Le Spleen de Paris  

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The Birth of Venus (detail), a 1486 painting by Sandro Botticelli
The Birth of Venus (detail), a 1486 painting by Sandro Botticelli

Le spleen de Paris, also known as Paris Spleen or Petits Poèmes en prose, is a collection of 51 short prose poems by Charles Baudelaire. Twenty individual poems were published in La Presse in 1862. The collection was published in 1869, posthumously by his sister and it is related with the modernist literary movement.

Baudelaire mentions he had read Aloysius Bertrand's Gaspard de la nuit at least twenty times before starting this work. Though inspired by Bertrand, Baudelaire's prose poems were based on Parisian contemporary life instead of the medieval background which Bertrand employed. He told about his work: "These are the flowers of evil again, but with more freedom, much more details, and much more mockery"

These poems have no particular order, have no beginning and no end and they can be read like thoughts or short stories in a stream of consciousness style. The point of the poems is "to capture the beauty of life in the modern city", using what Jean-Paul Sartre has labeled as being his existential outlook on his surroundings.

Written twenty years after the fratricidal June Days that ended the ideal or "brotherly" revolution of 1848, Baudelaire makes no attempts at trying to reform society he has grown up in but realizes the horrors of the progressing modernizing of Paris. In poems such as "The Eyes of the Poor" where he writes (after witnessing an impoverished family looking in on a new cafe): "Not only was I moved by that family of eyes, but I felt a little ashamed of our glasses and decanters, larger than our thirst...", showing his acknowledgment of the poor conditions in his city, and also showing the feelings of despair that accompanies the acknowledgment.



  • Quel est celui de nous qui n'a pas, dans ses jours d'ambition, rêvé le miracle d'une prose poétique, musicale sans rythme et sans rime, assez souple et assez heurtée pour s'adapter aux mouvements lyriques de l'âme, aux ondulations de la rêverie, aux soubresauts de la conscience?

    C'est surtout de la fréquentation des villes énormes, c'est du croisement de leurs innombrables rapports que naît cet idéal obsédant.

    • Which one of us has not dreamed, on ambitious days, of the miracle of a poetic prose: musical, without rhythm or rhyme; adaptable enough and discordant enough to conform to the lyrical movements of the soul, the waves of revery, the jolts of consciousness?<p>Above all else, it is residence in the teeming cities, it is the crossroads of numberless relations that gives birth to this obsessional ideal.
  • L'étude du beau est un duel où l'artiste crie de frayeur avant d'être vaincu.
    • The study of beauty is a duel in which the artist cries out in terror before being defeated.
      • III: "Le Confiteor de l'artiste" [2]
  • Mais qu'importe l'éternité de la damnation à qui a trouvé dans une seconde l'infini de la jouissance?
    • What matters an eternity of damnation to someone who has found in one second the infinity of joy?
      • IX: "Le Mauvais Vitrier" [3]
  • Et à quoi bon exécuter des projets, puisque le projet est en lui-même une jouissance suffisante?
    • What good is it to accomplish projects, when the project itself is enjoyment enough?
      • XXIV: "Les Projets" [4]
  • Il n'est pas de plaisir plus doux que de surprendre un homme en lui donnant plus qu'il n'espère.
    • There is no sweeter pleasure than to surprise a man by giving him more than he hopes for.
      • XXVIII: "La Fausse Monnaie" [5]
  • On n'est jamais excusable d'être méchant, mais il y a quelque mérite à savoir qu'on l'est; et le plus irréparable des vices est de faire le mal par bêtise.
    • To be wicked is never excusable, but there is some merit in knowing that you are; the most irreparable of vices is to do evil from stupidity.
      • XXVIII: "La Fausse Monnaie"
  • L'âme est une chose si impalpable, si souvent inutile et quelquefois si gênante, que je n'éprouvai, quant à cette perte, qu'un peu moins d'émotion que si j'avais égaré, dans une promenade, ma carte de visite.
    • The soul is a thing so impalpable, so often useless and sometimes so embarrassing that I suffered, upon losing it, a little less emotion than if I had mislaid, while out on a stroll, my calling-card.
      • XXIX: "Le Joueur généreux" [6]
  • Cette vie est un hôpital où chaque malade est possédé du désir de changer de lit.

French TOC

English TOC

See also

full French text of Le Spleen de Paris, the prose poems of Baudelaire, Arthur Symons translation

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