Charles Baudelaire

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How is realism depicted in "The Albatross" and "Correspondences" by Charles Baudelaire?

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One can identify realism in "The Albatross" and "Correspondences," both by Charles Baudelaire, by looking for evidence of nature and humanity being presented in unidealized ways. The goal of realist literature is to accurately portray the world, not sugar-coated or romanticized, but raw and real in its goodness and badness. Therefore, the sailors mocking the albatross for being awkward on land or the depiction of nature as somehow corrupt are good places to start.

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One of the goals of realism is to produce literature that accurately and realistically depicts the world as it is, not in a romanticized way that paints only the positive aspects of reality. Romantic literature, for example, often describes nature or even people in an idealized way rather than as it or we really are: full of potential dangers or extremely flawed and contradictory, respectively. In "The Albatross," the speaker describes watching sailors capture the titular birds only to "dump" them "onto the planks" of the ship because the birds look so "awkward and insecure" and even pitiful while walking. They may be graceful and majestic in the air, but they seem so "weak" and "ugly" when they are made the butt of the sailors' jokes. Nature seems awkward, then, and humans corrupt and even unnecessarily cruel. In "Correspondences," nature is described as being redolent with sweet and cool perfumes, like "the flesh of children," though it is also filled with the scent of "corrupt[ion]" which is, somehow, "triumphant." Just as nature contains the brightness of daytime, so too does it possess the vast darkness of night. It is not all good, full only of the sublime which might impress or improve us; instead, nature seems to echo back what it sees in us, providing a realistic depiction of both.

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How can I identify realism in "To the Reader" and "Carrion" by Charles Baudelaire?

Before we can help you identify realism in Charles Baudelaire's two poems "Carrion" and "To the Reader," let's make sure we have a general understanding of what we mean when we say "realism."

Realism developed as a response to the idolized deceptions we see in classical art and to the extravagant representations we see in Romanticism. As the Metropolitan Museum of Art says, "Realists recorded in often gritty detail the present-day existence of humble people."

So how can we find hints of grittiness in Baudelaire's two poems?

Let's start with "Carrion." There's many English translations of "Carrion." The one we're using now is by Jacques LeClercq.

The theme—a corpse—can be called gritty, and the detail in which the corpse is described doubles down on the grit. Look at lines like "horseflies buzzed loud over this putrid belly." The specificity of the image makes it as if we are looking at this dead thing with Baudelaire, as if it's vividly real.

What we've said about "Carrion" can also be applied "To the Reader." The translation of "To the Reader" I'm using is by Robert Lowell (a famous American poet in his own right). Try and find lines that match the grittiness of "Carrion". One part that sticks out to me is "gangs of demons boozing in our brain [...] like a million warrior-ants."

You might also want to think about the connection between graphic, sordid images and everyday life and real life. If these two gruesome, graphic Baudelaire poems qualify as realism, what does that say about our reality?

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