Baudelaire’s Banned Poems

February 17, 2010 at 2:32 pm (Uncategorized) (, , )

The second installment in my catalogue of Baudelaire’s banned poems. This one was dedicated to the famous courtesan and artistic patroness, Apollonie Sabatier, with whom Baudelaire had a brief affair.

Apollonie Sabatier by Vincent Vidal

Apollonie Sabatier by Vincent Vidal

To One Who Is Too Cheerful

Your head, your hair, your every way

Are scenic as the countryside;

the smile plays in your lips and eyes

Like fresh winds on a cloudless day.


The gloomy drudge, brushed by your charms,

Is dazzled by the vibrancy

That flashes forth so brilliantly

Out of your shoulders and your arms.


All vivid colours, and the way

They resonate in how you dress

Have poets in their idleness

Imagining a flower ballet.


These lavish robes are emblems of

The mad profusion that is you;

Madwoman, I am maddened too,

And hate you even as I love!


Sometimes within a park, at rest,

Where I have dragged my apathy,

I have felt like an irony

The sunshine lacerate my breast.


And then the spring’s luxuriance

Humiliated so my heart

That I had pulled a flower apart

To punish nature’s insolence.


So I would wish, when you’re asleep,

The time for sensuality,

Towards your body’s treasury

Silently, stealthily to creep,


To bruise your ever-tender breast,

And carve in your astonished side

An injury both deep and wide,

To chastise your too-joyous flesh.


And, sweetness that would dizzy me!

In these two lips so red and new

My sister, I have made for you,

To slip my venom, lovingly!

– Translated by James McGowan


The poem was banned because the literary sensors believed that the ‘venom’ referred to was that most decadent of venereal diseased, syphilis. Baudelaire, however, argued that they had taken the poem too literally, and that he was in fact writing about the melancholy and ennui that his ‘White Venus’ could never understand. While I think that there are obviously sexual connotations to the poem, it should also not be taken too literally. To me, it embodies the decadent love of beauty that is in some way marred, and the desire to corrupt innocence. What do you think about it?


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Baudelaire’s banned poems 1

January 16, 2010 at 9:53 pm (Uncategorized) (, , )

I’ve just realised that back when I started up this blog I promised to discuss Charles Baudelaire in more detail, and I never did. Well, now it’s about time to start making it up to my favourite tortured poet, and what better way to go about it than by discussing his condemned poems, banned from the early editions of Les Fleurs du Mal? This post is going to focus on Lethe, a poem which was in all probability inspired by Baudelaire’s most prolific mistress, Jeanne Duvall, his ‘black Venus’.


Come to my heart, you tiger I adore.

You sullen monster, cruel and speechless spirit;

Into the thickness of your heavy mane

I want to plunge my trembling fingers’ grip.


I want to hide the throbbing of my head

In your perfume, under those petticoats,

And breathe the musty scent of our old love,

The fading fragrance of the dying rose.


I want to sleep! to sleep and not to live!

And in sleep as sweet as death, to dream

Of spreading out my kisses without shame

On your smooth body, bright with copper sheen.


If I would swallow down my softened sobs

It must be in your bed’s profound abyss-

Forgetfulness is moistening your breath,

Lethe itself runs smoothly in your kiss.


My destiny, from now on my delight,

Is to obey as one who has been sent

To guiltless martyrdom, when all the while

His passion fans the flames of his torment.


My lips will suck the cure for bitterness:

Oblivion, nepenthe has its start

In the bewitching teats of those hard breasts,

That never have been harbour of the heart.

Translated by James McGowan

picture of duval

Duval, drawn by Baudelaire

So what do you think of it? I could never quite understand the reasoning behind the banning – as far as I can see, the poems which were condemned are no more ‘corrupting’ than the ones that were left. For example, ‘Litanies of Satan’ was, as far as I’m aware, never banned. And you can’t get much more corrupt than  a prayer to Beelzebub himself. I suppose it just goes to show how idiotic these moral police were. More banned Baudelaire is coming soon. Also, I’ve posted a link in my blog roll on the right to a site where you can listen to Baudelaire’s poems being read in the original French, which is well worth checking out.

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Carlos Schwabe

November 14, 2009 at 7:35 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , )

Carlos Schwabe (1877 – 1926) is one of the more disturbing Symbolist artists. He seems to have had an obsession with death (possibly associated with the demise of a close friend when he was 17), and his paintings often contain allegories of suffering. He also displayed an interest in Decadent literature, and the following are all illustrations painted by Schwabe for Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal.









The Love of Wine










The Death of Lovers





Spleen and the Ideal





carlosschwabe2Les noces du poete avec la muse ou l'ideal

The Poet and the Muse of the Ideal



I find his work disturbing and compelling at the same time. Which, of course, is the mark of a true piece of Decadent artistry.

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Charles Baudelaire

October 13, 2009 at 8:15 pm (Uncategorized) (, , )

Charles Baudelaire is largely considered to be the definitive writer of Decadence. Baudelaire was born in Paris in 1921. His father died soon after. The young Charles was very close to his mother, but had a difficult relationship with his step-father, who disapproved of his artistic leanings, and would later withdraw Baudelaire’s inheritance and plunging him into poverty when he thought his life had become too dissipated. As a young man in Paris, he quickly made a name for himself as a Dandy, developed an interest in the occult, and had a number of torrid love affairs. Yet he still found the time to write some of the most exquisite poetry of all time. He conjured up passages of agonised, haunting beauty, of demented despair, which pulse through the reader’s brain long after they have finished reading. As with so many Decadent artists, his misery and self-destructiveness fed his genius.

Portrait by Felix Nadar

Portrait by Felix Nadar

His most famous work, Les Fleurs du Mal, inspired a court case resulting in some of the poems in the collection being banned as obscene. He also wrote a collection of prose poems, entitled Paris Spleen, as well as several essays of art criticism, and a study of opium. There is neither time nor space to discuss Baudelaire’s oeuvre in one post, so I’ll be dedicating several future updates to discussions of different aspects of his work.

Original edition of Les Fleurs du Mal, complete with author's notes

Original edition of Les Fleurs du Mal, complete with author's notes

A combination of substance abuse, poverty and venereal disease finally shattered Baudelaire’s health, and in 1866 he suffered a massive stroke, leaving him paralysed. He died two years later, aged 46.

I guess it’s fairly obvious that I’m more than a little bit in love with Charles Baudelaire. I really must stop falling for men who have severe personal issues, especially ones who have been dead for well over a century. It’s really putting a cramp on my social life…

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