On this very day, we pay homage to one of literature's most misunderstood romantic poets, Charles Pierre Baudelaire. Baudelaire passed away today, in the year of 1867, suffering from a stroke after being exposed to years of material worry and excessive amounts of opium and alcohol. One of the greatest achievements of his career was the publication of the volume of poems, The Flowers of Evil (Le Fleurs Du Mal) that earned him the acknowledgement of being the greatest of the 19th century French Poets. Baudelaire's success was attributed to his ability to dissect the human condition, split it in the middle, and embrace the darker side of it that is scorned by conventional thought. Considered as a modern poet of his time, he was a sensual individual that wrote mostly about unorthodox themes like decadence and eroticism. To illustrate the nature of his works, here are the last 3 stanzas of the banned poem "To One Who is Too Cheerful" from "The Flowers of Evil". It is a poem about an amorous endeavor that is filled with tender emotions, tinted with a touch of dark imagery from the least explored creases of the human mind.
So I would wish, when you're asleep,
The time for sensuality,
Towards your body's treasury
Silently, stealthily creep,
To bruise your ever-tender breast,
And carve in your astonished side
An injury both deep and wide,
To chastise your too-joyous flesh.
And, sweetness that would dizzy me!
In these two lips so red and new
My sister, I have made for you,
To slip my venom, lovingly!
(Translation by James McGowan)
In all of Baudelaire's masterpieces we see a consistent mix of extremeties, a prevailing theme of contrast that speak to sensitive souls with open minds. The adopted motifs in his works seem to have a direct conflict to the system and beliefs of his time, showing a conscious effort to break free from social and ethical norms in a supressed setting. The concept of contrast is best shown in a biblical poem about the story of Cain and Abel from the book of Genesis, "Abel and Cain".
Race of Abel, sleep and eat;
God smiles on you complacently.
Race of Cain, in mud and filth
You crawl and die in misery.
Abel's race, your sacrifice
Smells sweet to all the Seraphim!
Race of Cain, your punishment,
Will it be ever at an end?
Race of Abel, see your seed,
Your flocks, your cattle come to good;
Race of Cain, like some old dog
Your empty entrails howl for food.
Race of Abel, warm your belly
By the hearth of countrymen;
Race of Cain, you tremble, freezing,
Lonely jackal, in your den!
Race of Abel, multiply
Even your gold proliferates;
Race of Cain, a burning heart,
Take guard against your appetites.
Race of Abel, chew and swell
Like insects swarming through the woods!
Race of Cain, in deep distress
Your people lag on stony roads.
Race of Abel, see your shame:
The plough is conquered by the pike!
Cain, your modem progeny
Have just begun to do your work;
Race of Abel, carrion,
Manure to feed the steaming sod!
Race of Cain, assault the skies
And drag him earthward - bring down God
As Baudelaire's poems offer a different perspective on how we view concepts like love, death and religion, we can see how beauty exists in all spectrums of art. A frame of mind that most of the masses fail to comprehend even in this day and age.
"Whether you come from heaven or hell, what does it matter, O Beauty!"
- Charles Baudelaire
Let us embrace all aspects of the human experience.
Let us be not afraid.
Together, let us be conscious.