Charles Baudelaire: The Complete Verse

Mark Ford writes:

In the early poem ‘La Béatrice’ Baudelaire presents himself wandering through a kind of wasteland, ‘terrains cendreux, calcinés, sans verdure’ (in Francis Scarfe’s prose translation: ‘ashen, vacant lots, burnt to a cinder where no green grew’); he sharpens, Hamlet-like, the ‘dagger’ of his thoughts on his heart. Dickens uses exaggeration and bathos to poke fun at the pretensions of narcissistically self-absorbed young men; Baudelaire – just as effectively – uses overblown Gothic. Isn’t it a pity, they continue, to see this ‘bon vivant,/Ce gueux, cet histrion en vacances, ce drôle’ trying to interest nature in his sorrow, as if crickets and streams and flowers cared a jot about his misery. Baudelaire is as refined a master as Dickens was of the art of merciless humiliation. Central, I think, to the genius of both is a blindness to the possibility of compromise. Flaubert put it adroitly: ‘You are as unyielding as marble,’ he wrote to Baudelaire on reading the 1857 edition of Les Fleurs du mal, ‘and as penetrating as an English mist.’

(LRB 21 February 2013)

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