Charles Baudelaire: Wikis


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Charles Pierre Baudelaire

Charles Baudelaire ca. 1863
Born April 9, 1821
Paris, France
Died August 31, 1867 (aged 46)
Paris, France
Occupation poet, art critic
Nationality French
Period 1844–1866
Literary movement Symbolist, Modernist

Charles Pierre Baudelaire (pronounced /ˌboʊdəˈlɛər/; French: [ʃaʁl bodlɛʁ]; April 9, 1821 – August 31, 1867) was a nineteenth-century French poet, critic, and translator. A controversial figure in his lifetime, Baudelaire's name has become a byword for literary and artistic decadence. At the same time his works, in particular his book of poetry Les fleurs du mal (The Flowers of Evil), have been acknowledged as classics of French literature.



Early life

Baudelaire was born in Paris, France in 1821. His father, François Baudelaire, a senior civil servant and amateur artist, was thirty-four years older than Baudelaire's mother Caroline. François died during Baudelaire's childhood, in 1827. The following year, Caroline married Lieutenant Colonel Jacques Aupick, who later became a French ambassador to various noble courts.

Baudelaire's relationship with his mother was a close and complex one, and it dominated his life.[1] He later stated ; "I loved my mother for her elegance. I was a precocious dandy";and in a letter to her that, "There was in my childhood a period of passionate love for you".[2] Aupick, a rigid disciplinarian, though concerned for Baudelaire's upbringing and future, soon came to be at odds with his stepson's artistic temperament.[3]

Baudelaire was educated in Lyon, where he was forced to board away from his mother (even during holidays) and accept his stepfather's rigid methods, which included depriving him of visits home when his grades slipped. He wrote when recalling those times: "A shudder at the grim years of claustration [...] the unease of wretched and abandoned childhood, the hatred of tyrannical schoolfellows, and the solitude of the heart."[4] Baudelaire at fourteen was described by a classmate: "He was much more refined and distinguished than any of our fellow pupils [...] we are bound to one another[...] by shared tastes and sympathies, the precocious love of fine works of literature".[5] Later, he attended the Lycée Louis-le-Grand in Paris. Baudelaire was erratic in his studies, at times diligent, at other times prone to "idleness".

At eighteen, Baudelaire was described as "an exalted character, sometimes full of mysticism, and sometimes full of immorality and cynicism (which were excessive but only verbal)."[6] Upon gaining his degree in 1839, he was undecided about his future. He told his brother "I don't feel I have a vocation for anything." His stepfather had in mind a career in law or diplomacy, but instead Baudelaire decided to embark upon a literary career, and for the next two years led an irregular life, socializing with other bohemian artists and writers.[7]

Portrait by Emile Deroy (1820–1846)

Baudelaire began to frequent prostitutes and may have contracted gonorrhea and syphilis during this period. He went to a pharmacist known for venereal disease treatments, on recommendation of his older brother Alphonse, a magistrate.[8] For a while, he took on a prostitute named Sara as his mistress and lived with his brother when his funds were low. His stepfather kept him on a tight allowance which he spent as quickly as he received it. Baudelaire began to run up debts, mostly for clothes. His stepfather demanded an accounting and wrote to Alphonse: "The moment has come when something must be done to save your brother from absolute perdition."[9] In the hope of reforming him and making a man of him, his stepfather sent him on a voyage to Calcutta, India in 1841, under the care of a former naval captain. Baudelaire's mother was distressed both by his poor behavior and by the proposed solution.[10]

The arduous trip, however, did nothing to turn Baudelaire's mind away from a literary career or from his casual attitude toward life, so the naval captain agreed to let Baudelaire return home. Though Baudelaire later exaggerated his aborted trip to create a legend about his youthful travels and experiences, including "riding on elephants," the trip did provide strong impressions of the sea, sailing, and exotic ports, that he later employed in his poetry.[11] Baudelaire returned to Paris after less than a year's absence. Much to his parents' chagrin, he was more determined than ever to continue with his literary career. His mother later recalled: "Oh, what grief! If Charles had let himself be guided by his stepfather, his career would have been very different... He would not have left a name in literature, it is true, but we should have been happier, all three of us".[12]

Soon, Baudelaire returned to the taverns to philosophize, recite his unpublished poems and enjoy the adulation of his artistic peers. At twenty-one, he received a good-sized inheritance of over 100,000 francs, plus four parcels of land, but squandered much of it within a few years, including borrowing heavily against his mortgages. He quickly piled up debts far exceeding his annual income and, out of desperation, his family obtained a decree to place his property in trust.[13] During this time he met Jeanne Duval, the illegitimate daughter of a prostitute from Nantes, who was to become his longest romantic association. She had been the mistress of the caricaturist and photographer Nadar. His mother thought Duval a "Black Venus" who "tortured him in every way" and drained him of money at every opportunity.[14]


Portrait by Nadar.

While still unpublished in 1843, Baudelaire became known in artistic circles as a dandy and free-spender, buying up books, art and antiques he couldn't afford. By 1844, he was eating on credit and half his inheritance was gone. Baudelaire regularly implored his mother for money while he tried to advance his career. He met Balzac around this time and began to write many of the poems which would appear in Les fleurs du mal.[15] His first published work was his art review "Salon of 1845," which attracted immediate attention for its boldness. Many of his critical opinions were novel in their time, including his championing of Delacroix, but have since been generally accepted. Baudelaire proved himself to be a well-informed and passionate critic and he gained the attention of the greater art community.[16] That summer, however, despondent about his meager income, rising debts, loneliness and doubtful future, because "the fatigue of falling asleep and the fatigue of waking are unbearable," he decided to commit suicide and leave the remainder of his inheritance to his mistress. However, he lost his resolve and wounded himself with a knife only superficially. He implored his mother to visit him as he recovered but she ignored his pleas, perhaps under orders from her husband.[17] For a time, Baudelaire was homeless and completely estranged from his parents, until they relented due to his poor condition.

In 1846, Baudelaire wrote his second Salon review, gaining additional credibility as an advocate and critic of Romanticism. His support of Delacroix as the foremost Romantic artist gained widespread notice.[18] The following year Baudelaire's novella La Fanfarlo was published.

Baudelaire took part in the Revolutions of 1848.[19] For some years, he was interested in republican politics; but his political tendencies were more emotional positions than steadfast convictions, and spanned Blanquism, sympathy with the ideas of Histoire de la Raison d'Ėtat of Giuseppe Ferrari[citation needed], as well as with the ultramontane critique of liberalism of Joseph de Maistre. His stepfather, also caught up in the Revolution, survived the mob and was appointed envoy extraordinary to Turkey by the new government despite his ties to the deposed royal family.[20]

In the early 1850s, Baudelaire struggled with poor health, pressing debts, and irregular literary output. He often moved from one lodging to another and maintained an uneasy relationship with his mother, frequently imploring her by letter for money. (Her letters to him have not been found.) [21] He received many projects that he was unable to complete, though he did finish translations of stories by Edgar Allan Poe which were published in Le Pays.[22] Baudelaire had learned English in his childhood, and Gothic novels, such as Lewis's The Monk, and Poe's short stories, became some of his favorite reading matter, and major influences.

Upon the death of his stepfather in 1857, Baudelaire received no mention in the will but he was heartened nonetheless that the division with his mother might now be mended. Still strongly tied to her emotionally, at thirty-six he wrote her: "believe that I belong to you absolutely, and that I belong only to you".[23]

The Flowers of Evil

The first edition of Les Fleurs du mal with authors notes.

