For those who wish to do so, they can thank a Baudelaire scholar whose name escapes me at the moment for this post. I was reading her analysis of his “L’Albatros,” in Understanding ‘Les Fleurs du Mal’ and came across her evidence that the third stanza of that poem was added long after he initially wrote it. I found the section I needed and didn’t bother reading the entire essay, but the gist of it, as I understood it, was that she turned what seemed like a relatively simple poem about the Poet being unable to live on Earth into a look into aging and ‘mimesis,’ whate’er that may be. That’s not the point though, at least as far as this post is concerned. The point is Baudelaire revised his poem after years and that got me thinking.
I doubt that there are many who would argue against the necessity of revision to any creative work. A person needs time to fully develop their ideas and experiment to find the best way to present them. I guess one could argue that the creator’s intent is lost and distorted when others offer their advice, but I don’t buy it. We’re too close to our creations to see their weaknesses. The input of others is vital to their fruition. But this suggestion that Baudelaire played with one of his poems years after first writing it bugs me. I understand David Hume went put his Enquiry into Human Understanding through something like ten revisions, ending only with his death, but that was a philosophical work. That’s okay because arguments need to be shored up in the face of criticism. Art does not. What if William Butler Yeats had gone back and taken a second shot at "Easter 1916" in a later phase or T.S. Eliot came back to "The Waste Land" after converting to Christianity and taking his second wife? These are some heavy hitters of the English language, and, if their authors had come back after changing so much, their place in history may be much more precarious. I guess the questions for me are, “When are we done? When is a work complete and untouchable? Should we impose some arbitrary time limit on how long we can interfere with our works?” I think we ought to. Eventually, a work is done. It captures us at a moment in our lives, and we should be able to look back on it and appreciate it for that, even if we no longer like our past selves. That is what we were, good or bad. Let’s recognize it for what it is and plan our trajectory from there. Let’s not screw with it.
Coming back to Baudelaire, the scholar did say that his publisher requested a new stanza, and, considering the man’s money problems, I doubt he had much say in the matter if he wanted to eat.
3 years ago