Baudelaire, Charles

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Baudelaire, Charles

Charles Baudelaire (shärl bōdlâr´), 1821–67, French poet and critic. His poetry, classical in form, introduced symbolism (see symbolists) by establishing symbolic correspondences among sensory images (e.g., colors, sounds, scents). The only volume of his poems published in his lifetime, Les Fleurs du mal (1857, enl. 1861, 1868; several Eng. tr., The Flowers of Evil), was publicly condemned as obscene, and six of the poems were suppressed. Later recognized as a masterpiece, the volume is especially remarkable for the brilliant phrasing, rhythm, and expressiveness of its lyrics. Baudelaire's erratic personality was marked by moodiness, rebelliousness, and an intense religious mysticism. His life was burdened with debts, misunderstanding, illness, and excesses, and his work unremittingly reflects inner despair. The main theme is the inseparable nature of beauty and corruption. A collection of poetic prose pieces was published posthumously as Petits poèmes en prose (1869). As poet and critic Baudelaire earned distinction in literary circles. Believing criticism to be a function of the poet, he wrote perceptive appraisals of his contemporaries. His criticism was collected posthumously in Curiosités esthétiques (1868) and L'Art romantique (1869). He felt a great affinity to Poe, whose works he translated and brought to the attention of the French public. One of the great figures of French literature, Baudelaire has also been a major influence in other Western poetry.

See his letters (tr. by S. Morini and F. Tuten, 1970), his intimate journal (tr. by C. Isherwood, 1947), and selected letters (tr. and ed. by L. B. and F. E. Hyslop, 1957); biography by E. Starkie (rev. ed. 1958), studies by J.-P. Sartre (1950, repr. 1972) and M. A. Ruff (1965).

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