Begun in 1855 but only published as a collection in 1869, Charles Baudelaire’s Spleen de Paris is a collection of fifty prose poems. Like the poems in its more famous sibling, Les Fleurs du Mal, the vignettes in Spleen encapsulate both the beauty and monstrosity of modern life. Baudelaire reaches for “a poetic, musical prose without rhythm or rhyme, flexible enough to adapt to the lyrical movements of the soul, to the undulations of reverie, to the jolts of consciousness.” Profoundly influenced by Baudelaire’s admiration for Edgar Allan Poe’s stories, the poems in this book portray aspects of urban life, celebrating its novelty and strangeness. They have also left a lasting legacy for English-language writers of the twentieth century. In this class, we will look at the book as a whole before considering two poems, both in the original and in translation. Knowledge of French is optional for participation or enjoyment.
Barbara Thimm is a writer, translator, and educator. Her translations of selected poems by Timothy Donnelly and Mary Jo Bang were published by luxbooks in Germany. “A Discovery Behind the House,” the translation of a short story by Ror Wolf, appeared in Asymptote. She lives in Cambridge with her husband and two sons.