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16 March 2010

Baudelaire (2)

I'm enjoying this week of Baudelaire. My task means that I have to know about the biography, though, which I'd normally pay less attention to. But it is interesting. As we proceed through FDM we find more reflections of Baudelaire's views of women. In my previous post, the poem was inspired by Jeanne Duval. Another woman in Baudelaire's life was Apollinaire Sabatier, aka La Présidente, who was a respected courtesan and hostess. According to French Wikipedia, everyone who knew her praised her beauty, goodness and joy. Finally, she "yielded" to Baudelaire, with unsurprising consequences. He wrote to her:
Il y a quelques jours, tu étais une divinité, ce qui est si commode, ce qui est si beau, si inviolable. Te voilà femme maintenant... (A few days ago you were a divinity, all that is right, beautiful, inviolable. Now you are just a woman.)
And he memorialised her thus:

Que diras-tu ce soir, pauvre âme solitaire,
Que diras-tu, mon coeur, coeur autrefois flétri,
À la très belle, à la très bonne, à la très chère,
Dont le regard divin t'a soudain refleuri?

— Nous mettrons notre orgueil à chanter ses louanges:
Rien ne vaut la douceur de son autorité
Sa chair spirituelle a le parfum des Anges
Et son oeil nous revêt d'un habit de clarté.

Que ce soit dans la nuit et dans la solitude
Que ce soit dans la rue et dans la multitude
Son fantôme dans l'air danse comme un flambeau.

Parfois il parle et dit: «Je suis belle, et j'ordonne
Que pour l'amour de moi vous n'aimiez que le Beau;
Je suis l'Ange gardien, la Muse et la Madone.»

What will you say tonight, poor solitary soul,
What will you say, my heart, heart once so withered,
To the kindest, dearest, the fairest of women,
Whose divine glance suddenly revived you?

— We shall try our pride in singing her praises:
There is nothing sweeter than to do her bidding;
Her spiritual flesh has the fragrance of Angels,
And when she looks upon us we are clothed with light.

Be it in the darkness of night, in solitude,
Or in the city street among the multitude,
Her image in the air dances like a torch flame.

Sometimes it speaks and says: "I am fair, I command
That for your love of me you love only Beauty;
I am your guardian Angel, your Muse and Madonna."

It's different. The poet transforms this woman, not into a mountainside, but into something ethereal, a "fantome", and her flesh becomes spiritual. She is idealised out of existence. The last line possibly gives the game away: this is a Catholic poem. That's an over-simplification, of course, but suggests that the influence of that religion persists and will turn up elsewhere.

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