Charles Baudelaire (April 9, 1821 – August 31, 1867)
"Charles Baudelaire is one of the most compelling poets of the nineteenth century," begins his biography at The Poetry Foundaton, which continues, "Baudelaire's work has had a tremendous influence on modernism, and his relatively slim production of poetry in particular has had a significant impact on later poets. More than a talent of nineteenth-century France, Baudelaire is one of the major figures in the literary history of the world." On top of his poetry, Baudelaire is equally esteemed as a prose writer, art critic and translator of Edger Allan Poe.
Baudelaire's father died when the when Charles was six years old, and he bitterly opposed his mother's second husband, who he called "the General." To say that Baudelaire felt unloved by his mother, and had self esteem issues, would be a gross understatement. He opens Les Fleurs du mal (1857) with Bénédictionin his mother's voice exclaiming, "Why was I not made to litter a brood of vipers / Rather than norish this human mockery?"
Still, Baudelaire is capable of a great (if romantacized) appreciation of beauty, as in:
When, with both eyes closed, on a warm autumn night,
I breathe the warm fragrance of your breast,
I see unfolding before me happy shores
That dazzle with the fires from a monotone sun.
A lazy island where nature bestows
Singular trees and luscious fruits;
Men whose bodies are slender and vigorous
And women whose eyes amaze by their frankness.
Guided by your scent to charming climates
I see a harbor replete with sails and masts
Still weary from the ocean waves
While the perfume of the green tamarind
Which fills the air and elates my nostrils
Mingles in my soul with the songs of the sailors
Baudelaire was a member of the Club des Hashischins in Paris, and describes well hashish intoxication in "On Wine and Hashish" (1851):
"At first, a certain absurd, irresistible hilarity overcomes you. The most ordinary words, the simplest ideas assume a new and bizarre aspect. This mirth is intolerable to you; but it is useless to resist. The demon has invaded you...
"It sometimes happens that people completely unsuited for word-play will improvise an endless string of puns and wholly improbable idea relationships fit to outdo the ablest masters of this preposterous craft. But after a few minutes, the relation between ideas becomes so vague, and the thread of your thoughts grows so tenuous, that only your cohorts... can understand you.
"Next your senses become extraordinarily keen and acute. Your sight is infinite. Your ear can discern the slightest perceptible sound, even through the shrillest of noises. The slightest ambiguities, the most inexplicable transpositions of ideas take place. In sounds there is color; in colors there is a music... You are sitting and smoking; you believe that you are sitting in your pipe, and that your pipe is smoking you; you are exhaling yourself in bluish clouds. This fantasy goes on for an eternity. A lucid interval, and a great expenditure of effort, permit you to look at the clock. The eternity turns out to have been only a minute.
"The third phase... is something beyond description. It is what the Orientals call 'kief;' it is absolute bliss. There is nothing whirling and tumultuous about it. It is a calm and placid beatitude. Every philosophical problem is resolved. Every difficult question that presents a point of contention for theologians, and brings despair to thoughtful men, becomes clear and transparent. Every contradiction is reconciled. Man has surpassed the gods."
Nonetheless, in the next section, Baudelaire concurs with the Egyptian government that "Never could a reasonable state susbist if hashish could be freely used. It produces neither warriors nor citizens." Speaking of the strong dose of hashish he took, mixed with opium, he wrote, "Wine elevates the will, hashish annihilates it....Wine makes one good and outgoing. Hashish is isolating." Too bad that the morose Baudelaire chose the depressant alcohol instead of discovering the uplifting effects a lesser dose of cannabis can provide, especially because, "It is hashish, not wine, which seems to raise him to the greatest eloquence," says Margaret Drabble in a 2002 translation of On Wine and Hashish. "He reveals to us enchanting and visionary landscapes, and beguiles us with vegetable correspondences, musical transformations, and watery expanses...He leads us into its golden cage and its mirrored maze, but he warns us, as we enter, that is is dangerous, as well as beautiful."
Baudelaire had an early understanding of Set and Setting, writing, "I forgot to say that as hashish causes in man an exacerbation of his personality as well as a very vivid sense of his circumstances and environment, it is best to submit to its effects only in favorable environ ents and circumstances...Do not perform such an experiment on yourself if you have a bothersome piece of business to transact, if your mind is inclined to spleein, or if you have a bill to pay....As far as possible, you need a fine apartment or a fine landscape, a carefree and detatched mind, a few accomplices whose intellectual temperament is close to yours, and a little music too, if possible."
"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," wrote the tortured author. "But what matters an eternity of damnation to one who has found an infinity of joy in a single second?"
Baudelaire was a great influence on VIP Arthur Rimbaud who praised him as 'the king of poets, a true God." Rimbaud's Le Bateau Ivre was doubltessly influenced by Baudelaire's prose poem, Enivrez vous! (Get drunk!) He was a champion of VIP Eugene Delacroix, who he called "a poet in painting" (though Delacroix found him difficult). In the late 1930s, VIP Walter Benjamin used Baudelaire as a starting point and focus for his monumental attempt at a materialist assessment of 19th century culture, Das Passagenwerk. The Baudelaires, protagonists of Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, were named after Charles.