Why we should read To the Reader (from Fleurs du Mal) by Charles Baudelaire

Often, critics have often been shocked out of their wits by the perceived grossness of the poem’s content. In this preoccupation with its meaning the stylistic aspects of the poem have not been given due attention. The lasting legacy of the poem is not merely due to its shock-and-awe effects but also due to the perfect symmetry and graceful lyricism of the lines. For example, the following lines stand testimony to the technical excellence of the author:

“Like some lewd rake with his old worn-out whore,

Nibbling her suffering teats, we seize our sly

delight, that, like an orange—withered, dry—

We squeeze and press for juice that is no more.”

The effect of this powerful imagery is accentuated by the arresting beauty of the rhyme and rhythm. Hence the allegation that the language is too coarse for poetry is a contested one. I implore you to read for yourself and see if this is true.

And finally, my friend, the poem will challenge and nudge you out of your comfort zone. I know you like 20th century poetry, but Baudelaire is going to be an experience like none you’ve known. It will ask you to revisit your understanding of human nature. It will question the soundness of your grasp of morality. All the while stimulating the intellect and pleasing the ear through its musicality. Hence I urge you to read the poem at the earliest and continue your exploration of Baudelaire wherever it leads to thereafter. I can promise you it will be enlightening and enjoyable both at once.


Charles Baudelaire, To the Reader (Au Lecteur), Selected Poems from Fleurs du Mal, A Bilingual Edition, Translated by Norman R. Shapiro, Published by the University of Chicago Press. Extract retrieved from < http://www.press.uchicago.edu/Misc/Chicago/039250.html>.

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