Baudelaire was a slow and fastidious worker, often sidetracked by indolence, emotional distress and illness, and it was not until 1857 that he published his first and most famous volume of poems, Les Fleurs du mal (The Flowers of Evil), originally titled Les Limbes.[24] Some of these poems had already appeared in the Revue des deux mondes (Review of Two Worlds), when they were published by Baudelaire's friend Auguste Poulet Malassis, who had inherited a printing business at Alençon.

The poems found a small, appreciative audience, but greater public attention was given to their subject matter. The effect on fellow artists was, as Théodore de Banville stated, "immense, prodigious, unexpected, mingled with admiration and with some indefinable anxious fear".[25] Flaubert, recently attacked in a similar fashion for Madame Bovary (and acquitted), was impressed and wrote to Baudelaire: "You have found a way to rejuvenate Romanticism... You are as unyielding as marble, and as penetrating as an English mist".[26]

The principal themes of sex and death were considered scandalous. He also touched on lesbianism, sacred and profane love, metamorphosis, melancholy, the corruption of the city, lost innocence, the oppressiveness of living, and wine. Notable in some poems is Baudelaire's use of imagery of the sense of smell and of fragrances, which is used to evoke feelings of nostalgia and past intimacy.[27]

The book, however, quickly became a byword for unwholesomeness among mainstream critics of the day. Some critics called a few of the poems "masterpieces of passion, art and poetry" but other poems were deemed to merit no less than legal action to suppress them.[28] J. Habas writing in Le Figaro, led the charge against Baudelaire, writing: "Everything in it which is not hideous is incomprehensible, everything one understands is putrid". Then Baudelaire responded to the outcry, in a prophetic letter to his mother:

"You know that I have always considered that literature and the arts pursue an aim independent of morality. Beauty of conception and style is enough for me. But this book, whose title (Fleurs du mal) says everything, is clad, as you will see, in a cold and sinister beauty. It was created with rage and patience. Besides, the proof of its positive worth is in all the ill that they speak of it. The book enrages people. Moreover, since I was terrified myself of the horror that I should inspire, I cut out a third from the proofs. They deny me everything, the spirit of invention and even the knowledge of the French language. I don't care a rap about all these imbeciles, and I know that this book, with its virtues and its faults, will make its way in the memory of the lettered public, beside the best poems of V. Hugo, Th. Gautier and even Byron." [29]

Baudelaire, his publisher and the printer were successfully prosecuted for creating an offense against public morals. They were fined but Baudelaire was not imprisoned.[30] Six of the poems were suppressed, but printed later as Les Épaves (The Wrecks) (Brussels, 1866). Another edition of Les Fleurs du mal, without these poems, but with considerable additions, appeared in 1861. Many notables rallied behind Baudelaire and condemned the sentence. Victor Hugo wrote to him: "Your fleurs du mal shine and dazzle like stars... I applaud your vigorous spirit with all my might".[31] Baudelaire did not appeal the judgment but his fine was reduced. Nearly 100 years later, on May 11, 1949, Baudelaire was vindicated, the judgment officially reversed, and the six banned poems reinstated in France.[31]

In the poem "Au lecteur" ("To the Reader") that prefaces Les Fleurs du mal, Baudelaire accuses his readers of hypocrisy and of being as guilty of sins and lies as the poet:

...If rape or arson, poison or the knife
Has wove no pleasing patterns in the stuff
Of this drab canvas we accept as life—
It is because we are not bold enough!
(Roy Campbell's translation)

Final years

Baudelaire next worked on a translation and adaptation of Thomas de Quincey's Confessions of an English Opium Eater.[32] Other works in the years that followed included Petits Poèmes en prose (Small Prose poems); a series of art reviews published in the Pays, Exposition universelle (Country, World Fair); studies on Gustave Flaubert (in L'Artiste, October 18, 1857); on Théophile Gautier (Revue contemporaine, September 1858); various articles contributed to Eugene Crepet's Poètes francais; Les Paradis artificiels: opium et haschisch (French poets; Artificial Paradises: opium and hashish) (1860); and Un Dernier Chapitre de l'histoire des oeuvres de Balzac (A Final Chapter of the history of works of Balzac) (1880), originally an article "Comment on paye ses dettes quand on a du génie" ("How one pays one's debts when one has genius"), in which his criticism turns against his friends Honoré de Balzac, Théophile Gautier, and Gérard de Nerval.

Jeanne Duval, in a painting by Édouard Manet
Apollonie Sabatier, muse and one time mistress, painted by Vincent Vidal.

By 1859, his illnesses, his long-term use of laudanum, his life of stress and poverty had taken a toll and Baudelaire had aged noticeably. But at last, his mother relented and agreed to let him live with her for a while at Honfleur. Baudelaire was productive and at peace in the seaside town, his poem Le Voyage being one example of his efforts during that time.[33] In 1860, he became an ardent supporter of Richard Wagner.

His financial difficulties increased again, however, particularly after his publisher Poulet Malassis went bankrupt in 1861. In 1864, he left Paris for Belgium, partly in the hope of selling the rights to his works and also to give lectures.[34] His long-standing relationship with Jeanne Duval continued on-and-off, and he helped her to the end of his life. Baudelaire's relationships with actress Marie Daubrun and with courtesan Apollonie Sabatier, though the source of much inspiration, never produced any lasting satisfaction. He smoked opium, and in Brussels he began to drink to excess. Baudelaire suffered a massive stroke in 1866 and paralysis followed. The last two years of his life were spent, in a semi-paralyzed state, in "maisons de santé" in Brussels and in Paris, where he died on August 31, 1867. Baudelaire is buried in the Cimetière du Montparnasse, Paris.

Many of Baudelaire's works were published posthumously. After his death, his mother paid off his substantial debts, and at last she found some comfort in Baudelaire's emerging fame. "I see that my son, for all his faults, has his place in literature". She lived another four years.[35]


Baudelaire was an active participant in the artistic life of his times. As critic and essayist, he wrote extensively and perceptively about the luminaries and themes of French culture. He was frank with friends and enemies, rarely took the diplomatic approach and sometimes responded violently verbally, which often undermined his cause.[36] His associations were numerous and included: Gustave Courbet, Honoré Daumier, Franz Liszt, Champfleury, Victor Hugo, Gustave Flaubert, Balzac and the artists and writers that follow.

Edgar Allan Poe

In 1846 and 1847, Baudelaire became acquainted with the works of Poe, in which he found tales and poems that had, he claimed, long existed in his own brain but never taken shape. Baudelaire had much in common with Poe (who died in 1849 at age forty). Both had a similar sensibility and macabre and supernatural turn of mind; both struggled with illness, poverty, and melancholy. Baudelaire saw in Poe a precursor and tried to be his French contemporary counterpart.[37] From this time until 1865, he was largely occupied with translating Poe's works; his translations were widely praised. Baudelaire was not the first French translator of Poe, but his "scrupulous translations" were considered among the best. These were published as Histoires extraordinaires (Extraordinary stories) (1852), Nouvelles histoires extraordinaires (New extraordinary stories) (1857), Aventures d'Arthur Gordon Pym, Eureka, and Histoires grotesques et sérieuses (Grotesque and serious stories) (1865). Two essays on Poe are to be found in his Oeuvres complètes (Complete works) (vols. v. and vi.).

