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Les fleurs du mal are grown in Parisian soil, exotics that have the strange, secretive, haunting touch and taint of the earth's or of the body's corruption. In his sense of beauty there is a certain revolt, a spiritual malady, which may bring with it the heated air of an alcove or the intoxicating atmosphere of the East.

Never since Villon has the flesh of woman been more adored and abhorred.

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Villon's is a scullion-wench, and in the Ballad a Brothel as infamous, as foul, as abominable as a Roman Lupanar surges before one's astonished vision. It is one of the immortal things that exist in the world, that I can compare only with Rodin's statue in bronze: both equal incarnations of the symbolical conception that sin brought shame into the first woman's flesh. In vain desire, of that one desire that exists beyond all possible satisfaction, the desire of an utter annihilation of body with body in that ecstasy which can never be absolutely achieved without man's flesh, they strive, unconsumed with even the pangs of their fruitless desires.

They live only with a life of desire, and that obsession has carried them beyond the wholesome bounds of nature into the violence of a perversity which is at times almost insane. And all this sorrowful and tortured flesh is consumed with that feverish desire that leaves them only a short space for their desire's fruitions. Certain of these Flowers of Evil are poisonous; some are grown in the hotbeds of Hell; some have the perfume of a serpentine girl's skin; some the odour of woman's flesh.


Certain spirits are intoxicated by these accursed flowers, to save themselves from the too much horror of their vices, from the worse torture of their violated virtues. And a cruel imagination has fashioned these naked images of the Seven Deadly Sins, eternally regretful of their first fall; that smile not even in Hell, in whose flames they writhe. One conceives them there and between the sun and the earth; in the air, carried by the winds; aware of their infernal inheritance.

They surge like demons out of the Middle Ages; they are incapable of imagining God's justice. Baudelaire dramatizes these living images of his spirit and of his imagination, these fabulous creatures of his inspiration, these macabre ghosts, in a fashion utterly different from that of other tragedians—Shakespeare, and Aristophanes in his satirical Tragedies, his lyrical Comedies; yet in the same sense of being the writer where beauty marries unvirginally the sons of ancient Chaos.

In these pages swarm in his words all the corruptions and all the scepticisms; ignoble criminals without convictions, detestable hags that gamble, the cats that are like men's mistresses; Harpagon; the exquisite, barbarous, divine, implacable, mysterious Madonna of the Spanish style; the old men; the drunkards, the assassins, the lovers their deaths and lives ; the owls; the vampires whose kisses raise from the grave the corpse of its own self; the Irremediable that assails its origin: Conscience in Evil!

There is an almost Christ-like poem on his Passion, Le reniement de Saint-Pierre, an almost Satanic denunciation of God in Abel and Cain, and with them the Evil Monk, an enigmatical symbol of Baudelaire's soul, of his work, of all that his eyes love and hate. Certain of these creatures play in travesties, dance in ballets. For all the Arts are transformed, transfigured, transplanted out of their natural forms to pass in magnificent state across the stage: the stage with the abyss of Hell in front of it.

It is Baudelaire who, in Hell as in earth, finds a certain Satan in such modern hearts as his; that even modern art has an essentially demoniacal tendency; that the infernal pact of man increases daily, as if the Devil whispered in his ear certain sardonic secrets. Here in such satanic and romantic atmosphere one hears dissonances, the discords of the instruments in the Sabbats, the howlings of irony, the vengeance of the vanquished. I give one sentence of Gautier's on Baudelaire. Yet, tainted as the style is from time to time, never was the man himself tainted: he who in modern verse gave first of all an unknown taste to sensations; he who painted vice in all its shame; whose most savorous verses are perfumed as with subtle aromas; whose women are bestial, rouged, sterile, bodies without souls; whose Litanies de Satan have that cold irony which he alone possessed in its extremity, in these so-called impious lines which reveal, under whatever disguise, his belief in a mathematical superiority established by God from all eternity, and whose least infraction is punished by certain chastisements, in this world as in the next.

I can imagine Baudelaire in his hours of nocturnal terrors, sleepless in a hired woman's bed, saying to himself these words of Marlowe's Satan:. And the genius of Baudelaire, I can but think, was as much haunted as Marlowe's with, in Lamb's words, "a wandering in fields where curiosity is forbidden to go, approaching the dark gulf near enough to look in.

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Has Baudelaire l'amour du mal pour le mal? In a certain sense, yes; in a certain sense, no. He believes in evil as in Satan and God—the primitive forces that govern worlds: the eternal enemies. He sees the germs of evil everywhere, few of the seeds of virtue. He sees pass before him the world's drama: he is one of the actors, he plays his parts cynically, ironically. He speaks in rhythmic cadences.

But, above all, he watches the dancers; these also are elemental; and the tragic fact is that the dancers dance for their living. For their living, for their pleasure, for the pleasure of pleasing others. So passes the fantastic part of their existence, from the savage who dances silent dances—for, indeed, all dancers are silent—but without music, to the dancer who dances for us on the stage, who turns always to the sound of music. There is an equal magic in the dance and in song; both have their varied rhythms; both, to use an image, the rhythmic beating of our hearts.

It is imagined that dancing and music were the oldest of the arts.

Rhythm has rightly been called the soul of dancing; both are instinctive. The greatest French poet after Villon, the most disreputable and the most creative poet in French literature, the greatest artist in French verse, and, after Verlaine, the most passionate, perverse, lyrical, visionary, and intoxicating of modern poets, comes Baudelaire, infinitely more perverse, morbid, exotic than these other poets.

