Monday, February 1, 2021

Charles Baudelaire

Charles Baudelaire (1821―1867) is a French writer whose style of prose-poems was influential for the following generation of French poets. He is also known as an art critic ― championing Delacroix ― and for his translations into French of Edgar Allan Poe. His biographers suggest that the sense of abandonment he felt during childhood, at his mother’s remarriage after his father’s death, was traumatic for him and contributed to his later excesses.

His first poetry collection The Flowers of Evil (1857) received both praise and passionate opposition, due to its scandalous content. He was prosecuted for creating an offense against public morals, which resulted in fines for himself, his publisher, and the printer.

Burl Horniachek expresses, in a new article about Baudelaire’s prose-poems in The McMaster Journal of Theology & Ministry, that for many years he believed strongly in human depravity, but not in the possibility of redemption. Horniachek says:
-----“One might wonder why Christians in particular should be
-----interested in a poet with such a reputation for Satanism
-----and blasphemy… His poetry is suffused with Christian imagery,
-----and frequently addresses serious theological issues.
-----Furthermore, it should not be a surprise that Baudelaire
-----eventually did have a sincere religious conversion to Catholic
-----Christianity later in life, well before his death bed.”

The following poem, translated by South African poet Roy Campbell, was written after Baudelaire’s conversion ―which happened four years prior to his death.

The Unforeseen

Harpagon watched his father slowly dying
And musing on his white lips as they shrunk,
Said, "There is lumber in the outhouse lying
It seems: old boards and junk."

Celimene cooed, and said, "How good I am
And, naturally, God made my looks excell"
(Her callous heart, thrice-smoked like salted ham,
Will burn in endless Hell!)

A smoky scribbler, to himself a beacon,
Says to the wretch whom he has plunged in shade —
"Where's the Creator you so loved to speak on,
The Saviour you portrayed?"

But best of all I know a certain rogue
Who yawns and weeps, lamenting night and day
(Impotent fathead) in the same old brogue,
"I will be good — one day!"

The clock says in a whisper, "He is ready
The damned one, whom I warned of his disaster.
He's blind, and deaf, and like a wall unsteady,
Where termites mine the plaster."

Then one appeared whom all of them denied
And said with mocking laughter "To my manger
You've all come; to the Black Mass I provide
Not one of you's a stranger.

You've built me temples in your hearts of sin.
You've kissed my buttocks in your secret mirth.
Know me for Satan by this conquering grin,
As monstrous as the Earth.

D'you think, poor hypocrites surprised red-handed
That you can trick your lord without a hitch;
And that by guile two prizes can be landed —
Heaven, and being rich?

The wages of the huntsman is his quarry,
Which pays him for the chills he gets while stalking
Companions of my revels grim and sorry
I am going to take you walking,

Down through the denseness of the soil and rock,
Down through the dust and ash you leave behind,
Into a palace, built in one sole block,
Of stone that is not kind:

For it is built of Universal Sin
And holds of me all that is proud and glorious"
— Meanwhile an angel, far above the din,
Sends forth a peal victorious

For all whose hearts can say, "I bless thy rod;
And blessed be the griefs that on us fall.
My soul is but a toy, Eternal God,
Thy wisdom all in all!"

And so deliciously that trumpet blows
On evenings of celestial harvestings,
It makes a rapture in the hearts of those
Whose love and praise it sings.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection is Ampersand (2018, Cascade). His books are available through Amazon, and Wipf & Stock, including the anthologies The Turning Aside, and Adam, Eve, & the Riders of the Apocalypse.