Frames Blog Federico Serrani

Finding poetry

1 April 2021

Last March 21 was not only the first day of a spring that we all looked forward to, to be reborn after a long winter, but World Poetry Day was also celebrated, established by Unesco in 1999.

This 2021, in particular, has a special relationship with poetry and verse writing. From the ninetieth anniversary of the birth of a great rebellious poet like Alda Merini, to the seven hundredth anniversary of the death of the Supreme Poet Dante Alighieri, celebrated throughout Italy with events, exhibitions, conferences and much more.

I was born on the twenty-first in spring
but I didn’t know what to be born insane,
open the clods
could unleash a storm.
So mild Proserpina
she sees it rain on the grass,
on the big gentle wheats
and she always cries in the evening.
Maybe it’s her prayer

(“Vuoto d’amore”, Alda Merini)

The next 9 April will also be the birth anniversary of Charles Baudelaire, born in his Paris in 1821. It was he who spread in France the English word, of Greek origin, spleen, “black mood” according to the ancient medical lexicon, in reference to the bile produced by the spleen which would have led to a state of restlessness and existential malaise, accompanied by boredom and sloth. In French it represents a certain meditative melancholy and sadness already used in romantic literature, which was brought into vogue during the decadence by Baudelaire.

The French poet and journalist became famous above all thanks to Les Fleurs du mal, a collection that in its first edition consisted of 101 poems – the first, introductory to the reader, and the other 100 divided into 5 sections – published in 1857, which aroused immediately scandal for its contents, so much so that it was censored. “My book infuriates imbeciles so it is beautiful”, said Baudelaire, who was convinced that he was not being tried, which instead happened, due to “That unhealthy fever that leads to painting everything, describing everything, saying everything” .

This, of course, only increased the poet’s popularity, who prepared a new edition, published in 1961, containing 126 poems, where the censored ones were missing and 35 were added. The poet died young, like a true bohemian, in 1967, consumed by a dissolute life in which he had already attempted suicide several times and where he had used alcohol and drugs to relieve pain; the following year a new edition was released posthumously, with 25 other poems, including those previously censored.

“This book, whose title: Les Fleurs du mal, says it all, is clothed with a sinister and cold beauty … It was done with fury and patience”, explained Baudelaire, who like the writer Edgar Allan Poe was convinced that the inspiration was the fruit not of an irrational instinct, but of a lucid meditation. Thus, fury and patience, together with the surreal, mystical and sinister atmospheres and the courtly lyricism, are the ingredients that allow the work to mark the time, revolutionizing the French literature of the nineteenth century and making Baudelaire the cursed poet, whom he loved. the excesses, the pleasures of the flesh and reveled in melancholy. The fascination for the exotic had never been detached from him after a ship trip made in his youth, when they sent him to India to prevent him from wasting his fortunes and health. He did not get there in India, but the stop in Mauritius remained among his dearest memories.


In the Spleen and Ideal section, Baudelaire tells of the poet’s existence, divided between an aspiration to the purity and perfection of the ideal, and, on the other hand, the weight of the spleen, that evil and that suffering from which only art and poetry they are able to extract beauty, and describe love in it, according to its different nuances: sensual, tender, spiritualized, ending in the final defeat. However, in L’ennemi, the enemy, Baudelaire seems to open up to hope for the future:

And who knows if the new flowers I’m dreaming will find,
in a washed ground like a riverbed, the mystical food to draw strength from.

Even the photographer and poet Giovanni Gastel, who passed away on March 13th, was able to create in his work that eternal beauty, enclosed in art and poetry, which for Baudelaire proves to be the only weapon capable of contrasting reality. , always repugnant, and the time that flows mercilessly and, enemy of man, upsets him with violence and cruelty, suppressing his vital force. Luckily there is photography, capable of preserving that apparent perfection that is not made to last.

As Germano Celant wrote in the preface to Gastel’s book Masks and ghosts, “Photography is a mirror that has elevated the visible ephemeral into a permanent one, to freeze it if not embalmed it into an image, becoming a relic on whose smooth surface life is it has a plastic and visual effect […] A crystallization that secures the image of existence, transforming it into a lasting and stable effigy ”.

Gastel was not only an excellent photographer, but also a poet who knew how to condense his lightness and irony, the elegance of a gentleman and fearless reflection on life and death, sometimes more bitter, and others more delicate, in verse.

A journey of wounds,
this life.
While I on the contrary
I consolidate with fragile pieces
the changing soul
waiting for the alleged posting.
He has no eyes
this undeserved experience
neither laws nor stronger rules
of a risky hope.
(Giovanni Gastel, Castellaro, 2002, from 50 poems, Skira)

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