In his verse there is a deliberate science of sensual perversity, which has something almost monachal in its accentuation of vice with horror, in its passionate devotion to passions.

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Baudelaire brings every complication of taste, the exasperation of perfumes, the irritant of cruelty, the very odours and colours of corruption to the creation and adornment of a sort of religion, in which an eternal mass is served before a veiled altar. There is no confession, no absolution, not a prayer is permitted which is not set down in the ritual.

With Verlaine, however often love may pass into sensuality, to whatever length sensuality may be hurried, sensuality is never more than the malady of love. The great epoch in French literature which preceded this epoch was that of the offshoot of Romanticism which produced Baudelaire, Flaubert, the Goncourts, Zola, and Leconte de Lisle. Even Baudelaire, in whom the spirit is always an uneasy guest at the orgy of life, had a certain theory of Realism which tortures many of his poems into strange, metallic shapes and fills them with irritative odours, and disturbs them with a too deliberate rhetoric of the flesh.

Flaubert, the greatest novelist after Balzac, the only impeccable novelist who ever lived, was resolute to be the creator of a world in which art—formal art—was the only escape from the burden of reality. It was he who wrote to Baudelaire, who had sent him Les fleurs du mal : "I devoured your volume from one end to another, read it over and over again, verse by verse, word by word, and all I can say is it pleases and enchants me.

You overwhelm me with your colours. What I admire most in your book is its perfect art.

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  7. You praise flesh without loving it. There is something Oriental in Baudelaire's genius; a nostalgia that never left him after he had seen the East: there where one finds hot-midnights, feverish days, strange sensations; for only the East, when one has lived in it, can excite one's vision to a point of ardent ecstasy. He is the first modern poet who gave to a calculated scheme of versification a kind of secret and sacred joy. He is before all things the artist, always sure of his form. And his rarefied imagination aided him enormously not only in the perfecting of his verse and prose, but in making him create the criticism of modern art.

    Next after Villon, Baudelaire is the poet of Paris. And this is only one part of his life, he who lived and died solitary, a confessor of sins who has never told the whole truth, le mauvais moins of his own sonnet, an ascetic of passion, a hermit of the brothel. He is the first who ever related things in the modulated tone of the confessional and never assumed an inspired air. The first also who brings into modern literature the chagrin that bites at our existence like serpents.

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    He admits to his diabolical taste, not quite exceptional in him; one finds it in Petronius, Rabelais, Balzac. In spite of his magnificent Litanies de Satan, he is no more of the satanical school than Byron. Yet both have the same sardonic irony, the delight of mystification, of deliberately irritating solemn people's convictions. Both, who died tragically young, had their hours of sadness, when one doubts and denies everything; passionately regretting youth, turning away, in sinister moods, in solitude, from that too intense self-knowledge that, like a mirror, shows the wrinkles on our cheeks.

    Baudelaire, whose acquaintance with English was perfect, was thrilled in when he read certain pages of Poe; he seemed to see in his prose a certain similarity in words and thoughts, even in ideas, as if he himself had written some of them; these pages of a prose-writer whom he named "the master of the horrible, the prince of mystery.

    And his translation is so wonderful that it is far and away finer than a marvellous original. One knows the fury with which in he set himself the prodigious task of translating one of Poe's stories every day; which, to one's amazement, he actually did.

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    Always he rages over his proofs, over those printers' devils, an accursed race; every proof is sent back to the printing press, revised; underlined, covered in the margins with imperative objurgations, written with an angry hand and accentuated with notes of exclamation. Swinburne shared the same fate.

    He writes to Chatto a violent letter on the incompetence of printers: "their scandalous negligence," "ruinous and really disgraceful blunders," "numberless wilful errors," written in a state of perfect frenzy. The appearance of the pages is disgraceful—a chaos. The Notes nouvelles sur Edgar Poe of are infinitely finer than those of Genus irritabile vatum! Poe's genius has been generally misunderstood. He gave himself to many forms of misconception: by his eccentricities, his caprices, his fantastic follies, his natural insolence, his passionate excitations mostly imaginary , his delinquencies in regard to morals, his over-acute sensibility, his exasperating way of exasperating the general public he hated, his analysing problems that had defied any living writer's ingenuity to have compassed as in his detective stories ; above all, his almost utter alienation from that world he lived in, dreamed in, never worshipped, died in.

    And he remains still a kind of enigma; in spite of the fact that the most minute details of his life are known, and that he never outlived his reputation. Yes, enigmatical in various points: as to his not giving even the breath of life to the few ghosts of women who cross his pages; of never diving very deeply into any heart but his own.

    Are not most of his men malign, perverse, atrocious, abnormal, never quite normal, evocations of himself? There is something demoniacal in his imagination; for Poe never, I might say, almost never, lets his readers have an instant's rest; any more than the Devil lets his subjects have any actual surcease of torment.

    Much more than documents.

    Yet, as there is a gulf between Good and Evil, no one, by any chance, falls into the abyss. Poe, of course, writes with his nerves, and therefore only nervous writers have ever understood him. It is Baudelaire, the most nervous of modern writers, who says of Poe that no one, before him, had affirmed imperturbably the natural wickedness of man. Poe is not a great critic; he says certain unforgettable things, with even an anticipation of the work of later writers.

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