Eugène Delacroix

A strong supporter of the Romantic painter Delacroix, Baudelaire called him "a poet in painting". Baudelaire also absorbed much of Delacroix's aesthetic ideas as expressed in his journals. As Baudelaire elaborated in his "Salon of 1846", "As one contemplates his series of pictures, one seems to be attending the celebration of some grievous mystery... This grave and lofty melancholy shines with a dull light... plaintive and profound like a melody by Weber".[18] Delacroix, though appreciative, kept his distance from Baudelaire, particularly after the scandal of Les Fleurs du mal. In private correspondence, Delacroix stated that Baudelaire "really gets on my nerves" and he expressed his unhappiness with Baudelaire's persistent comments about "melancholy" and "feverishness".[38]

Richard Wagner

Baudelaire had no formal musical training, and knew little of composers beyond Beethoven and Carl Maria von Weber. Weber was in some ways Wagner's precursor, using the leitmotif and conceiving the idea of the "total art work" ("Gesamtkunstwerk"), both of which found Baudelaire's admiration. Before even hearing Wagner's music, Baudelaire studied reviews and essays about him, and formulated his impressions. Later, Baudelaire put them into his non-technical analysis of Wagner, which was highly regarded, particularly his essay "Richard Wagner et Tannhäuser à Paris".[39] Baudelaire's reaction to music was passionate and psychological. "Music engulfs (possesses) me like the sea".[39] After attending three Wagner concerts in Paris in 1860, Baudelaire wrote to the composer: "I had a feeling of pride and joy in understanding, in being possessed, in being overwhelmed, a truly sensual pleasure like that of rising in the air".[40] Baudelaire's writings contributed to the elevation of Wagner and to the cult of Wagnerism that swept Europe in the following decades.

Théophile Gautier

Gautier, writer and poet, earned Baudelaire's respect for his perfection of form and his mastery of language, though Baudelaire thought he lacked deeper emotion and spirituality. Both strove to express the artist's inner vision, which Heinrich Heine had earlier stated: "In artistic matters, I am a supernaturalist. I believe that the artist can not find all his forms in nature, but that the most remarkable are revealed to him in his soul".[41] Gautier's frequent meditations on death and the horror of life are themes which influenced Baudelaire writings. In gratitude for their friendship and commonality of vision, Baudelaire dedicated Les Fleurs du mal to Gautier.

Édouard Manet

Manet and Baudelaire became constant companions from around 1855. In the early 1860s, Baudelaire accompanied Manet on daily sketching trips and often met him socially. He also lent Baudelaire money and looked after his affairs, particularly when Baudelaire went to Belgium. Baudelaire encouraged Manet to strike his own path and not succumb to criticism. "Manet has great talent, a talent which will stand the test of time. But he has a weak character. He seems to me crushed and stunned by shock".[42] In his painting Music in the Tuileries, Manet includes portraits of his friends Théophile Gautier, Jacques Offenbach, and Baudelaire.[43] While it's difficult to differentiate who influenced whom, both Manet and Baudelaire discussed and expressed some common themes through their respective arts. Baudelaire praised the modernity of Manet's subject matter: "almost all our originality comes from the stamp that 'time' imprints upon our feelings".[44] When Manet's famous Olympia (1865), a portrait of a nude prostitute, provoked a scandal for its blatant realism mixed with an imitation of Renaissance motifs, Baudelaire worked privately to support his friend, though he offered no public defense (he was, however, ill at the time). When Baudelaire returned from Belgium after his stroke, Manet and his wife were frequent visitors at the nursing home and she would play passages from Wagner for Baudelaire on the piano.[45]


Nadar (Félix Tournachon) was a noted caricaturist, scientist and important early photographer. Baudelaire admired Nadar, one of his closest friends, and wrote: "Nadar is the most amazing manifestation of vitality".[46] They moved in similar circles and Baudelaire made many social connections through him. Nadar's ex-mistress Jeanne Duval became Baudelaire's mistress around 1842. Baudelaire became interested in photography in the 1850s and denounced it as an art form and advocated for its return to "its real purpose, which is that of being the servant to the sciences and arts". Photography should not, according to Baudelaire, encroach upon "the domain of the impalpable and the imaginary".[47] Nadar remained a stalwart friend right to Baudelaire's last days and wrote his obituary notice in Le Figaro.


Many of Baudelaire's philosophical proclamations were considered scandalous and intentionally provocative in his time. He wrote on a wide range of subjects, drawing criticism and outrage from many quarters.


"There is an invincible taste for prostitution in the heart of man, from which comes his horror of solitude. He wants to be 'two'. The man of genius wants to be 'one'... It is this horror of solitude, the need to lose oneself in the external flesh, that man nobly calls 'the need to love'." [48]


"Unable to suppress love, the Church wanted at least to disinfect it, and it created marriage." [48]

The artist

"The more a man cultivates the arts, the less randy he becomes... Only the brute is good at coupling, and copulation is the lyricism of the masses. To copulate is to enter into another–and the artist never emerges from himself." [48]

"Style is character"


"Personally, I think that the unique and supreme delight lies in the certainty of doing 'evil'–and men and women know from birth that all pleasure lies in evil." [48]


"I have no convictions, as they are understood by the men of my century, because I have no ambition... However, I have some convictions, in a nobler sense, which cannot be understood by the men of my time".[19]


Portrait by Gustave Courbet, 1848.

Baudelaire's influence on the direction of modern French (and English) language literature was considerable. The most significant French writers to come after him were generous with tributes; four years after his death, Arthur Rimbaud praised him in a letter as 'the king of poets, a true God'.[49] In 1895, Stéphane Mallarmé published a sonnet in Baudelaire's memory, 'Le Tombeau de Charles Baudelaire'. Marcel Proust, in an essay published in 1922, stated that along with Alfred de Vigny, Baudelaire was 'the greatest poet of the nineteenth century'.[50]

In the English-speaking world, Edmund Wilson credited Baudelaire as providing an initial impetus for the Symbolist movement, by virtue of his translations of Poe.[51] In 1930, T. S. Eliot, while asserting that Baudelaire had not yet received a "just appreciation" even in France, claimed that the poet had "great genius" and asserted that his "technical mastery which can hardly be overpraised... has made his verse an inexhaustible study for later poets, not only in his own language".[52]

At the same time that Eliot was affirming Baudelaire's importance from a broadly conservative and explicitly Christian viewpoint,[53] left-wing critics such as Wilson and Walter Benjamin were able to do so from a dramatically different perspective. Benjamin translated Baudelaire's Tableaux Parisiens into German and published a major essay on translation[54] as the foreword.

In the late 1930s, Benjamin used Baudelaire as a starting point and focus for his monumental attempt at a materialist assessment of 19th century culture, Das Passagenwerk.[55] For Benjamin, Baudelaire's importance lay in his anatomies of the crowd, of the city and of modernity.[56]

In 1982, avant-garde performance artist and vocalist Diamanda Galás recorded an adaptation of his poem The Litanies of Satan (Les Litanies de Satan).

