Paris Spleen

Charles Baudelaire
Translated by Martin Sorrell

Cornwall ISBN: 978-1-84749-149-7 All rights reserved. Paris Spleen first published in French in 1869 This translation first published by Oneworld Classics Limited in 2010 English translation © Martin Sorrell. No part of this publication may be reproduced. without the prior written permission of the publisher. hired out or otherwise circulated without the express prior consent of the publisher. . 2010 Printed in Great Britain by MPG Books. stored in or introduced into a retrieval system. This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not be resold. lent. recording or otherwise).oneworldclassics. or transmitted. in any form or by any means (electronic.ONEWORLD CLASSICS LTD London House 243-253 Lower Mortlake Road Richmond Surrey TW9 2LL United Kingdom www. photocopying.

Temptations 22. A Wit 5. The Stranger 2. The Clock 17.Contents Introduction Paris Spleen To Arsène Houssaye 1. The Old Acrobat 15. The Dog and the Scent Bottle 9. The Poor Boy’s Toy 20. Invitation to a Voyage 19. To Each His Chimera 7. One a. Widows 14. Crowds 13. Venus and the Fool 8. Evening Twilight V 1 3 5 6 7 8 9 12 13 14 15 18 20 22 24 27 29 31 32 33 36 38 41 44 . The Bad Glazier 10. A Hemisphere in a Head of Hair 18.m. The Old Woman’s Despair 3. Cake 16. Fairy Gifts 21. Wild Wife and Sweet Mistress 12. The Double Room 6. 11. The Artist’s Confiteor 4.

A Heroic Death 28. Soup and Clouds 45. Good Dogs Notes 46 48 50 52 54 58 60 63 67 71 73 74 76 77 78 79 80 81 82 83 87 88 89 90 91 94 96 98 102 . Which Is the Real One? 39. The Port 42. The Mirror 41. The Gallant Marksman 44. The Generous Gambler 30. Let’s Whack the Poor! 50.23. Already! 35. The Shooting Range and the Cemetery 46. Losing a Halo 47. Be Drunk 34. Portraits of Mistresses 43. The Desire to Paint 37. Plans 25. A Thoroughbred 40. The Rope 31. Mademoiselle Bistouri 48. Counterfeit Coin 29. The Eyes of the Poor 27. The Thyrsus 33. Solitude 24. Anywhere out of the World 49. Vocations 32. Windows 36. The Beautiful Dorothea 26. Benefits of the Moon 38.

the sensibility that haunts Paris Spleen is not cheery and optimistic. begun earlier in his century by Bertrand and Nerval. but one with a significant shortcoming: the form. the great visionary indeed. by too great an adherence to French prosody’s rules. What Rimbaud cannot have been thinking of. Spleen is a very Baudelairian word. a process already under way. a number of the former are reworkings of poems found in Flowers. Indeed.Introduction Baudelaire. The fact is Baudelaire played a major role in the freeing of poetic expression. Baudelaire’s fifty extant petits poèmes en prose appeared in Volume IV of the posthumous 1869 edition of his collected works. The high imagination. in which he wrote his poetry. The Flowers of Evil. they heralded the search for new forms of poetic expression that his Symbolist successors were soon to undertake – forms fitted to new sensibilities in a new. But it is v . according to Rimbaud. Baudelaire’s prosody was mesquine (mean. and in the century before by Rousseau. was Baudelaire’s “parallel” book. were compromised. The choice of the noun spleen establishes a clear link between the two. connoting a mental and spiritual jaundice and calling to mind the depressive. urbanized world. bilious humour of pre-modern medicine. Paris Spleen. calling to mind as it does the heading of The Flowers of Evil’s longest section. however. the fruit of his ambition to create poetry through prose. ungenerous). Clearly. or forms. was a great visionary. the modernity. Spleen and the Ideal. wrote the perceptive Rimbaud just four years after the former’s death in 1867. the lucid intelligence of Baudelaire’s seminal 1857 collection of poems. Paris Spleen is the prose pendant to the verse of The Flowers of Evil.

