To the Reader – Charles Baudelaire

Dear Monsieur Baudelaire,

You do not know me and I doubt you ever will as we are divided by both time and place – notably me living above ground and you residing below, but you do know of me, as I am a reader of Les Fleurs du Mal.

You are heralded as the father of modern poetry, your contribution to poetry a loud reaction to pious idealism and romanticism. I wonder what you would say to that judgment. Would you relish the recognition and the bright rays of success or would you roll your eyes at the epitaphs, finding them the empty labels of fickle readers?

I do not know you well at this point in time, but with the assistance of the World Wide Web (I’ll explain what that is at a later time) and a nifty edition of your poetry: Everyman’s Library Pocket Poet, I endeavor to read your poetry more attentively. (Would do you think about being a “Pocket Poet”?) I can practically hear you uncorking an emerald bottle and pouring a glass. I believe I will do the same before I begin with the first poem “To the reader”.

It isn’t often that I find this lengthy a dedication for me in a book. Sometimes, I am summarized under a “thank you to my fans”, which is often meant as a thank you for buying and/or reading the book in question, but you use “To the reader” to lure me in, shock me, and set the scene for Les Fleurs du Mal. From this somewhat debased stance, I am grateful that you call me your twin.

I appreciate your description of the ugliest and foulest beast that is the least flamboyant of the lot: ennui or boredom as it is flatly translated in Everyman’s edition. How intimately I know this beast! I am reminded of Sylvia Plath’s poem “Ennui”, which I find a whimsical way emphasizing that all-consuming monster.

Ennui is not easily described (or translated). It is one of those sentiments that you can circle and only see at the very edge of your vision – that is unless you are drowning in it. The world loses it color and any movement becomes too much. I understand why you chose to introduce stupidity, delusion, selfishness, lust, and the Devil first. They are more radiant, more alive, and bring color to my cheeks either in shame or disgust. In contrast, ennui is a static, dark abyss.

Well, Monsieur Baudelaire, your scene is set – and I can’t wait to see what story you will unfold before my eyes.

Sincerely,

Louise

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