Currently, Vanderbilt University has "assembled one of the world’s most comprehensive research collections on...Baudelaire."[1]

In popular culture

  • In the popular Warner Bros television series Angel, it was indicated that Le Vampire was truly inspired by Baudelaire being stalked and toyed with by the notorious vampire Angelus.[57]
  • In Edward Albee's The Zoo Story Peter tells Jerry that compared to J.P. Marquand, Baudelaire is "by far the finer of the two."
  • Baudelaire's famous portrait also appears in the background of the closing sequence to the French film La Haine (1995) as a mural when Vinz (played by actor Vincent Cassell) is confronted by police officer Notre-Dame who then accidentally shoots him.
  • Baudelaire's poem "Paysage" was transposed into a song by Quebec group Les Colocs.
  • Baudelaire's poem "The Eyes of the Poor" (1869) has many similar lines and images with, and is widely regarded as the inspiration for, the song "How Beautiful You Are" (1987) by The Cure.
  • Dustin Hoffman recited Baudelaire's poem "Be Drunken" at the 22nd AFI (American Film Institute) Life Achievement Award ceremonies to the honoree, Jack Nicholson.
  • Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events stars as the main characters the Baudelaire siblings, so named after Charles Baudelaire.
    • A short excerpt from Baudelaire's poem "Le Voyage" appears before "Chapter Fourteen," epilogue to Lemony Snicket's work.
  • AFI has the song Midnight Sun as a hidden track at the end of their album Black Sails in the Sunset. The lyrics are partly inspired in Baudelaire's poem De Profundis Clamavi, a translation of which is whispered in the song.
  • HIM's album Screamworks: Love in Theory and Practice, Chapters 1–13 has a song called "Love, the Hardest Way" in which a line is "Baudelaire in Braille". The same is also the title of the second disc to the "Heartagram Edition" of the same album.

See also


Tomb of Baudelaire
  • Salon de 1845, 1845
  • Salon de 1846, 1846
  • La Fanfarlo, 1847
  • Les Fleurs du mal, 1857
  • Les paradis artificiels, 1860
  • Réflexions sur Quelques-uns de mes Contemporains, 1861
  • Le Peintre de la Vie Moderne, 1863
  • Curiosités Esthétiques, 1868
  • L'art romantique, 1868
  • Le Spleen de Paris/Petits Poèmes en Prose, 1869
  • Oeuvres Posthumes et Correspondance Générale, 1887–1907
  • Fusées, 1897
  • Mon Coeur Mis à Nu, 1897
  • Oeuvres Complètes, 1922–53 (19 vols.)
  • Mirror of Art, 1955
  • The Essence of Laughter, 1956
  • Curiosités Esthétiques, 1962
  • The Painter of Modern Life and Other Essays, 1964
  • Baudelaire as a Literary Critic, 1964
  • Arts in Paris 1845–1862, 1965
  • Selected Writings on Art and Artist, 1972
  • Selected Letters of Charles Baudelaire, 1986
  • Twenty Prose Poems, 1988
  • Critique d'art; Critique musicale, 1992

Online texts


  1. ^ Joanna Richardson, Baudelaire, St. Martin's Press, New York, 1994, pp. 13–14, ISBN 0-312-11476-1.
  2. ^ Richardson 1994, p.16
  3. ^ Richardson 1994, p.23
  4. ^ Richardson 1994, p.30, 32
  5. ^ Richardson 1994, p.35
  6. ^ Richardson 1994, p.42
  7. ^ Richardson 1994, p.46
  8. ^ Richardson 1994, p.52
  9. ^ Richardson 1994, pp. 55–57
  10. ^ Richardson 1994, p.60
  11. ^ Richardson 1994, pp. 67–68
  12. ^ Richardson 1994, p.70
  13. ^ Richardson 1994, p.71
  14. ^ Richardson 1994, p.75
  15. ^ Richardson 1994, p.83
  16. ^ Richardson 1994, p.95
  17. ^ Richardson 1994, pp. 101–102
  18. ^ a b Richardson 1994, p.110.
  19. ^ a b Richardson 1994, p.127.
  20. ^ Richardson 1994, p.125.
  21. ^ Richardson 1994, p.160.
  22. ^ Richardson 1994, p.181.
  23. ^ Richardson 1994, p.219.
  24. ^ Richardson 1994, p.191.
  25. ^ Richardson 1994, p.236.
  26. ^ Richardson 1994, p.241.
  27. ^ Richardson 1994, p.231.
  28. ^ Richardson 1994, pp. 232–237
  29. ^ Richardson 1994, p.238.
  30. ^ Richardson 1994, p.248
  31. ^ a b Richardson 1994, p.250.
  32. ^ Richardson 1994, p.311.
  33. ^ Richardson 1994, p.281.
  34. ^ Richardson 1994, p. 400
  35. ^ Richardson 1994, p.497.
  36. ^ Richardson 1994, p.268.
  37. ^ Richardson 1994, p.140.
  38. ^ Lois Boe Hyslop, Baudelaire, Man Of His Time, Yale University Press, 1980, p.14, ISBN 0-300-02513-0.
  39. ^ a b Hyslop (1980), p. 68.
  40. ^ Hyslop (1980), p. 69
  41. ^ Hyslop (1980), p. 131.
  42. ^ Hyslop (1980), p. 55.
  43. ^ "Music in the Tuileries Gardens". The National Gallery. Retrieved 2008-07-13. 
  44. ^ Hyslop (1980), p. 53.
  45. ^ Hyslop (1980), p. 51.
  46. ^ Hyslop (1980), p. 65.
  47. ^ Hyslop (1980), p. 63.
  48. ^ a b c d Richardson 1994, p.50
  49. ^ Rimbaud, Arthur: Oeuvres complètes, p. 253, NRF/Gallimard, 1972.
  50. ^ 'Concerning Baudelaire' in Proust, Marcel: Against Sainte-Beuve and Other Essays, p. 286, trans. John Sturrock, Penguin, 1994.
  51. ^ Wilson, Edmund: Axel's Castle, p. 20, Fontana, 1962 (originally published 1931).
  52. ^ 'Baudelaire', in Eliot, T. S.: Selected Essays, pp. 422 and 425, Faber & Faber, 1961.
  53. ^ cf. Eliot, 'Religion in Literature', in Eliot, op. cit., p.388.
  54. ^ 'The Task of the Translator', in Benjamin, Walter: Selected Writings Vol. 1: 1913–1926, pp. 253–263, Belknap/Harvard, 1996.
  55. ^ Benjamin, Walter: The Arcades Project, trans. Howard Eiland and Kevin McLaughlin, Belknap/Harvard, 1999.
  56. ^ 'The Paris of the Second Empire in Baudelaire' in Benjamin, Walter: Selected Writings Vol. 4 1938–1940, pp. 3–92, Belknap/Harvard, 2003.
  57. ^
  58. ^
  59. ^

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This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.


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You gave me your mud and I have turned it to gold.

Charles Baudelaire (1821-04-091867-08-31) was a French poet, critic and translator.



