Baudelaire’s poetic oeuvre of more than a hundred poems originated in a condition clearly stated in a preface and which he called “l’ennui.”
“Boredom” is a broad concept here. It covers just about every kind of psychological jolliness from frustration to abysmal despair, passing through disenchantment, depression and mal de vivre. Having syphilis probably didn’t help. He was not a happy bunny.
In “The Flowers of Evil” (a dream of a title), Baudelaire sets out his experience of being sick of life and his different and equally futile ways of combating it: striving for the ideal (beauty, freedom, immortality: not asking much, then), repudiation of the crassness of modernity, drinking, sex, religious rebellion, and a courting of death. Thus he cultivated melancholy, the beast that, fed on consolations, grows only stronger: “La jouissance ajoute au désir de la force” (Le Voyage)
You just have to feel for this paragon of French Romantic poets, whose suffering was never going to be relieved by the fulfilment of desire, not by his art, his opium or even the carnal Jeanne Duval. Had Buddha been there to instruct him, he might have learned that no manner of struggle, pleasure, narcotic, denial or other manipulation would resolve dukkha, so long as it is the symptoms that are addressed and not the root cause.
Or he might equally, like many of us, have persisted in his profound dissatisfaction and dissolution — and where better to do that than amidst the decadent poetic society of mid-19th century Paris?
Our Charles was seriously committed to his libertinage and his personal truth. The particular impact of his poetry comes from employing the classical metre of 12-syllable alexandrine verse, often in sonnet form, for an elegant expression of what was then considered to be immoral and even depraved content.
“Bizarre déité, brune comme les nuits,
Au parfum mélangé de musc et de havane,
Oeuvre de quelque obi, le Faust de la savane,
Sorcière au flanc d'ébène, enfant des noirs minuits,"
(Sed Non Satiata)
[Strange goddess, dusky as the night,
Scenting of musk, of cured havanah
Conjured by obeah, Faust of the savannah
Ebony-flanked witch of black midnight]
“«Moi, j'ai la lèvre humide, et je sais la science
De perdre au fond d'un lit l'antique conscience.”
(Les Métamorphoses du vampire)
[With my wet lips and learned science
I will relieve in a bed the hardest conscience]
By making subjective experience the supreme criterion, Baudelaire sounds always modern. His language is both sumptuous and splenetic, accomplished and vernacular, making free use of vocabulary of the urban everyday:
"Quand le ciel bas et lourd pèse comme un couvercle
Sur l'esprit gémissant en proie aux longs ennuis,"
[When the low sky weighs heavy like a lid
Upon the soul stretched out by suffering]
Proper poète maldit that he was, Baudelaire had half a dozen of these poems banned. He was found guilty of offending public decency and fined (the bourgeois could afford it and it did wonders for sales). The sensibilities of virtuous French citizens required such protection that the six banned poems of 1857 were not permitted publication until 1949.