Correspondance may be an exaggeration, but I write Monsieur Baudelaire after reading one of the poems in Les Fleurs du Mal.
On this page the poems are listed in reverse, meaning that the first poem: To The Reader is at the very bottom.
Dear Monsieur Baudelaire,
Have you ever seen an albatross? Perhaps on your voyage to Calcutta, India in 1841? Have you ever watched the seamen mock the “monarch of the clouds” on deck?
I have to tell you that I love this poem. It is short and conquerable with its four stanzas and yet the imagery, action, and sentiment are so alive, so primal in a way, and so deep. Strike “so deep”. It sounds like I am sitting here with a sweatband, a joint, and a peace sign.
An albatross is designed to soar the same way the hydrodynamic penguin is designed to dart through water. The difference between the two is that penguin looks cute on land, wobbling forward with tiny steps, while the albatross is comical on land. They are each sovereign in their element, but out of it, they are awkward. I believe that one of your points is that the albatross has done nothing to deserve or place itself in its present situation – on the deck of an ocean-going vessel. The albatross is without fault. The albatross is merely being an albatross.
The seamen on board ridicule the albatross – one even sticking a pipe in its beak. I see the jeering crowd before the guillotine, laughing, knitting, throwing cabbage and whatnot at the soul facing down death. The group dynamic is clear. All the seamen join in. The only exception is the narrator. In the poems, I have read so far, the narrator is very close: the ever present “I”, but here the narrator doesn’t announce himself. He is an eye in the sky, but still there nonetheless.
In the last stanza, the narrator equates the plight of the poet to that of the albatross. My dear Monsieur Baudelaire, I wish you had left the last stanza unwritten. I do not belittle your hardships nor those of the poet in general, but the grand, generalized perspective seems unnecessary to me. The sense of loneliness and not being understood are primal to human existence. We are all the failing heroes and heroines of our lives with more or less scant hopes that we will one day soar like an albatross.
With the hope of soaring,
Dear Monsieur Baudelaire,
I have now read your poem “Consecration” and my first reaction is “oh dear”. At first, I thought you i.e. the poet in the poem, bitter and angry, but reaching the last four stanzas, I understand that you believe in your work, your poetry.
“Consecration” is a hard title. You do not repeat the term in the poem and it is one of those words with a substantial meaning and weight, so forgive me for glancing at a dictionary.
- The act of consecrating; dedication to the service and worship of a deity.
- The act of giving the sacramental character to the Eucharistic elements of bread and wine, especially in the Roman Catholic Church.
- Ordination to a sacred office, especially to the episcopate.
I believe that it is the poet, who is consecrated, despite the lack of support from his mother and wife. Were you ever married, Monsieur? I think not as I have not found it mentioned. However, I understand that your mother (and the rest of your family) were less than supportive about your literary path. In the poem, you give voice to the mother and the wife. Perhaps you understand them to some degree.
“Consecration” is a mismatch of deities in my opinion. God is there, Jewish Gehenna, Angels, old idols, and harpies no less. I also read some Earth-bound paganism with winds for playmate and with clouds for nurse. The wildest notion is the parallel between the poet and Jesus with a crown, cast off by humanity, but seeking praise in Heaven.
I like the narrative style, where you let the mother speak first, raising her fist to the Heaven, then the wife, who is a harlot and gold-digger and then the messiah-like poet.
With the two poems, I have read now, I find it difficult to imagine your smile or your laughter. You seem to have turned your back on humanity with your mystic crown of pure light. Are you on a high horse or are you isolated in your literary pursuit?
To The Reader
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.