Homage to Delacroix by Henri Fantin-Latour (1864). Baudelaire is shown seated at the lower right.
  • Tout ce qui plaît a une raison de plaire, et mépriser les attroupements de ceux qui s'égarent n'est pas le moyen de les ramener où ils devraient être.
    • Everything that gives pleasure has its reason. To scorn the mobs of those who go astray is not the means to bring them around.
      • "Quelques mots d'introduction," Salon de 1845 (May 1845) [1]
  • Toutes les beautés contiennent, comme tous les phénomènes possibles, quelque chose d'éternel et quelque chose de transitoire — d'absolu et de particulier.
    • All beauties, like all possible phenomena, have something of the eternal and something of the ephemeral— of the absolute and the particular.
      • "De l'héroïsme de la vie moderne," Salon de 1846, XVIII (1846) [2]
  • Nous avons psychologisé comme les fous, qui augmentent leur folie en s’efforçant de la comprendre.
    • We have psychologized like the insane, who aggravate their madness in struggling to understand it.
      • "La Fanfarlo" (1847) [3]
  • Tu m’as donné ta boue et j’en ai fait de l’or.
    • You gave me your mud and I have turned it to gold.
      • "Ébauche d’un épilogue pour la 2e édition," Les Fleurs du Mal (1861), Appendice II: Autres pièces [4]
  • Hélas! tout est abîme, — action, désir, rêve,
    • Everything, alas, is an abyss, — actions, desires, dreams,
      • "Le Gouffre" [The Abyss], Nouvelles Fleurs du Mal (1862) [5]
  • Delacroix était passionnément amoureux de la passion, et froidement déterminé à chercher les moyens d'exprimer la passion de la manière la plus visible. Dans ce double caractère, nous trouvons, disons-le en passant, les deux signes qui marquent les plus solides génies, génies extrêmes.
    • Delacroix was passionately in love with passion, and coldly determined to seek the means of expressing passion in the most visible manner. In this dual character, be it said in passing, we find the two distinguishing marks of the most substantial geniuses, extreme geniuses.

Les fleurs du mal (Flowers of Evil) (1857)

Drawing of Jeanne Duval by Baudelaire
  • Hypocrite lecteur, — mon semblable, — mon frère!
    • Hypocrite reader — my likeness — my brother!
      • "Au Lecteur" [To the Reader] [6]
  • Le Poète est semblable au prince des nuées
    Qui hante la tempête et se rit de l’archer ;
    Exilé sur le sol au milieu des huées,
    Ses ailes de géant l’empêchent de marcher.
    • The Poet is a kinsman in the clouds
      Who scoffs at archers, loves a stormy day;
      But on the ground, among the hooting crowds,
      He cannot walk, his wings are in the way.
      • "L’Albatros" [The Albatross] (translated by James McGowan, Oxford University Press, 1993) [7]
  • La Nature est un temple où de vivants piliers
    Laissent parfois sortir de confuses paroles;
    L’homme y passe à travers des forêts de symboles
    Qui l’observent avec des regards familiers.
    • Nature is a temple where living columns
      Let slip from time to time uncertain words;
      Man finds his way through forests of symbols
      Which regard him with familiar gazes.
      • "Correspondances" [Correspondences] [8]
  • Homme libre, toujours tu chériras la mer.
    • Free man, you will always cherish the sea.
      • "L'Homme et la Mer" [Man and the Sea] [9]
  • Je suis belle, ô mortels! comme un rêve de pierre,
    Et mon sein, où chacun s’est meurtri tour à tour,
    Est fait pour inspirer au poète un amour
    Eternel et muet ainsi que la matière.

    Je trône dans l’azur comme un sphinx incompris;
    J’unis un cœur de neige à la blancheur des cygnes;
    Je hais le mouvement qui déplace les lignes,
    Et jamais je ne pleure et jamais je ne ris.

    • I am lovely, O mortals, like a dream of stone;
      And my breast, where everyone is bruised in his turn,
      Has been made to awaken in poets a love
      That is eternal and as silent as matter.

      I am throned in blue sky like a sphinx unbeknown;
      My heart of snow is wed to the whiteness of swans;
      I detest any movement displacing still lines,
      And never do I weep and never laugh.

      • "La Beauté" [Beauty] [10]
  • Là, tout n’est qu’ordre et beauté,
    Luxe, calme et volupté.
    • There, all is order and beauty only,
      Splendor, peace, and pleasure.
      • "L'Invitation au Voyage" [Invitation to the Voyage] [11]
We have psychologized like the insane, who aggravate their madness in struggling to understand it.
  • Bientôt nous plongerons dans les froides ténèbres;
    Adieu, vive clarté de nos étés trop courts!
    • Soon we will plunge into the cold darkness;
      Farewell, vivid brightness of our too-short summers!
      • "Chant d'Automne" [Song of Autumn] [12]
  • Je suis un cimetière abhorré de la lune.
    • I am a cemetery loathed by the moon.
      • "Spleen (II)" [13]
  • Fourmillante cité, cité pleine de rêves,
    Où le spectre en plein jour raccroche le passant!
    • Ant-swarming city, city abounding in dreams,
      Where ghosts in broad daylight accost the passerby!
      • "Les Sept Vieillards" [The Seven Old Men] [14]
  • C'était l'heure où l'essaim des rêves malfaisants
    Tord sur leurs oreillers les bruns adolescents.
    • It is the hour when the swarm of malevolent dreams
      Makes sun-browned adolescents writhe upon their pillows.
      • "Le Crépuscule du Matin" [Morning Twilight] [15]
  • Un soir, l'âme du vin chantait dans les bouteilles:
    "Homme, vers toi je pousse, ô cher déshérité,
    Sous ma prison de verre et mes cires vermeilles."
    • One night, the soul of wine was singing in the flask:
      "O man, dear disinherited! to you I sing
      This song full of light and of brotherhood
      From my prison of glass with its scarlet wax seals."
      • "L'Âme du Vin" [The Soul of Wine] [16]
  • "En toi je tomberai, végétale ambroisie,
    Grain précieux jeté par l'éternel Semeur,
    Pour que de notre amour naisse la poésie
    Qui jaillira vers Dieu comme une rare fleur!"
    • "Vegetal ambrosia, precious grain scattered
      By the eternal Sower, I shall descend in you
      So that from our love there will be born poetry,
      Which will spring up toward God like a rare flower!"
      • "L'Âme du Vin" [The Soul of Wine]
José de Charmoy, Cenotaph of Baudelaire (detail), Cimetière de Montparnasse, Paris
  • Ô toi, le plus savant et le plus beau des Anges,
    Dieu trahi par le sort et privé de louanges,

    Ô Satan, prends pitié de ma longue misère!

    Ô Prince de l'exil, à qui l'on a fait tort
    Et qui, vaincu, toujours te redresses plus fort,

    Ô Satan, prends pitié de ma longue misère!

    Toi qui sais tout, grand roi des choses souterraines,
    Guérisseur familier des angoisses humaines,

    Ô Satan, prends pitié de ma longue misère!

    Toi qui, même aux lépreux, aux parias maudits,
    Enseignes par l'amour le goût du Paradis,

    Ô Satan, prends pitié de ma longue misère!

    • O wise among all Angels ordinate,
      God foiled of glory, god betrayed by fate,
      Satan, O pity my long wretchedness!
      O Prince of Exile doomed to heinous wrong,
      Who, vanquished, riseth ever stark and strong,
      Satan, O pity my long wretchedness!
      Thou knowest all, proud king of occult things,
      Familiar healer of man's sufferings,
      Satan, O pity my long wretchedness!
      Thy love wakes thirst for Heaven in one and all:
      Leper, pimp, outcast, fool and criminal,
      Satan, O pity my long wretchedness!
      • "Les Litanies de Satan" [Litanies of Satan] [17]
This life is a hospital where each patient is possessed by the desire to change his bed.
  • Gloire et louange à toi, Satan, dans les hauteurs
    Du Ciel, où tu régnas, et dans les profondeurs
    de l’Enfer, où, vaincu, tu rêves en silence!
    Fais que mon âme un jour, sous l’Arbre de Science,
    Près de toi se repose, a l’heure où sur ton front
    Comme un Temple nouveau ses rameaux s’épandront!
    • Satan be praised! Glory to you on High
      where once you reigned in Heaven, and in the
      Pit where now you dream in taciturn defeat!
      Grant that my soul, one day, beneath the Tree
      of Knowledge, meet you when above your brow
      its branches, like a second Temple, spread!
      • "Les Litanies de Satan" [Litanies of Satan]
  • Quelle est cette île triste et noire? — C'est Cythère,
    Nous dit-on, un pays fameux dans les chansons
    Eldorado banal de tous les vieux garçons.
    Regardez, après tout, c'est une pauvre terre.
    • What is that sad, black island like a pall?
      Why, Cytherea, famed in many a book,
      The Eldorado of old-stagers. Look:
      It's but a damned poor country after all!

