Baudelaire did not entirely break with tradition. He crafted an elegant classical style—dense, lyric, and original—to express lurid, repugnant, and even obscene subjects that French literary conventions had either excluded or confined to treatment in the low style. He developed an aesthetic capacious enough to assimilate the novelties, shocks, and conflicts of metropolitan life. He imbued sordid scenes with religious grace. His synthesis of traditional and innovative elements, always animated by the author’s desperate sincerity, conveyed the strange and startling beauty of modern Paris.
Baudelaire’s posthumous fame has not been limited to the page. Like Vincent van Gogh’s, his life has come to embody the myth of the doomed and alienated modern artist. The unhappy particulars of his existence—poverty, depression, public censure, alcoholism, drug abuse, sexual license, and disease—came to personify the poète maudit, the “cursed poet.” His untimely death from syphilis canonized him as a new sort of tragic hero, the suffering artist who sacrificed all for creative freedom in a heartless bourgeois world.
Baudelaire’s identity as the ultimate doomed artist brings him into places modern poetry doesn’t normally go. There are Baudelaire coffee mugs, T-shirts, and caps. There are posters, pillowcases, corsets, hoodies, socks, and beach towels. There are plaques, statues, rings, and medallions. One can buy a shot glass bearing his image and declaration, “Il est l’heure de s’enivrer! Pour n’être pas les esclaves martyrisés du Temps, enivrez-vous; enivrez-vous sans cesse!” (“It is the hour to get drunk! Not to be the martyred slave of Time. Get drunk; get drunk without stopping.”) What other French poet has enough celebrity to qualify for product endorsement? One can’t buy a Paul Valéry corset or Théophile Gautier hoodie.
Writer - Critic - Poet - Editor