Who? Baudelaire, Dionysian-hero-poet-extraordinaire.
What? A selection of verse and prose-poems, including a good chunk of Les Fleurs du Mal.
When? Mid nineteenth-century, with all the zest of Hugo’s grotty Paris.
How? Carol Clark translates Baudelaire’s bucolic verse into concise, rhymeless prose footnotes – an excellent way to imbibe (disregarding B.’s strict and inventive use of French meter).
Why? Reading Baudelaire in my twenties did little to curb my unrelenting pretentiousness; re-reading him now provides something of the same. His vigour is languid, the intensity of an opium-addict philosophising from a chaise longue. In that sense, parts of his verse are so out of touch with reality that it takes poetic pretence to approach them. But it is his common place imagery (so controversial in France at the time) that helps bring him closer to Earth; he is perfectly satisfied comparing a pair of breasts with a sets of cupboards. Reading him again at 40, when I am spending all my weekend assembling those cupboards, threatens to be fall.
Selected Poems is available as a Penguin Classics paperback, introduced and translated by Carol Clark.
13 October 2017