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Seven Olympians 5 - Charles Baudelaire

  *Booking open until 6pm on Wednesday 20th March. Tickets will then also be on sale at the door*

"I was enthralled by Graham Fawcett's talk on Baudelaire.  He painted such vivid pictures with words, that you felt you understood the troubled poet and essayist, and the 'modern' influences of Paris in the 1800s that had shaped his life, loves and work.  Graham drew the listener into the world of the poet with such skill that, despite no previous knowledge of the subject and the sometimes complex nature of his work, I was totally at ease with Baudelaire's highly unique style.  Several pieces were delivered in full in the original French, allowing the music and rhythm of the lines to be appreciated, before an equally entertaining translation was given. A thoroughly enjoyable evening".
(Meg Depla-Lake, at Baudelaire Night in Lewes)

Choosing to put on a Baudelaire Night in London so close to the March 29th Brexit deadline makes a personal statement: whatever may or may not happen either on that day or in the near future to cut us off from the European Union has no power to divorce this country from the great European heritage it has been so profoundly nourished by over centuries and to which it has so abundantly contributed in every field of the arts and humanities.

“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less”, wrote John Donne four hundred years ago. Now we can add: and no nation is an island either.

However you voted in 2016, and whatever your views now, there is no small print in the treaty which commits us to get rid of our books of European art and literature, our recordings of European music.

But the power of economic and political argument may be strong enough, the concerningly heady partisan atmosphere may have been strong enough already, in this linguistically and culturally xenophobic country of ours to belittle or befuddle our sense of the European soul. The alarming statistic released only last week, that there has recently been a 67% reduction in the teaching of French in British schools, is just one example of how the props supporting our cultural entente with Europe can be kicked away.

The answer is a clarion call to discover, re-discover, and most of all, treasure the gift of cultural Europe on the page, the canvas, the stage, the platform. Those who have done so since he was alive know Baudelaire for a beacon to poets, lovers, citizens, dreamers and realists alike. Please come on March 20th and add your presence to the argument that if the British ‘clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less’, and Britain terribly diminished.

So who was Baudelaire, is he, to this day?

That , and not Brexit, is the subject of Baudelaire Night.

Baudelaire is an exhilarating poet of the sea-voyage and the love-song who becomes the wandering lone lover of a city, descendant of Homer’s Ulysses, forefather of Joyce’s. To read him is to be instantaneously young, a champion bourgeois-baiting Frenchman, charismatically jaundiced, eloquently susceptible to beauty, isolation, melancholy, the wonders of transgression and the dark side, and hungry to paint the hidden faces of the Paris he famously dubbed a ‘swarming city, city full of dreams’.

Evening Harmony

Now comes the eve, when on its stem vibrates
Each flower, evaporating like a censer;
When sounds and scents in the dark air grow denser;
Drowsed swoon through which a mournful waltz pulsates!
Each flower evaporates as from a censer;
The fiddle like a hurt heart palpitates;
Drowsed swoon through which a mournful waltz pulsates;
The sad, grand sky grows, altar-like, immenser.
The fiddle, like a hurt heart, palpitates,
A heart that hates oblivion, ruthless censor.
The sad, grand sky grows, altar-like, immenser.
The sun in its own blood coagulates...
A heart that hates oblivion, ruthless censor,
The whole of the bright past resuscitates.
The sun in its own blood coagulates...
And, monstrance-like, your memory flames intenser!

— Roy Campbell, Poems of Baudelaire (New York: Pantheon Books, 1952)


“The king of poets, a true God”
(Arthur Rimbaud)

“You have found a way to rejuvenate Romanticism . . . You are as unyielding as marble and as penetrating as an English mist”.
(Gustave Flaubert to Baudelaire)

Invitation to the Voyage

Think, would it not be
Sweet to live with me
All alone, my child, my love? —
Sleep together, share
All things, in that fair
Country you remind me of?
Charming in the dawn
There, the half-withdrawn
Drenched, mysterious sun appears
In the curdled skies,
Treacherous as your eyes
Shining from behind their tears.

There, restraint and order bless
Luxury and voluptuousness.

We should have a room
Never out of bloom:
Tables polished by the palm
Of the vanished hours
Should reflect rare flowers
In that amber-scented calm;
Ceilings richly wrought,
Mirrors deep as thought,
Walls with eastern splendor hung,
All should speak apart
To the homesick heart
In its own dear native tongue.

There, restraint and order bless
Luxury and voluptuousness.

See, their voyage past,
To their moorings fast,
On the still canals asleep,
These big ships; to bring
You some trifling thing
They have braved the furious deep.
— Now the sun goes down,
Tinting dyke and town,
Field, canal, all things in sight,
Hyacinth and gold;
All that we behold
Slumbers in its ruddy light.

There, restraint and order bless
Luxury and voluptuousness.

Charles Baudelaire, ‘Invitation to the Voyage’, translated by Edna St. Vincent Millay, Flowers of Evil (NY: Harper and Brothers, 1936)


“Any man who does not accept the conditions of life sells his soul”. (Charles Baudelaire)

"I want to say how much I enjoyed your lecture last night; it set me thinking.... and this is always a welcome thing".                                
                                                                   (Audience member in Lewes)


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