Thursday, April 9, 2015

Baudelaire's Birthday

[Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867)  circa 1862 – Photograph by Etienne Carjat]

Baudelaire would have liked Billie Holiday” (Allen Ginsberg journal note, December 1960). 
(Actually, we just finished celebrating Billie Holiday on the occasion, this past Tuesday, of her centennial, but today it’s Charles Baudelaire - April 9, the anniversary of the birth of Charles Baudelaire).

November 1957, three years previously, Allen’s in Paris, writing to Jack Kerouac
“Not yet explored Paris, just inches, still to make solemn visits to cemeteries Père Lachaise  and visit Apollinaire’s menhir  (MENHIR) and Montparnasse to Baudelaire.”

                                                 [Baudelaire's grave in Cimetière de Montparnasse, Paris]

Allen Ginsberg to David Cope, January 1977, almost twenty years later:
“I once read a lot of Baudelaire + my Angel kid [sic] has read every translation – apparently, if you don’t know French (I do) you have to read all the translations to get a good idea”

Multiple translations of  Fleurs du Mal  (Flowers of Evil) (1857) are available (along with much more) here at

We’ve always been partial to Nicholas Moore’s thirty-one different versions of the same Baudelaire poem (quite an achievement!)

Here is “LeBalcon” (“The Balcony’) translated into English by twenty different hands.

Jim Nisbet’s  Baudelaire versions (our current favorites) still haven’t been published and deserve to be seen in book form. A brief selection of them, however, may be seen here
The W.T.Bandy Center for Baudelaire and Modern French Studies in Nashville, Tennessee is an invaluable resource.

Allen in a lecture at the New York Public Library in 1987 – (included in the 1991 collection, Deliberate Prose):
“Kerouac and I, following Arthur Rimbaud and Baudelaire, our great-grandfathers among hermetic poets and philosophers, were experimenting naively with what we thought of as “new reality” or supreme reality”….
”The tradition [of direct treatment of the subject] was initiated by Baudelaire, who had updated the poetic consciousness of the nineteenth-century to include the city, real estate, houses, carriages, traffic, machinery..”

Allen’s discarded early poem, “The Last Voyage” – “I knew the pit of Baudelaire” – “Others have voyaged far, have sailed/On waves that wash beyond the world”, owing perhaps a little too much to Rimbaud and Baudelaire (but later he subsumed the influence) 

Then, of course, there’s the Baudelaire-Poe connection. Allen on Poe – here, here and here

Remembering Charles Baudelaire today - one-hundred-and-ninety-four years on.