Salon de 1859 (1859)

There is in a word, in a verb, something sacred which forbids us from using it recklessly. To handle a language cunningly is to practice a kind of evocative sorcery.
  • C'est l'imagination qui a enseigné à l'homme le sens moral de la couleur, du contour, du son et du parfum. Elle a créé, au commencement du monde, l'analogie et la métaphore. Elle décompose toute la création, et, avec les matériaux amassés et disposés suivant des règles dont on ne peut trouver l'origine que dans le plus profond de l'âme, elle crée un monde nouveau, elle produit la sensation du neuf. Comme elle a créé le monde (on peut bien dire cela, je crois, même dans un sens religieux), il est juste qu'elle le gouverne.
    • It is imagination that has taught man the moral sense of color, of contour, of sound and of scent. It created, in the beginning of the world, analogy and metaphor. It disassembles creation, and with materials gathered and arranged by rules whose origin is only to be found in the very depths of the soul, it creates a new world, it produces the sensation of the new. As it has created the world (this can be said, I believe, even in the religious sense), it is just that it should govern it.
      • "Lettres à M. le Directeur de La revue française," III: La reine des facultés [19]
  • L'imagination est la reine du vrai, et le possible est une des provinces du vrai. Elle est positivement apparentée avec l'infini.

    Sans elle, toutes les facultés, si solides ou si aiguisées qu'elles soient, sont comme si elles n'étaient pas, tandis que la faiblesse de quelques facultés secondaires, excitées par une imagination vigoureuse, est un malheur secondaire. Aucune ne peut se passer d'elle, et elle peut suppléer quelques-unes. Souvent ce que celles-ci cherchent et ne trouvent qu'après les essais successifs de plusieurs méthodes non adaptées à la nature des choses, fièrement et simplement elle le devine. Enfin elle joue un rôle puissant même dans la morale; car, permettez-moi d'aller jusque-là, qu'est-ce que la vertu sans imagination?

    • Imagination is the queen of truth, and possibility is one of the regions of truth. She is positively akin to infinity.

      Without her, all the faculties, sound and acute though they may be, seem nonexistent; whereas the weakness of some secondary faculties is a minor misfortune if stimulated by a vigorous imagination. None of them could do without her, and she is able to compensate for some of the others. Often what they look for, finding it only after a series of attempts by several methods not adapted to the nature of things, she intuits, proudly and simply. Lastly, she plays a role even in morality; for, allow me to go so far as to say, what is virtue without imagination?

      • "Lettres à M. le Directeur de La revue française," III: La reine des facultés

Les paradis artificiels (1860)

An artist is only an artist thanks to his exquisite sense of beauty — a sense which provides him with intoxicating delights, but at the same time implying and including a sense, equally exquisite, of all deformity and disproportion.
  • Hélas! les vices de l’homme, si pleins d’horreur qu’on les suppose, contiennent la preuve (quand ce ne serait que leur infinie expansion!) de son goût de l’infini.
    • Alas, the vices of man, as horrifying as they are presumed to be, contain proof (if only in their infinite expansiveness!) of his bent for the infinite.
      • "Le poème du haschisch," I: Le goût de l’infini [20]
  • L’homme qui, dès le commencement, a été longtemps baigné dans la molle atmosphère de la femme, dans l’odeur de ses mains, de son sein, de ses genoux, de sa chevelure, de ses vêtements souples et flottants,

    Dulce balneum suavibus
    Unguentatum odoribus,

    y a contracté une délicatesse d’épiderme et une distinction d’accent, une espèce d’androgynéité, sans lesquelles le génie le plus âpre et le plus viril reste, relativement à la perfection dans l’art, un être incomplet.

    • A man who from the beginning has long been soaked in the languid atmosphere of a woman, the scent of her hands, her bosom, her knees, her hair, her lithe and flowing clothes,

      Sweet bath, suavely
      Scented with ointments,

      has acquired a delicacy of skin, a refinement of tone, a kind of androgyny without which the toughest and most virile of geniuses remains, when it comes to artistic perfection, an incomplete being.

      • "Un mangeur d'opium," VII: Chagrins d'enfance [21]

Le spleen de Paris (1862)

To glorify the cult of images (my great, my only, my earliest passion).
  • Quel est celui de nous qui n'a pas, dans ses jours d'ambition, rêvé le miracle d'une prose poétique, musicale sans rythme et sans rime, assez souple et assez heurtée pour s'adapter aux mouvements lyriques de l'âme, aux ondulations de la rêverie, aux soubresauts de la conscience?

    C'est surtout de la fréquentation des villes énormes, c'est du croisement de leurs innombrables rapports que naît cet idéal obsédant.

    • Which one of us has not dreamed, on ambitious days, of the miracle of a poetic prose: musical, without rhythm or rhyme; adaptable enough and discordant enough to conform to the lyrical movements of the soul, the waves of revery, the jolts of consciousness?

      Above all else, it is residence in the teeming cities, it is the crossroads of numberless relations that gives birth to this obsessional ideal.

  • L'étude du beau est un duel où l'artiste crie de frayeur avant d'être vaincu.
    • The study of beauty is a duel in which the artist cries out in terror before being defeated.
      • III: "Le Confiteor de l'artiste" [23]
  • Mais qu'importe l'éternité de la damnation à qui a trouvé dans une seconde l'infini de la jouissance?
    • What matters an eternity of damnation to someone who has found in one second the infinity of joy?
      • IX: "Le Mauvais Vitrier" [24]
  • Et à quoi bon exécuter des projets, puisque le projet est en lui-même une jouissance suffisante?
    • What good is it to accomplish projects, when the project itself is enjoyment enough?
      • XXIV: "Les Projets" [25]
  • Il n'est pas de plaisir plus doux que de surprendre un homme en lui donnant plus qu'il n'espère.
    • There is no sweeter pleasure than to surprise a man by giving him more than he hopes for.
      • XXVIII: "La Fausse Monnaie" [26]
  • On n'est jamais excusable d'être méchant, mais il y a quelque mérite à savoir qu'on l'est; et le plus irréparable des vices est de faire le mal par bêtise.
    • To be wicked is never excusable, but there is some merit in knowing that you are; the most irreparable of vices is to do evil from stupidity.
      • XXVIII: "La Fausse Monnaie"
  • L'âme est une chose si impalpable, si souvent inutile et quelquefois si gênante, que je n'éprouvai, quant à cette perte, qu'un peu moins d'émotion que si j'avais égaré, dans une promenade, ma carte de visite.
    • The soul is a thing so impalpable, so often useless and sometimes so embarrassing that I suffered, upon losing it, a little less emotion than if I had mislaid, while out on a stroll, my calling-card.
      • XXIX: "Le Joueur généreux" [27]
  • La plus belle des ruses du diable est de vous persuader qu'il n'existe pas.
    • The finest trick of the devil is to persuade you that he does not exist.
      • XXIX: "Le Joueur généreux"
  • Cette vie est un hôpital où chaque malade est possédé du désir de changer de lit.
    • This life is a hospital where each patient is possessed by the desire to change his bed.
      • XLVIII: "Anywhere out of the world" [28]

