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“A Carcass” by Charles Baudelaire

BaudelaireIt is my opinion that Charles Baudelaire may have been one of the most twisted poetical geniuses ever. The Flowers of Evil is an amazing collection of disturbing poetry. In fact, at one point, I had considered learning French just so that I could read Baudelaire’s works in the original language.

One of my favorite poems from the book is “A Carcass” (click here to read various translations of the poem online). The poem is Baudelaire’s reflections upon discovering a rotting animal carcass while walking with his loved, or in some translations, his soul. Throughout the poem, Baudelaire contrasts images of beauty with the grotesque, as shown in the opening stanza:

My love, do you recall the object which we saw,
That fair, sweet, summer morn!
At a turn in the path a foul carcass
On a gravel strewn bed,

The poem then takes on a tone of sexual arousal. It is almost like there is a stirring of perverse lust directed toward the carcass.

Its legs raised in the air, like a lustful woman,
Burning and dripping with poisons,
Displayed in a shameless, nonchalant way
Its belly, swollen with gases.

The fourth stanza describes something beautiful emerging from the decomposing animal, and for me, this is the key to unlocking the meaning of the poem:

And the sky was watching that superb cadaver
Blossom like a flower.

Baudelaire is expressing the idea that beauty, in the artistic sense, blossoms out of the dead and decaying. It is the grotesque which provides inspiration for him to create his flowers, or poems, hence the title of the book. He even goes as far as seeing his soul as rotting and disgusting, just as the carcass. But he recognizes that from his decayed inner being springs works of poetic beauty. He expresses this near the end of the poem:

— And yet you will be like this corruption,
Like this horrible infection,
Star of my eyes, sunlight of my being,
You, my angel and my passion!

When people come to realize the darkness and decay within themselves, they are faced with a choice: they can either deny and repress that part of themselves or they can embrace it and look for a creative way to express it. Baudelaire chose the second option, and by shining a light upon the darkness within, created a body of poems that continues to inspire.


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