the collection is held together by the figure not so much of the prowler as the wanderer. and rich in flawed and affecting humanity. However. the wanderer sheds irony in favour of sincerity as progressively he discovers love and friendship of sorts. unnamed areas at the limits of the city where Baudelaire goes wandering. where Baudelaire spent the majority of his forty-six years. In Barbara Wright’s and David Scott’s detailed study of Paris Spleen. the section of The Flowers of Evil that the prose poems particularly connect with is Parisian Scenes. The range of the fifty prose poems is wide. VI . savage enthusiasm. tirades. complex and mysterious organism. the flâneur adrift in a wasteland of deprivation. squalor. shrewd. ironic and eccentric. no longer entirely a loser among isolated losers. stories. One title Baudelaire considered for the book he planned was Le Rôdeur parisien. as unknowable as men are to themselves (men. even compassionate. moralities. failed ambition. That city. Other commentators find unity in Paris itself. To the extent that Baudelaire himself is the protagonist of a sustained.CHARLES BAUDELAIRE intelligent. For wandering is a unifying force. The ordinary humanity of the wanderer. a city in Baudelaire’s final years undergoing Haussmann’s make-over from post-medieval health hazard to international symbol of urban elegance. peripatetic adventure. portraits of Paris. a quality absent from the dark. and leavened with sudden. begins to find recompense in the teeming mess (Baudelaire’s description) that is Paris. not women – Baudelaire’s misogyny permeates everything). But for some commentators. two schemas seek to impose order: one a classification of the fifty pieces by genre – poems. as well as of the ambitious artist. seeming to deprive the collection of unity. is in both collections a living. the other a division of contexts into inner worlds and outer worlds. essays. A measure of reconciliation is achieved between the wanderer’s thirst for absolute meaning and the far-less-thanperfect reality of people as they are. poetic pieces. even gaiety. or “prowler around Paris”.

as Baudelaire had already evoked the mysterious spirit of Paris in wonderful verse. and Baudelaire then published more prose poems piecemeal in a number of individual reviews. a total of twenty pieces. but the fifty extant pieces are now best recognized as Paris Spleen. his friend the newspaper editor Arsène Houssaye. But why. and five more were discovered in Baudelaire’s effects after his death. he gave a cryptic account of his ambition for the prose poem.” Later. dreams. Some drafts survive. when he contributed early versions of ‘Evening Twilight’ and ‘Solitude’ (both in Paris Spleen. did he decide to revisit old themes? Some remarks of 1846 make it clear that from an early date the life of Paris had been a rich source of poetic material. In fact. fourteen of them new. he did draw up plans for a larger collection of sixty. and “other possible headings”. Baudelaire wrote and published six prose poems he called Nocturnal Poems. Baudelaire wrote that “Parisian life is rich in poetic. The choice of title was a problem too. le merveilleux quotidien (“the marvellous in daily life”). In his Salon de 1846. and made their way into the posthumous 1869 edition of the Petits poèmes en prose. In 1862. the remainder reprints. and then a hundred-plus. in his letter of 1862 to Arsène Houssaye. reworked) to a collection of writing put together for the landscape painter Denecourt. with Short Poems in Prose as the subtitle. whose themes he chose to announce. but which we do not perceive. and particularly of what the Surrealist movement would later make its central plank. Ultimately forty-five made it into print. He thought of organizing the intended collection into four sections: Parisian themes. It emerges that the Parisian element did not of itself represent the full range of the collection. marvellous subjects. symbols and moralities. VII .PARIS SPLEEN Baudelaire’s first forays in prose poetry date from 1855. published three batches of Baudelaire’s prose poems in La Presse. and four years later a sequence of nine such appeared in La Revue fantaisiste. which sustains us like air itself. In 1857. But the two men fell out. We are surrounded by the marvellous.


