Other Literary Forms

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 66

Collections of Charles Baudelaire’s essays on literature, art, aesthetics, and drugs appeared under the titles Les Paradis artificiels (1860), Curiosits esthétiques (1868), and L’Art romantique (1868). Baudelaire also published translations of several volumes of the prose works of Edgar Allan Poe. The most convenient edition of most of his works is the Pléiade edition, Œuvres complètes (1961), edited by Yves Le Dantec and Claude Pichois.

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Achievements

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 123

Although Baudelaire is sometimes grouped with the Symbolists, a movement that constituted itself more than a decade after his death, Baudelaire himself neither belonged to nor founded a school. It is probably fair, however, to designate him as one of the earliest exponents of modernism. He constantly sought, in both literature and painting, works that expressed a beauty specific to the reality of the moment, even if that reality was unpleasant or bizarre. His corrosive irony, his suggestive understatement of the metaphoric sense of his images, and his aggressive use of material drawn from the prosaic side of life have had a lasting success and influence. Movements as diverse as Symbolism, Dadaism, and the Italian neorealist cinema have claimed descent from his work.

Suffering

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 816

Suffering, inflicted on others or on oneself, is a frequent theme in Flowers of Evil and is linked to learning and self-awareness. In “Heautontimoroumenos” (a Greek term for “the executioner of oneself,” borrowed from a comedy of Terence), the speaker declares himself a “dissonance in the divine symphony” on account of the irony that eats away at him. In the most remarkable stanza, he declares in part, “I am the wound and the knife!/ I am the blow and the cheek!” In the poem immediately following, “L’Irrémédiable” (“The Irreparable”), after briefly tracing the fall of an ideal being from Heaven into Hell, Baudelaire evokes a “Somber and clear tête-à-tête/ A heart become its own mirror!” This division of the self into two sides, each looking at the other, is then described metaphorically as a “Well of truth, clear and black/ Where a pale star trembles.” Although, here, knowledge is stressed more than the pain that is so fiercely displayed in “Heautontimoroumenos,” pain must be the outcome of self-examination in this “well of truth” because the inward discovery is the sentiment of a fall from a higher state, an “irreparable” decadence. Yet, there is a tension here between the claim to total clarity and the image of the well, for the latter promises depths which can never be coextensive with the mirroring surface. Working back from this tension, one can see that the whole poem is full of terms for depth, darkness, and entrapment. The lucidity toward which the poem tends will never be complete, for consciousness can only discover the extent, apparently infinite, of its deprivation.

“The Trip”

The concluding note of Flowers of Evil, the section called “Death,” is a reminder of this perpetual quest for new discovery, even at the price of horror. In fact, the last stanza of the concluding poem, “Le Voyage” (“The Trip”), is based on the concept of depth that had already appeared in “The Irreparable”: “Plunge into the deeps of the abyss, Hell or Heaven, that difference/ Into the depth of the Unknown to find something new!” Here the preoccupation with boredom as supreme evil in “To the Reader” appears coupled with the themes of knowledge and discovery that constitute much of the other sections. “The Trip” is a kind of summary in dialogue of Flowers of Evil , beginning with...

(The entire section contains 1411 words.)

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