Charles Baudelaire led a full and some might even claim overly wanton life during the short period between his birth in 1821 and his death 1867. His poetry is devastatingly ironic, his metaphors uncompromisingly understated and his subjects revolutionary in their very ordinariness. Baudelaire took what he saw around him to reveal the transformative power of the poet to subjugate the mundane in everyday life and reveal the extraordinary.
His poetry is usually placed squarely within that movement which rejected realistic description in favor of suggestive imagery as metaphor for the significance of what lay beneath: Symbolism. Such an iconoclastic personality as Baudelaire's could hardly be lumped into one stilted and contained factory of verse, however. Although, it almost goes without saying that he was definitely a forerunner—by a good half century—of the Modernist movement with its unrelentingly pessimistic outlook for the goodness of man and the willingness to reject traditional Romantic idealistic views of beauty and truth being inextricably intertwined. Indeed, Baudelaire was one of the first to find genuine beauty amongst the most shocking of subjects: prostitution, drug use and sexual experimentation deemed unfit for publication by many.
Baudelaire’s poetry is itself an iconoclastic commingling of the traditional and the outrageous. His métier was the very traditional alexandrine structure of 12 syllables punctuated by caesura division. Within this traditional structure, however, pretty much no topic was considered off the table or forbidden. The result, as might be expected, was a lack of proper appreciation in his own time and the eventual recognition by French scholars and academics that his output of poetry represents some of the greatest heights in the history of the language.
Just how unappreciated was Baudelaire in his own time? Upon the 1857 publication of his collection Flowers of Evil both he and his publisher were prosecuted, six of the volume’s poems were suppressed and Baudelaire was fined. In the nearly two centuries since his birth, Charles Baudelaire’s poetry has been the inspiration for everything from music by the Cure to the name of the protagonists in the book series Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events.