Why the poet Charles Baudelaire was and always will be the first modern man



IIn a small attic room on Isle Saint Louis in Paris, Charles Baudelaire is seated and writing. He has a smoking pipe in his mouth, a book resting against his table, and a shiny white goose quill comes out of his inkwell. Her face is pink and yellow and there is an alcoholic blush on her cheeks, a light glow on the tip of her nose.

A pale, thin hand rests on the side of the sofa wedged against the corner of the room to serve as a day bed and workstation, everything is lined, saved, spare, except the flash of an extravagant silk tie gold around his neck which betrays the little dandy. In Gustave Courbet’s portrait, Baudelaire’s brain team reconstitutes life as poetry, fodder in the gutter of jewelry, but above all seeks a way to distill the beauty of the eternal present.

On this occasion, he had read a little too much of the kind of political sermon to the poor which had inaugurated the revolution of 1848 and he needed a drink. Lacing up his good English boots, a little lowered at the heel, but still usable, he heads for a nearby tavern, only to be accosted at the door by a beggar, a particularly decrepit example, he thinks, of the very ones who were the subject of all his readings. Instead of giving him a few pennies, Baudelaire hounds him with his fists and boots, causing the beggar much harder to give him a real beating with black eyes. Now on the ground, the other dominating him, his bloody and broken teeth, laughing, the poet makes a truce: “Sir, you are my equal! Do me the honor of sharing my handbag with me. And do not forget, if you are truly a philanthropist, to apply to your brothers, when they ask you for money, the theory that I have taken the trouble to instill in you.


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