By the early 1850s, Charles Baudelaire was struggling with poor health and serious debt, and his literary output suffered because of it. However, this unrestrained love letter, intended most likely for actress Marie Daubrun, reflects none of these most serious concerns.
To Mme Marie
Can it be possible that I am never to see you again? Therein lies the important question for me, since I’ve reached the stage where my heart suffers profoundly merely by being deprived of your presence. When I heard that you were abandoning your work as a model and that I was the unwitting cause of this decision, I felt a strange sorrow. I wanted to write to you although I am but little disposed to put things in writing. One almost always regrets doing so. I risk nothing, however, for I’ve taken the decision to give myself to you for ever.
Do you realize just how strange our conversation was last Thursday? It’s that very conversation that has left me in a state I’ve never before experienced and that has provoked this letter.
A man who says “I love you” and who pleads—and a woman who answers, “Love you? Me? Never! Only one man has my love. Whoever comes after that man is doomed to unhappiness: he’ll receive only my indifference and scorn!” And that same man, to have the pleasure of gazing at greater length into your eyes lets you speak to him about the other, lets you speak of him alone, lets you burn for him and think only of him! The result of all these confessions was very strange: for me, you are no longer simply a woman I desire, but one I love for her sincerity, her passion, her freshness, her youth, and her folly. I have lost much over these explanations, for you were so resolute that I was forced to yield immediately. But you, Madame, have gained much thereby. You have inspired in me respect and deep esteem. Be like that always and guard carefully that passion which makes you so beautiful and so happy.
Come back, I beg you, and I shall be gentle and modest in my desires. I deserved your scorn when I told you I’d be satisfied with crumbs. I lied. Oh, if you only knew how beautiful you were that evening! I hardly dare compliment you—that’s so banal! But your eyes, your mouth, your whole person with all its animation and vitality now passes before my closed eyes and I know only too well that it will always do so. Come back, I beg you on bended knee. I won’t say you’ll find me no longer in love, but you cannot prevent my mind wandering around your arms, those beautiful hands of yours, your eyes which are the mainspring of life, and all your adorable earthly being. No, I know you cannot prevent it: but fear not, you are for me an object of worship, and I am incapable of defiling you. I will always see you as radiant as before. Your entire being is so good, so beautiful, and so wonderful to breathe in! For me you are life and movement, not precisely because of the speed of your gestures and the violence of your nature so much as your eyes, which can inspire a poet with nothing less than eternal love.
How can I tell you how deeply I love your eyes and how fully I appreciate your beauty? That beauty consists of two contradictory graces which, however, in you do not contradict each other: the grace of the child and that of a woman. Oh, believe me when I tell you from the depths of my being that you are adorable and I love you deeply. The feeling that binds me to you for all eternity is a virtuous one. Despite what you yourself may say, you’ll henceforth be my talisman, my source of strength. I love you, Marie, there’s no denying it, but the love you inspire in me is the love a Christian feels for his God. So never give an earthly name—a name so often shameful—to this incorporeal, mysterious cult, this sweet and chaste attraction, which unites my soul to yours, regardless of your desires. That would be sacrilege indeed.
I was dead and you restored me to life. Oh, you don’t know all I owe you. In your angel eyes I have captured unknown joys; your eyes have initiated me into the happiness of the soul in all that is most perfect, most delicate. Henceforth, you will be my sole queen, my passion, my beauty, you are that part of my being formed by a spiritual caress.
Through you, Marie, I shall be strong and great. Like Petrarch I’ll immortalize my Laura. Be my guardian angel, my Muse and my Madonna, and guide my steps in the path of beauty.
Have the goodness to send me a word in reply, I beg you, a single word. There are, in every individual’s life, days of doubt, decisive days when a proof of friendship, a glance, a scribbled message drives one to stupidity or madness. I swear to you that I’ve reached such a point. A word from you would be the blessed object one gazes on and learns by heart. If you but knew how deeply I love you! Let me throw myself at your feet; a word, say just a word…No, you will not say it!
How happy he must be, a thousand times happy, the man whom you have chosen among all men, you who are so rich in wisdom and beauty, you who are so desirable in your talent, your intellect, your heart! What woman could ever supplant you? I dare not beg for a visit; you’d refuse. I prefer to wait; I’ll wait for years and when you find yourself loved obstinately and respectfully, loved in a completely disinterested way, you’ll remember that you began by mistrusting me and admit you acted badly.
In a word, I’m not free to refuse the blows it pleases you to send me, my idol. It pleased you to throw me out; it pleases me to adore you. There’s no more to be said.