MUSING ON BAUDELAIRE

By William Markiewicz

Passing near the French Academy in Paris, I saw a modest stone honouring Charles Baudelaire inscribed with one of his poems (my translation):

Isn't it Oh Lord, for the best that we engage
By drawing from the depths of our dignity
The ardent sobbing that rolls from age to age
To end at the threshold of your eternity

I wondered about the choice of Baudelaire's text in this homage because it represents a negation of Baudelaire's life and creation; Baudelaire was atheist, misanthrope, masochist and addict. His anti Semitism apparently surpassed Wagner's. One of his poems (quoted from memory) "Yesterday I went again to this horrible Jewess" (prostitute). Why did he go, nobody forced him -- probably one of the symptoms of his masochism. His masterpiece, "Flowers of Evil" (Fleurs du mal) contained poems like "Prayer to Satan", "Hashish", "Race of Cain Race of Abel." The latter ended with the call: "Race of Cain! Mount to Heaven and cast God down to the earth!" I quote two stanzas from Sappho translated by William Aggeler:

Lesbos

Mother of Latin games and Greek delights,
Lesbos, where kisses, languishing or joyous,
Burning as the sun's light, cool as melons,
Adorn the nights and the glorious days;
Mother of Latin games and Greek delights,

......................

For Lesbos chose me among all other poets
To sing the secret of her virgins in their bloom,
And from childhood I witnessed the dark mystery
Of unbridled laughter mingled with tears of gloom;
For Lesbos chose me among all other poets.

Sometimes I've asked myself how Baudelaire "from childhood witnessed the dark mystery" and I imagined the following scenario: His sister or a cousin told him, "Charlie, here's money for candies and now disappear." Charlie took the money for candies and instead of disappearing put his eye to the keyhole and so began the great poem of the future.

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