Le peintre de la vie moderne (1863)

Baudelaire's Mistress, Reclining (1862) by Édouard Manet
  • Le génie n'est que l'enfance retrouvée à volonté, l'enfance douée maintenant, pour s'exprimer, d'organes virils et de l'esprit analytique qui lui permet d'ordonner la somme de matériaux involontairement amassée.
    • Genius is only childhood recovered at will, childhood now gifted to express itself with the faculties of manhood and with the analytic mind that allows him to give order to the heap of unwittingly hoarded material.
      • III: "L'artiste, homme du monde, homme des foules et enfant" [29]
  • L'observateur est un prince qui jouit partout de son incognito. L'amateur de la vie fait du monde sa famille, comme l'amateur du beau sexe compose sa famille de toutes les beautés trouvées, trouvables et introuvables; comme l'amateur de tableaux vit dans une société enchantée de rêves peints sur toile.
    • The observer is a prince who enjoys his incognito everywhere. The lover of life makes the world his family, just as the lover of the fair sex devises his family from all discovered, discoverable and undiscoverable beauties; as the lover of pictures lives in an enchanted society of painted dreams on canvas.
      • III: "L'artiste, homme du monde, homme des foules et enfant"
  • A coup sûr, cet homme, tel que je l'ai dépeint, ce solitaire doué d'une imagination active, toujours voyageant à travers le grand désert d'hommes, a un but plus élevé que celui d'un pur flâneur, un but plus général, autre que le plaisir fugitif de la circonstance. Il cherche ce quelque chose qu'on nous permettra d'appeler la modernité; car il ne se présente pas de meilleur mot pour exprimer l'idée en question. Il s'agit, pour lui, de dégager de la mode ce qu'elle peut contenir de poétique dans l'historique, de tirer l'éternel du transitoire.
    • Certainly this man, such as I have described him, this loner who is gifted with an active imagination, traversing forever the vast desert of men, has a loftier aim than that of a simple idler, an aim more general than the passing pleasure of circumstance. He is looking for what one might be allowed to call modernity; for no better word presents itself to express the idea in question. What concerns him is to release the poetry of fashion from its historical trappings, to draw the eternal out of the transient.
      • IV: "La modernité" [30]
  • Le mal se fait sans effort, naturellement, par fatalité; le bien est toujours le produit d'un art.
    • Evil happens without effort, naturally, inevitably; good is always the product of skill.
      • XI: "Éloge du maquillage" [31]

Journaux intimes (1864-1867; published 1887)

Mon cœur mis à nu (1864)

  • Il serait peut-être doux d'être alternativement victime et bourreau.
    • Perhaps it would be sweet to be, in turn, both victim and executioner. [32]
  • La femme est naturelle, c'est-à-dire abominable.
    • A woman is natural: that is to say, abominable.
  • Être un homme utile m'a paru toujours quelque chose de bien hideux.
    • To be a serviceable man has always seemed to me something quite repulsive.
  • Il faut travailler, sinon par goût, au moins par désespoir, puisque, tout bien vérifié, travailler est moins ennuyeux que s'amuser.
    • It is necessary to work, if not from inclination, at least from despair. As it turns out, work is less boring than amusing oneself.
  • Il y a dans tout homme, à toute heure, deux postulations simultanées, l'une vers Dieu, l'autre vers Satan.
    • There are in every man, at all times, two simultaneous tendencies, one toward God, the other toward Satan.
  • Il n'existe que trois êtres respectables : le prêtre, le guerrier, le poète. Savoir, tuer et créer.
    • There exist only three beings worthy of respect: the priest, the soldier, the poet. To know, to kill, to create.
  • Ne pouvant supprimer l'amour, l'Église a voulu au moins le désinfecter, et elle a fait le mariage.
    • Unable to do away with love, the Church found a way to decontaminate it by creating marriage.
  • J'ai toujours été étonné qu'on laissât les femmes entrer dans les églises. Quelle conversation peuvent-elles avoir avec Dieu?
    • I have always been astonished that women are allowed to enter churches. What talk can they have with God?
  • La femme ne sait pas séparer l'âme du corps.
    • Women do not know how to separate the soul from the body.
  • La jeune fille, ce qu'elle est en réalité.

    Une petite sotte et une petite salope; la plus grande imbécile unie à la plus grande dépravation.

    • This is what a girl really is.

      A little fool, a little slut; the greatest idiocy united with the greatest depravity.

  • Glorifier le culte des images (ma grande, mon unique, ma primitive passion).
    • To glorify the cult of images (my great, my only, my earliest passion).
  • C'est par le malentendu universel que tout le monde s'accorde.

    Car si, par malheur, on se comprenait, on ne pourrait jamais s'accorder.

    • It is by universal misunderstanding that we agree with each other.

      If, by some misfortune, we understood each other, we would never agree.

  • On ne peut oublier le temps qu'en s'en servant.
    • One can only forget about time by making use of it.
  • Faire son devoir tous les jours et se fier à Dieu, pour le lendemain.
    • To do one's duty every day and trust in God for tomorrow.

Fusées (1867)

  • Dieu est le seul être qui, pour régner, n'ait même pas besoin d'exister.

    Ce qui est créé par l’esprit est plus vivant que la matière.

    • God is the only being who need not even exist in order to reign.

      Whatever is created by the spirit is more alive than matter.

  • L’amour ressemblait fort à une torture ou à une opération chirurgicale.
    • The act of love strongly resembles torture or surgery.
  • Aimer les femmes intelligentes est un plaisir de pédéraste.
    • To love intelligent women is the pleasure of a pederast.
There exist only three beings worthy of respect: the priest, the soldier, the poet. To know, to kill, to create.
  • Ces beaux et grands navires, imperceptiblement balancés (dandinés) sur les eaux tranquilles, ces robustes navires, à l'air désœuvré et nostalgique, ne nous disent-ils pas dans une langue muette : Quand partons-nous pour le bonheur?
    • These tall and handsome ships, swaying imperceptibly on tranquil waters, these sturdy ships, with their inactive, nostalgic appearance, don’t they say to us in a speechless tongue: When do we cast off for happiness?
  • Je ne conçois guère (mon cerveau serait-il un miroir ensorcelé?) un type de Beauté où il n'y ait du Malheur. Appuyé sur — d'autres diraient: obsédé par — ces idées, on conçoit qu'il me serait difficile de en pas conclure que le plus parfait type de Beauté virile est Satan, — à la manière de Milton.
    • I can scarcely conceive (would my brain be a spellbound mirror?) a type of beauty without unhappiness. Supported by — others would say, obsessed by — these notions, one may conceive it would be difficult for me not to conclude that the most perfect type of masculine beauty is Satan, — as rendered by Milton.
  • Ce qu'il y a d'enivrant dans le mauvais goût, c'est le plaisir aristocratique de déplaire.
    • What is intoxicating about bad taste is the aristocratic pleasure of offensiveness.

