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September 23, 1992

The Flowers of Evil and Paris Spleen

Author Affiliations

NYU Medical Center New York, NY


by Charles Baudelaire, translated by William H. Crosby, 489 pp, $30, ISBN 0-918526-86-8, paper $15, ISBN 0-918526-87-6, Brockport, NY, BOA Editions Ltd, 1991.

JAMA. 1992;268(12):1603. doi:10.1001/jama.1992.03490120117043

Poets are more likely to be patients than doctors, and no poets displayed more florid pathology than the three Frenchmen who made poetry modern: Baudelaire, Verlaine, and Rimbaud. They carried among them more diagnoses than a wardful of my patients at Bellevue. Addicted to hashish and absinthe, they suffered from tertiary syphilis, tuberculosis, or both, and rode the roller coaster of bipolar mood disorders. They experienced the expected complications of these ills, which ranged from acute delirium to terminal paresis.

In moments between, they simply showed sociopathic behavior: Verlaine shot Rimbaud in a lover's quarrel, and Baudelaire stalked the barricades with a musket calling for the death of his stepfather. They supported themselves by sponging off despised parents.

Unlike my patients at Bellevue, however, these men wrote the most ravishing verse of their age. And Dr William H. Crosby's magisterial new translation of Baudelaire's poetry makes it clear that the