Modernism #3: What about Baudelaire?

manet madame bovary modernism

Lady with a fan by Eduard Manet, 1862 (picture source)

Les Fleurs du Mal was one of the first collections of poetry about everyday, even ugly things: rubble, carcasses, prostitutes. Baudelaire was more interested in evoking feelings and experiences than he was in writing extended philosophical contemplations or lengthy descriptions of nature (which many previous poets had been). His poems were minimalist and inconclusive, characterised not by extremes of emotion but by an atmosphere of boredom and urban alienation; ennui. He wanted to convey what life was like in a modern city and to capture the indeterminacy of “modernity”, a term he used to refer to the “the transient, the fleeting, the contingent”. Thus his poems were about those blink-and-you-miss-them moments that make up urban experience (catching someone’s eye across a crowded street, for example), moments that last no more than a few seconds but seem to mean everything. These were not experiences that many people had thought of as fit for poetic exploration before him. Everyone would think so afterwards.

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