Charles Baudelaire: “Her Hair” and “A Carcass”

The first thing I noticed after reading Charles Baudelaire’s poems was his ability to experiment with contrasting themes and moods. The content of his poems are complex in their diversity. He wrote about vulgar, amoral vices, ghastly images of death, and then switched it up by writing about romance, travel, and the love of nature. He does not restrict himself to a single theme or mood; he explores many avenues of human experience.

Similarly, the tone and mood of his poems are just a diverse as the subject matter. Compare “A Carcass” and “Her Hair,” and the contrast in mood, content, and style are evident. Both focus on the female, but one evokes repugnant disgust, and the other poem evokes pleasurable joys. Perhaps Baudelaire did this because he didn’t want to pigeonhole himself into a single style of poetry. Perhaps he preferred his poetry to embody the myriad of possibilities life, and death, has to offer—pleasure/pain, ugliness/beauty. Maybe he wanted to unveil the beauty hidden in horrific realities, e.g. the eloquent cadence in “A Carcass” amalgamated with the vile imagery of death that was also mentioned alongside love and romantic union.

I want to contest the assumption the introduction in the book, The Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces, makes about “A Carcass.” It is my opinion that the carcass is not that of an animal but of a dead woman.  “Her legs…spread…like a whore,” “Her stinking and festering womb.” Why is he referring to the cadaver as a female and not an animal? Because it’s a dead woman he and his lover stumbled upon. The main character of the poem is talking to a lover so it seems, “My passion, my angel in one!” The final lines confirm that the main character is trying to convince his lover to partake in a ménage à trois with a corpse—three-way necrophilia. “…I am the keeper for corpses of love of the form…” By reminding the lover that he/she too will be rotting among worms, the main character manipulates his lover into corpse-sex. “Yes, such will you be…under the weeds…” Therefore, “A Carcass” is probably a love song.

The meter of “A Carcass” is compelling because it doesn’t read like a dirge, but rather like a folk song (or a twisted serenade) or nursery rhyme. His other poems have rhythm, but this one (in our reading) is the most musical. Maybe Baudelaire did this to envelope the reader in the fluidity of imagery. Again, he is contrasting and layering mood and content.

The aforementioned leads me to dissect Baudelaire’s utilization of sensory perception in his poetry. I’m fascinated by his seamless experimentation with combining senses to propel the reader into an imaginative world unfettered by the limitations of the average senses. “Her Hair” shows this unbound expression of sensory perception, “imbibe color and sound and scent,” and in “Correspondences” Baudelaire does it again, “All scents sound color meet as one,” “Perfumes…sweet as an oboe’s sound.” I’m not an expert on world literature, but I am guessing Baudelaire was one of the poets who pioneered this method of mish-mashing the senses.

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