Charles Baudelaire

Welcome to the fourth week of the Richmond Read-along! We’re starting this week with Charles Baudelaire. As well as a poet, he was a noted art critic and translated much of Edgar Allan Poe’s work. He died young and much of his life was marked by debt (caused by his own extravagant spending), melancholy and disappointment. Baudelaire’s sense of detachment is reflected in his poems. Les fleurs du mal (The Flowers of Evil) – from which today’s poem is taken – journeys through an attempt to find meaning in life; mostly through the means of love and illicit substances. Interestingly, you can see in the edition we are looking at that the book was dedicated to Arthur Symons, whose poetry we read earlier in the read-along.

The poem we are reading is “Hymn to Beauty:”

O Beauty! dost thou generate from Heaven or from Hell?
Within thy glance, so diabolic and divine,
Confusedly both wickedness and goodness dwell,
And hence one might compare thee unto sparkling wine.

Thy look containeth both the dawn and sunset stars,
Thy perfumes, as upon a sultry night exhale,
Thy kiss a philter, and thy mouth a Grecian vase,
That renders heroes cowardly and infants hale.

Yea, art thou from the planets, or the fiery womb?
The demon follows in thy train, with magic fraught,
Thou scatter’st seeds haphazardly of joy and doom,
Thou govern’st everything, but answer’st unto nought.

O Loveliness! thou spurnest corpses with delight,
Among thy jewels, Horror hath such charms for thee,
And Murder ‘mid thy mostly cherished trinklets bright,
Upon thy massive bosom dances amorously.

The blinded, fluttering moth towards the candle flies,
Then frizzles, falls, and falters—”Blessings unto thee”—
The panting swain that o’er his beauteous mistress sighs,
Seems like the Sick, that stroke their gravestones lovingly.

What matter, if thou comest from the Heavens or Hell,
O Beauty, frightful ghoul, ingenuous and obscure!
So long thine eyes, thy smile, to me the way can tell
Towards that Infinite I love, but never saw.

From God or Satan? Angel, Mermaid, Proserpine?
What matter if thou makest—blithe, voluptuous sprite—
With rhythms, perfumes, visions—O mine only queen!—
The universe less hideous and the hours less trite.

You can find this poem, and the rest of Les fleurs du mal, on Project Gutenberg. Read more about Baudelaire’s life and influence on Encyclopaedia Britannica.

We’ll see you tomorrow for the next Richmond Read-along!