Anvil Press Poetry

Paris Blues

Paris Blues

By: Charles Baudelaire

Translated by: Francis Scarfe

Pages: 304

Published: 2012

Bilingual edition


Baudelaire’s prose poems had two working titles: Petits Poèmes en prose (small prose poems) and Le Spleen de Paris. Francis Scarfe’s version of this title, argued for in his introduction, is Paris Blues. Baudelaire wrote these pieces over many years (1855–67) but they were published only in magazines during his lifetime.

The appeal of this beautiful book, says Francis Scarfe in his introduction, ‘lies in its wide range of subjects, its variations of tone and mood, its great variety of presentation and above all in its psychological subtleties. … It shows the poet at the height of his powers, totally uninhibited in his expression of wonder, tenderness and compassion.’

Francis Scarfe has appended an early prose extravaganza, the short novel La Fanfarlo (1847), which has much in common with the poems. The translations, which reflect a lifetime’s passion for and intimate understanding of Baudelaire’s work, face the French text so can be enjoyed independently.
 

 

From the Introduction

For the Anglo-Saxon reader there is nothing very surprising about the form taken by Baudelaire’s last work. Many of his pieces are not, after all, so far removed from some of the ‘poetic’ essays of Charles Lamb or Hazlitt, or for that matter those of Goldsmith, Addison and other eighteenth-century essayists. The appeal of the Petits Poèmes en prose does not lie in the adoption of a particular, highly debatable form, but in its wide range of subjects, its variations of tone and mood, its great variety of presentation and above all its psychological subtleties. Men, women, children, animals and supernatural characters, and the complex character of the poet himself with his angers and his prayers, are all brought vividly to life in a superbly written volume which is a worthy pendant to Les Fleurs du mal itself. It shows the poet at the height of his powers, totally uninhibited in his expression of wonder, tenderness, and compassion, and of those ‘negative emotions’ which offend the prude and pedant but which T.S. Eliot, like Baudelaire, regarded as a fit theme for poetry.

 

The Dog and the Scent-Bottle

‘My dear little dog, good dog, dear little doggie – come along then, come and sniff this lovely perfume, which I bought at the most chic scent-shop in town!’
     So the dog, wagging its tail – a manifestation in those poor creatures which I think is the same as laughing or smiling – comes up to me, all agog, and applies his wet nose to the uncorked bottle, then recoils in a fright and barks a reproach at me.
     ‘Ah, you naughty dog – if I’d offered you a packet of turds you would have sniffed it with delight and perhaps made a dinner of it. So even you, who don’t deserve to share my miserable existence, are no better than the public, to whom one should never offer delicate perfumes, which only madden them, but only carefully selected filth.’

[1862]
 

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