Les Fleurs du Mal - Charles Baudelaire I read a majority of the poems in French, which made the experience more beautiful. Each word is like a unique brushstroke of color on a grand canvas, applied with varying degrees of pressure, and each deeply and sensually hued. Baudelaire’s poetry paints gorgeous images of emotion, desire, and wanting that remain with you. Reading Les fleurs was a deeply personal and stirring experience for me. I have many favorites and could provide analyses on a dozen poems or more, but for the sake of length, I will limit myself to one particularly poignant experience.

Le Flacon was one of those poems that never left me, maybe because it was always a part of me. I love perfume, and I am an avid collector. I have perfumes that I've worn maybe once or twice, and I have perfumes that I wear every day. Sometimes, I get an inordinate amount of pleasure from re-arranging the bottles of perfume on the vanity table. Some of the happiness derives from the physical beauty of the arrangement; the glittering, multi-toned flasks of elaborate glass with gold- and silver-plated designs are the stuff of fantasy, a little treasure trove of beauty and fragility in my own room. But the other, more poignant happiness originates from the fragrance and the memories that accompany it.

Some moments in life will always stay with you, and sometimes, that memory leaves not just a visual or emotional mark, but its own fragrance as well. My childhood home has a certain scent that will always define me and transport my thoughts to past. The ocean of the northwest has a wild, pungent smell that I associate with power and nature.

The same goes for perfumes. One darkly colored flask that I use occasionally contains a deeply sensual tangerine and jasmine perfume that reminds me of a night years ago when the moon was big and red in the sky. I was by myself and sleepless, and nothing extraordinary happened, except that I feeling hyper-aware and happened to be wearing that perfume. Somehow, the surreal and rare vision of beauty in the night sky became associated with the fragrance of tangerine and jasmine. Another flask contains a fresh yet musky perfume, gifted to me when I lived in France. The person who gave me the perfume explained that this fragrance was popular with the young ladies these days, and perhaps I would share in the enthusiasm. I did. I wore it nearly every day for the remaining month I was in France, and though I have more than half the bottle left, when I take a whiff, I am reminded of the warm sun of Toulouse and Nice in the spring.

Baudelaire understood this fascinating and unique joy--and when the memories are something you'd rather forget, pain. Le flacon is a reflection on memory, and how the past can be brought to life by something as simple as fragrance. Like memory, fragrance is powerful, porous (“II est de forts parfums pour qui toute matière / Est poreuse”). Even if hidden and stored away in the deep attic of your mind, once the flask is uncorked, the fragrance stirs to life things left forgotten (“on trouve un vieux flacon qui se souvient / D'où jaillit toute vive une âme qui revient”). Baudelaire’s imagery and use of words is gorgeous, but the emotion that he evokes is something very personal and very special.

I didn't like all of Baudelaire's works, and I liked some more than the others. In the end, which poems you end up liking or disliking depend on personal taste and, to a degree, whim. But everyone should pick up Les fleurs du mal. It is a collection that should be read and appreciated.

Note: If you do a Google search, you can find all of his poems online for free. Most sites feature the poems in French with various English translations accompanying it.