Paris Spleen .

you will see that each survives on its own. I dedicate the entire snake to you. musical without rhythm or rhyme. I have a small confession. me and a few of our friends. since. and render in lyrical prose its heartbreaking resonances. the endless meeting of their ways. the undulations of reverie. Who has not. that this obsessive ideal originates. the reader his reading. In the hope these segments are sufficiently alive to give you pleasure and amusement. I my reverie. 3 . Remove a vertebra and the two parts of my tortuous fantasy join effortlessly. me. the reader. the idea came to me to try something analogous. it is all alternately and reciprocally head and tail. a poetic prose. We can break off where we choose. supple and choppy enough to accommodate the lyrical movement of the soul. Chop it into several pieces. you. doesn’t that make it famous?). on the contrary. dreamt this miracle. I send you a modest work which people would be wrong to say has neither head nor tail. curiously picturesque. carried up to attic rooms higher than the mist in the street. and to apply to the description of modern life. You have yourself wished to put into song the glazier’s grating cry*. or rather a modern and more abstract life.To Arsène Houssaye Dear friend. for I have not tied his reluctant will to the interminable thread of some pointless plot. Leafing through Aloysius Bertrand’s famous Gaspard de la nuit* for at least the twentieth time (when a book is known to you. the process he applied to his portrait of an earlier age. the bump and lurch of consciousness? It is above all in the habit of huge cities. in bouts of ambition. you the manuscript. I ask you to bear in mind the admirable permutations this arrangement offers us all.

C. Warmly yours. 26th August 1862 4 . but which deeply shames the mind that considers it the poet’s honour to realize precisely what he has proposed. which no doubt anyone else would be proud of.But to be frank. Hardly had I started work than I realized not only was I falling far short of my mysterious and brilliant model. even) very different. I fear my jealousy has not brought me luck. no less.B. but also was making fortuitously something (if something is the word. no more.

mother. remarkable stranger.1.” “Friends?” “There’s a word whose meaning eludes me. as you despise God.” “Your country?” “Wherever that may be. brother? “I have no father. sister. sister.” “Well. what do you love?” “I love the clouds… the clouds passing… there… away over there… the marvellous clouds!” 1862 5 . mother. enigmatic man. brother.” “Money?” “I despise. The Stranger “Tell me. which do you love best.” “Beauty?” “I would happily love her if she were a goddess and immortal. your father.

not even the innocent. the little old woman. intending to bill and coo and pull nice faces. So she moved closer to the child. Such a pretty thing. shrivelled old woman was filled with joy before the lovely infant everyone was fussing over. The Old Woman’s Despair The little. and like her. But the child took fright and kicked and thrashed when the decrepit old lady tried a kiss. like her. She told herself: “Ah. so fragile. the house was filled with yells. out of view she wept. we horrify the little darlings we so want to love!” 1862 6 . the good days are gone for us old bags. We bring no one pleasure. So the poor soul scurried back to her eternal solitude.2. missing teeth and hair.

1862 7 . These things think. soon grow too fierce. the artist cries in terror. syllogisms. The unconcern of the sea. Voluptuous energy creates malaise and active suffering. for certain delightful sensations. are intense. pitiless enchantress. then loses. mimicking my hapless existence. The Artist’s Confiteor* How piercing the end of an autumn day! Piercing to the point of pain. whether from within me or from external things. I find sickening… Ah! Must one suffer eternally. let me be! Tempt no longer my desires and my pride! The study of the beautiful is a duel. vague as they are. no quibbles. silence. tiny. Now the unending sky disconcerts me. What greater delight than to submerge the eye in the immensity of sky and sea! Solitude. And yet these thoughts. monotonous melody of the waves – all these things think through me. deduction. My over-strung nerves emit only shrill and painful vibrations. or I through them (for in the grandeur of reverie the I soon vanishes!). but musically and picturesquely.3. or eternally flee from beauty? Nature. I say. and nothing gives a sharper pang than Infinity. its clarity is exasperating. ever-victorious rival. solitary. the immutability of the spectacle. incomparable chaste blue! The shiver of a minute sail on the horizon.

