The poem “A Carcass” by Charles Baudelaire is included in one of his most rebellious collections, Flowers of Evil. If we consider the “Flowers of Evil”, based on the biography of the poet himself, it is important to note that he does not consider it necessary to separate pure feelings from those that develop against the background of the social and political life of his contemporaries. In general, in “Flowers of Evil” one can feel the author’s desire to expand the sphere of traditional poetry, singing beauty, nature, love and other eternal values. After all, Baudelaire has a prominent place reserved for the ugly, disgusting.
The famous poem “A Carcass”, which was included in the collection and caused an ambiguous assessment by contemporaries, became a real manifesto of such aspirations. Of course, this poem shocked and, above all, the well-intentioned audience, accustomed to poetry, which delights the ear. Baudelaire, however, does not glorify the immortal beauty of the soul, but the perishable beauty of a decaying body, and the horses: “the horse is dead,” “it was lying upside down,” it fetid pus. Hence the name – “A Carcass”.
In Russian literature, this poem gained popularity at the beginning of the twentieth century. The most active translators were symbolist poets. Translations of Lev Kobylinsky (who writes under the pseudonym Ellis) became canonical. Ellis essentially became Baudelaire’s preacher, and his poem “A Carcass” was considered the quintessential work of the French poet. What caused such interest from the Russian decadents? Why was this poem most often quoted and had the most imitations? Let’s try to figure it out.
Of all the known translations of “A Carcass” it is more logical to dwell on the translation of Wilhelm Levik, since his version is the most perceptible version of the poetic size for the Russian ear – the alternation of six-foot and four-foot iamba and a cross rhyme. By genre, this is the dedication of the beloved poet Jeanne Duval. The lyrical hero, referring to the heroine, suggests recalling the half-decomposed corpse of a horse once seen by them. Why, you ask. It turns out that the appearance of this disgusting sight provokes the hero’s thoughts about unity with nature, that “we’ll lay down everything in the earth, everything will be dust”. By the way, he reminds his beloved that she, too, will die, which means she will “rot to the bone” and her worms “will begin to devour in the damp darkness.” And all this then, “so that the great Nature merged into one will be accepted by the disconnected.” Thus, Baudelaire spoke of the frailty of our surroundings, including female beauty.
But the most interesting thing is that for Baudelaire, the transition to the initial state is comparable to creativity, when it is still just beginning and is chaos (“that was unsteady chaos, devoid of forms and lines”). But if an artist (Creator?) Takes up the style, we will see, “like the first sketch, like a spot”, a sketch of a new life, “where the artist’s eyes see the camp of the goddess, ready to lie on the canvas.”
However, the poem ends with an unexpected hymn to the immortality of true beauty: “perishable beauty – I will forever preserve both the form and the immortal system.” The poet is sure that only high poetry can preserve eternal beauty by the power of the poetic word.
The fact that Baudelaire managed to push the boundaries of the poetic image, introducing harmony even into the image of a rotting corpse, could not but cause delight among the Russian decadents. “A Carcass” gave rise to countless imitations, brought to life a new literary trend, the essence of which can be indicated by a line from the song of A. Vertinsky “Half-Blood”: “I can create poems from carrion”. And even after decades, at the end of the 80s of the 20th century, the leader of the rock group “Alisa” Konstantin Kinchev in his first album “Energia” in the song of the same name used Baudelaire’s poem as a kind of background. Will they read “A Carcass” in the XXI century? Time will tell.