on our days as gloomy as night,
Happy is he who in vigorous flight
Can depart for the fields bright and serene;

He whose thoughts, like uncaged birds,
Soar skyward each morning in liberty,
—Who floats above life, and grasps effortlessly
The language of flowers and things without words!

Audessus des étangs, audessus des vallées,
Des montagnes, des bois, des nuages, des mers,
Par delà le soleil, par delà les éthers,
Par delà les confins des sphères étoilées,

Mon esprit, tu te meus avec agilité,
Et, comme un bon nageur qui se pâme dans l’onde,
Tu sillonnes gaiement l’immensité profonde
Avec une indicible et mâle volupté.  

Envoletoi bien loin de ces miasmes morbides;
Va te purifier dans l’air supérieur,
Et bois, comme une pure et divine liqueur,
Le feu clair qui remplit les espaces limpides.

Derrière les ennuis et les vastes chagrins
Qui chargent de leur poids l’existence brumeuse,
Heureux celui qui peut d’une aile vigoureuse
S’élancer vers les champs lumineux et sereins;

Celui dont les pensers, comme des alouettes,
Vers les cieux le matin prennent un libre essor,
—Qui plane sur la vie, et comprend sans effort
Le langage des fleurs et des choses muettes!

Here's a recent essay on Baudelaire from the trusty, alwaysinteresting online mag The Millions:

So as to try to follow that, I've got to disclose a bit of an embarrassment. Baudelaire was, for me, the kind of poet only certain kinds of people liked. By this I don't mean Francophiles or the merely pretentious but there was something that set a devotee of C.B. apart from your average earnest, quavering, verbose, nervous poet or poetry fanboy.

It's hard to put it into words maybe you know it when you see it but there was something sort of...elegant...and...removed...and...cynical about somebody who felt like carting around this haunted menagerie everywhere they went, the way you just do with your favorite poets...

I'm no stranger to French poetry or literary bleakness, believe you me, but there was always something slightly creepy about Baudelaire, I could never put my finger on why I recoiled from it and what this meant.

There's the languid, morbid Romanticism, fond of grand statements and magnificent imagery; the surgically precise mastery of rhyme and meter (I don't speak more than toddler's French but you can pretty much get a good sense of this stuff with the original text facing the English translations); the utterly bleak yet exotic, nigh perfumed insights, metaphoric associations and twists of phrase; the poet's own (and those of his poetic subjects) addictions and rhapsodies; the deep, indescribable longings muddled with spleen; the detestation of smug comfort and propriety with the love of the 'perverse', the 'occult' and the melodious rumination mixed with ominous, pervading ennui...

Well, call me a hardheaded New England Pragmatist, but there was something sort of suspiciously sickly about this guy. I mean, here I am, 11:22pm, feasting on my pauper's pleasures of potato salad, a rather stale corn muffin and a can of Sprite. I'm very ok with this. Not necessarily dying to be anywhere else or doing much else. I'm content, in my clean, welllighted place down the street from the apt. I mean, haunted wonderlands are all well and good but in the words of Peter Griffin, SOMEBODY THROW A FREAKING PIE!

My oldest friend, a fine poet and a dedicated teacher and a loving husband and father, just loved this stuff when we were growing up. Still does, in fact. It inspired him. I never quite got it I mean, there's plenty to take from the poems AS poems but really, where does one relate?

I wasn't outraged by Baudelaire, I was given the willies. I was just pretty definitively turnedoff by an elaborately detailed, mockingly erotic poem about finding a maggotteeming corpse, spreadeagled, in the middle of a spring stroll with your lover...I get it, I get it, but I'm gonna start slowly backing away now, ok?...

I didn't get it, and I didn't even really want to.

Now that's totally changed. I don't quite know why.

I think it's got something to do with reading Walter Benjamin's interesting take on Baudelaire's style and literary achievement on a bus on the way to visit said friend. Nothing I like better than a fine and appreciative literary assessment. And I really love it when someone's insights turn my own around...

So that planted the seed, as did time and experience.

I'm not the same person I was when I first encountered poetry, not to mention life itself, and my tastes haven't changed in the sense of the old favorites, the lodestars, but they've definitely widened and evolved and been enriched and (I think) deepened.

I think I'm aware of ironies more than I ever was, and unfulfillment, loss, dead air and lights that turn off. I've been dealing with a long string of anguish, disappointment, despair, confusion and frustration. Time has worn away some of the gilding from the world, and this is what some like to call 'experience'. Ok, well, sure, but so what?

Well, Baudelaire's one of the sowhats. I never understood what his kind of visionary poetics really meant, what it did and where it brought the craft of poetry and the interested, openminded reader.

I think in some ways this is the kind of poetry that you need to grow into. Rimbaud works just fine when you're pissed off and rebellious and Promethean and you're 16, but he was a genius and his work survives real scrutiny and lasts after the humidity of adolescence cools off...

Baudelaire (a poet Rimbaud admired, btw, no mean feat in and of itself) requires a little more out of you to really start to absorb, I've found. Everybody knows by now that he was into hashish and absinthe and that he had plenty of torrid affairs and that he blew through most of his inheritance on the finest linens and dandied it up something fierce...

He also had quite the lover/mistress/muse/femme fatale, as The Daily Beast makes clear:

What I think I missed out on initially was the old soul that shifts and speaks within these tortured, skeptical, vivid, tastefully arranged and somehow gruesomely challenging poems.

Baudelaire isn't interested in pissing off the stuffy, conventional reading public because he's a spoiled, creepy, brat it's because he has a vision of life (his own, his city's, etc) that just couldn't come across in any other guise.

I'm making an ass of myself now, as per usual, so I'm going to stop bumbling down the explication road and just quote this poem in full. I'm not an expert or anything, but I definitely think that this poem is essential:


Angel of gladness, do you know of anguish,
Shame, of troubles, sobs, and of remorse,
And the vague terrors of those awful nights
That squeeze the heart like paper in a ball?
Angel of gladness, do you know of pain?

Angel of kindness, do you know of hatred,
Clenched fists in the shadow, tears of gall,
When Vengeance beats his hellish call to arms,
And makes himself the captain of our will?
Angel of kindness, do you know revenge?

Angel of health, are you aware of Fevers
Who by pallid hospitals' great walls
Stagger like exiles, with the lagging foot,
Searching for sunlight, mumbling with their lips?
Angel of health, do you know of disease?

Angel of beauty, do you know of wrinkles,
Fear of growing old, the great torment
To read the horror of selfsacrifice
In eyes our avid eyes had drunk for years?
Angel of beauty, do you know these lines?

Angel of fortune, happiness and light,
David in dying might have claimed the health
That radiates from your enchanted flesh;
But, angel, I implore only your prayers,
Angel of fortune, happiness and light!

I was reading this at work, looking out through the big windows and watching cold night full of pissing rain trembling in the puddles on the corner of the opposite side of the street, sky all black, stained yellow streetlights, city spaces, melancholic, churning...

I think I get it now.

Sometimes you have to pick the flowers yourself.