Amid the madness. a donkey was proceeding at a good clip. a fine fellow. who seemed to me to epitomize what it means to be French. I was seized suddenly by irrational rage against this idiotic peacock. A Wit All around. poked and prodded by an oaf with a whip. said: “Have a good one!” Then he turned to face his unseen chums. New Year’s Eve explodes: a chaos of slush and snow striped by a thousand carriage wheels.4. Just as the donkey was starting round a corner. the sanctioned madness of a city. the very thing to throw muck into the most resolute loner’s brain. pleased as Punch. 1862 8 . toys and sweets sparkling. hopelessness and greed crawling. The donkey was unaware of this splendid wit. he hurried on towards wherever duty was taking him. as if requiring the endorsement of applause. imprisoned in a brand-new outfit – gloves and gloss and cruel cravat – bowed theatrically before the humble beast and. the decibels. removing his hat. For my part.

queen of dreams. Which well-disposed daemon must I thank for setting me among mystery. Those indeed are eyes whose flame pierces dusk. like skies. I have often studied those dark stars that compel curiosity and admiration. consume the gaze of the fool who dares stare back. which I know by their fearful malice! They draw in. perfume? Such beatitude! What we choose to call life. like flowers. silence. The hangings speak a silent language. subtle. vegetal. a life asleep. Where the soul bathes in idleness. a truly spiritual room. Compared to pure dream. like setting suns. has 9 . peace. a fragrance touched by damp. long. swim through this atmosphere. mineral. terrible beadies. No crass art on the walls. to undissected impression. something bluish and roseate. where the drowsy mind sways amid hothouse sensations. a voluptuous dream during an eclipse.5. How is it she is here? Who has brought her? What magic power has placed her on this throne of reverie and pleasure? No matter! She is there! I recognize her. Snowdrifts of muslin at the window and round the bed. The faint notes of an exquisite taste. On this bed the Idol reposes. scented with regret and desire – something crepuscular. languid. The Double Room A room resembling reverie. even at its most gloriously expansive. Low furniture. the art of contour and definition is blasphemy. Here. in a state of trance. whose stagnant atmosphere is brushed with the lightest pinks and blues. vanquish. everything has the right measure of harmony’s light and its wonderful dark.

In this reduced world. Fits. No! No more minutes. implacable Life!” 10 . all the magic was knocked away by the spectre’s brutal thump. Regrets. alas. second by second. The truth is that now the seconds are strongly and solemnly accented. leaping from the clock. the calendar with its pencil rings round ominous dates! And that fragrance of another world. just one familiar object consoles me: the phial of laudanum. soiled with spittle. the hearth voided of fire and flame. Each one. has been displaced. covered in dust. the supreme life I now know and savour minute by minute. so full of disgust. Then there entered a spectre. Rage and Neuroses. an eternity of delight! But then there was a terrific bang on the door. the sad windows. manuscripts. I remember! Oh yes.nothing in common with this. by the rank odour of tobacco mixed with God knows what stomach-turning damp. Eternity reigns. abundant with caresses and betrayals. a bailiff maybe. this hovel. chipped. old and frightful mistress – and like all lovers. declares: “I am Life. which sent my seasoned sensibility reeling. the queen of dreams. Now lungs breathe rancid desolation. Nightmares. maybe a disgusting whore pleading poverty and heaping the trivia of her existence onto the woes of mine. Phobias. unbearable. no more seconds! Time has disappeared. crossed out or unfinished. and reigns supreme now. is indeed my own. Horror! I remember. the Idol. come to plague me in the name of the law. and as in hellish dreams. this home to eternal ennui. Look at that stupid furniture. Time is back. the Sylphid. or a publisher’s gofer sent to demand my latest chapter. alas. Ah indeed. I thought a pickaxe had lodged in my guts. where rain has ploughed furrows through the grime. and that hideous old personage has brought all his fiendish retinue of Memories. The paradisal room. Anguish.* as the great René called her.

There is just one Second of human existence whose role is to announce good news. as if I were an ox – “Whoa. his brutal dictatorship is restored. donkey. slave! Live and be damned!” 1862 11 . move! Sweat. the good news that strikes inexplicable fear in us all. Time reigns. Yes. And he prods me forward with his double goad.

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