Monday, 18 June 2012

Paris Spleen & La Fanfarlo by Charles Baudelaire (4/5)

The back says: Paris Spleen, a diverse collection of fifty prose poems, is provided here in a clear, engaging, and accurate translation that conveys the lyricism and nuance of the original French text. Also included is a translation of Baudelaire's early novella, La Fanfarlo, which, alongside Paris Spleen, sheds light on the development of Baudelaire's work over time.

Translation by Raymond N. MacKenzie.

I say: I love Baudelaire, and though I have grown fonder of prose poetry in later years, I have to admit that I prefer his other poetry to this. But it seems almost madness to compare anything to Les Fleurs du Mal/Flowers of Evil (translated by William Aggeler - my favourite), so I tried really hard not to do that.

But of course, I still did.

Especially since Baudelaire himself said of the collection"These are the flowers of evil again, but with more freedom, much more detail, and much more mockery."

I find it hard to review poetry since I have a tendency to take everything straight to heart, making it hard for me to describe precisely what it is that has captured it. If anyone was to ask me why I love Baudelaire I’d mumble for a bit and then start babbling about the way he doesn’t mince his words, how he cuts straight to the bone, but in a soft and dreamlike atmosphere. He keeps his metaphors stark and almost forces you to think about his use of, as well as feel, his words - which is something that I sort of missed in the poems of Paris Spleen.

I like my Baudelaire dark, and even though his usage of spleen refers to "melancholy with no apparent cause, characterised by a disgust with everything (according to Wiki)" I didn't feel enough of it.

There was something about the prose that took away some of the magic of precision. Baudelaire was telling me these stories, rather than offering me words to decipher. On the one hand, I missed the dark Baudelaire, but on the other I was introduced to a humorous one.

Yes, he actually made me laugh.

With regard to La Fanfarlo (which, coincidentally, one of my favourite bands have named themselves after, i.e. Fanfarlo), I liked it, but didn’t love it. This is probably because I expected more from it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a delightfully ironic story about a poet (who is Baudelaire himself) and his affair with a dancer, but it felt like there was something missing. I’m one of those people who often say that you’re either a great poet or a great write, but rarely both. Yes, I’m sure we could talk about this until the cows come home, but I’ve yet to read anyone who didn’t clearly excel in the one art form.

So yeah, 4/5 because there’s a lot of beautiful poetry in there (although I found myself noting down parts of poems rather than the entire thing), and even though it’s no Les Fleurs de Mal, I look forward to re-reading this quite a few more times over the years.

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