L'art romantique (1869)

It is at once by way of poetry and through poetry, as with music, that the soul glimpses splendors from beyond the tomb
  • Le mot littérature de décadence implique qu'il y a une échelle de littératures, une vagissante, une puérile, une adolescente, etc. Ce terme, veux-je dire, suppose quelque chose de fatal et de providentiel, comme un décret inéluctable; et il est tout à fait injuste de nous reprocher d'accomplir la loi mystérieuse. Tout ce que je puis comprendre dans la parole académique, c'est qu'il est honteux d'obéir à cette loi avec plaisir, et que nous sommes coupables de nous réjouir dans notre destinée.
    • The phrase "a literature of decadence" implies a scale of literature: infancy, childhood, adolescence, etc. This term, I would say, supposes something fateful and providential, like an inescapable decree; and it is completely unjust to reproach us for the fulfillment of a law that is mysterious. All I can understand of this academic saying is that it is shameful to obey this law pleasurably, and that we are guilty of rejoicing in our destiny.
  • Le progrès, cette grande hérésie de la décrépitude.
    • Progress, that great heresy of degenerates.
      • XI: "Notes nouvelles sur Edgar Poe III," II [34]
  • Un artiste n'est un artiste que grâce à son sens exquis du beau, — sens qui lui procure des jouissances enivrantes, mais qui en même temps implique, enferme un sens également exquis de toute difformité et de toute disproportion.
    • An artist is only an artist thanks to his exquisite sense of beauty — a sense which provides him with intoxicating delights, but at the same time implying and including a sense, equally exquisite, of all deformity and disproportion.
      • XI: "Notes nouvelles sur Edgar Poe III," IV [35]
  • C'est à la fois par la poésie et à travers la poésie, par et à travers la musique, que l'âme entrevoit les splendeurs situées derrière le tombeau; et, quand un poème exquis amène les larmes au bord des yeux, ces larmes ne sont pas la preuve d'un excès de jouissance, elles sont bien plutôt le témoignage d'une mélancolie irritée, d'une postulation des nerfs, d'une nature exilée dans l'imparfait et qui voudrait s'emparer immédiatement, sur cette terre même, d'un paradis révélé.
    • It is at once by way of poetry and through poetry, as with music, that the soul glimpses splendors from beyond the tomb; and when an exquisite poem brings one’s eyes to the point of tears, those tears are not evidence of an excess of joy, they are witness far more to an exacerbated melancholy, a disposition of the nerves, a nature exiled among imperfect things, which would like to possess, without delay, a paradise revealed on this very same earth.
      • XI: "Notes nouvelles sur Edgar Poe III," IV
  • Il y a dans le mot, dans le verbe , quelque chose de sacré qui nous défend d'en faire un jeu de hasard. Manier savamment une langue, c'est pratiquer une espèce de sorcellerie évocatoire.
    • There is in a word, in a verb, something sacred which forbids us from using it recklessly. To handle a language cunningly is to practice a kind of evocative sorcery.
  • Tous les grands poètes deviennent naturellement, fatalement, critiques.
  • La Révolution a été faite par des voluptueux.
    • The Revolution had been made by voluptuaries.
      • "Les liaisons dangereuses," Appendix to L'art romantique [38]


  • Dieu serait injuste si nous n'étions pas coupables.
    • God would be unjust if we were not guilty.
      • Blaise Pascal, Pensées: It is necessary that we were born guilty, or God would be unjust [Il faut que nous naissions coupables, ou Dieu serait injuste]. This is Pensée 431 in the Édition Gallimard, 1962. It is found in the section entitled "The Signs of True Religion" [Les Marques de la Vraie Religion]
      • English text, #489; French text, #205

About Charles Baudelaire

Self-portrait by Baudelaire
Thou sawest, in thine old singing season, brother,
Secrets and sorrows unbeheld of us:
Fierce loves, and lovely leaf-buds poisonous,
Bare to thy subtler eye, but for none other
Blowing by night in some unbreathed-in clime;
The hidden harvest of luxurious time,
Sin without shape, and pleasure without speech,
And where strange dreams in a tumultuous sleep
Makes the shut eyes of stricken spirits weep:
And with each face thou sawest the shadow on each,
Seeing as men sow men reap.
  • Algernon Charles Swinburne, "Ave Atque Value" (1871), stanza III, Fortnightly Review (January 1868; later published in Swinburne's Poems and Ballads, Second Series (1878)
  • Delacroix, Wagner, Baudelaire — all great theorists, bent on dominating other minds by sensuous means. Their one dream was to create the irresistible effect — to intoxicate, or overwhelm. They looked to analysis to provide them with the keyboard on which to play, with certainty, on man's emotions, and they sought in abstract meditation they key to sure and certain action upon their subject — man's nervous and psychic being.
    • Paul Valéry, "Autour de Corot" (About Corot), preface to Vingt Estampes de Corot (Éditions des Bibliothèques Nationales, 1932); printed in Degas Manet Morisot (Princeton University Press, 1989, ISBN 0-691-01882-0), p. 136
  • Baudelaire, to whom the sole pleasure in love was the knowledge of doing evil and who hoped to conquer solitude by inspiring universal horror and disgust.
    • W. H. Auden, "Tennyson," Introduction to A Selection from the Poems of Alfred, Lord Tennyson (New York, Doubleday, 1944); later printed in Forewords & Afterwords (Random House, 1974, ISBN 0-394-71887-9), p. 232
  • Being pre-eminently a moralist, he needed a medium that enabled him to illustrate a moral insight as briefly and vividly as possible. Being an artist and sensualist, he needed a medium that was epigrammatic or aphoristic, but allowed him scope for fantasy and for that element of suggestiveness which he considered essential to beauty.
    • Michael Hamburger, Introduction to his translation, Twenty Prose Poems by Charles Baudelaire (1946; rev. ed. 1988)
  • Baudelaire is the great symbol of l’art pour l’art (art for the sake of art): sickness as beauty. Baudelaire is thus Liberalism in literature, disease as a principle of Life, crisis as health, morbidity as soul-life, disintegration as purpose.
  • Poe with a cross, that's what you are, adored of the gangster age.
    • Karl Shapiro, "Baudelaire in Iowa," from The Bourgeois Poet (1964); printed in The Wild Card: Selected Poems, Early & Late (University of Illinois Press, 1998, ISBN 0-252-06689-8), p. 148
  • The poet, says Baudelaire, is a decipherer, a Kabbalist of reality, a decoder. Ordinary life, if it is not a message in code, a system of symbols for something else, is unacceptable. It must be a cryptogram; it can't be what it seems. The poet's task is to decode the incomprehensible obvious. His life becomes a deliberately constructed paranoia, as Rimbaud, Breton, Artaud were to say generations later.

    As we read him, we discover that Baudelaire believes in the charm, the incantation, the cryptogram, but he ceases to believe in the secret. The spirits have not risen. The code says nothing. This is the mystery concealed by the disorder of the world. The visionary experience ends in itself; the light of the illuminated comes only from and falls only on himself.

    • Kenneth Rexroth, "Baudelaire: Poems," Classics Revisited (New Directions, 1968, ISBN 0-8112-0988-1), p. 175
  • The imagination eulogized by Baudelaire is in his own case more often than not a synonym for desire or despair. His critical exigencies are, like those of the profoundly sick man that he was, harsh and imperative and illusory in the sense of release temporarily obtained. Yet imagination is also the faculty that gives Baudelaire a royal sense of equality with other creative artists; he uses his status as a poet to boost his activities as a critic, claiming, with total justification in his case, that criticism is a creative affair, a fine rather than applied art.
    • Anita Brookner, "Baudelaire," from The Genius of the Future (Cornell University Press, 1971, ISBN 0-8014-9540-7), p. 70

The signature of Charles Baudelaire

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