“You! Hypocrite lecteur! – mon semblable, -mon frère!”

 “You! Hypocrite lecteur! – mon semblable, -mon frère!”

-Line 76 of “The Burial of the Dead”

This is an excerpt from Charles Baudelaire’s poem “To the Reader” which translates to “Hypocrite reader, my likeness, my brother!”  While this means very little on its own, it is important to note this line in the context of “To the Reader” as well as in the context of “The Burial of the Dead” and “The Wasteland.”

“To the Reader” is the preface to Baudelaire’s first and most famous volume of poems, Les Fleurs du mal or The Flowers of Evil. This volume of poems was considered scandalous upon its publication due to the content pertaining to sex, death, and lesbianism but it also contained poems on melancholy, corruption of the city, and the oppression of living, all of which are themes present in Eliot’s “The Wasteland.”

Baudelaire, his printer, and his publisher were all prosecuted for an offense against public morals when Les Felurs du mal was initially published, “To the Reader” was not present at this point. They were all fined but not imprisoned and as a result, six of the poems in Les Fleurs du mal were suppressed. Baudelaire did not appeal the judgment but the fine was reduced and over a hundred years later Baudelaire was vindicated, the judgment reversed, and the banned poems were reinstated in France. When these poems were reinstated and published, “To the Reader” served as a preface in which Baudelaire calls his readers hypocrites who are just as guilty of lies and sins as he is. We all take what secret pleasures we can, according to Baudelaire, and if we all had more guts we’d all be rapists, murderers, and arsonists. According to Baudelaire, our sins are not really caused by Satan but rather the result of boredom, which we are all guilty of.  “To the Reader” explains how “folly, error, sin, and parsimony” are what humans focus on and it deteriorates our spirit. We confess and ask for forgiveness, yet happily repeat the same mistakes. “To the Reader” states “Each day one step forward towards hell…” which is clearly parallel to the idea that Eliot is trying to convey in “The Wasteland.”

“The Wasteland,” is commentary on the state of the world after World War I – the deteriorating,  decaying, withering culture and that is disintegrating but not disappearing, creating a sort of hell for those who live in it. Baudelaire and Eliot communicated the same ideas within their poems in that people are corrupt, the world is corrupt, and it is only getting worse, not better. This line also serves as commentary on religion in the time period. People are quick to point fingers at sinners, to call a whore a whore, to downcast those who sin, but in private everyone commits their own sins for their own pleasures and everyone is just as guilty as everyone else.  The “Wasteland” is the modern city and all that exists are ghosts of the past who, like Stetson, offer no answers. According to one of the readings below, the weight of history and the deceased predecessors are illustrated as an oppressive burden, and all that is left behind from the war. Destruction, desolation, depopulation. Rubble of buildings, culture, and people.

http://www.victorianweb.org/decadence/baudelaire/lewis1.html
http://www.raingod.com/angus/Poetry/Poems/c_baudelaire.html#Lecteur
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Baudelaire
http://www.cssforum.com.pk/css-optional-subjects/group-i/english-literature/319-wasteland-analysis.html

3 Comments

  1. Thank you for reposting this, I appreciate it. I’ll try to make a new wordpress account so I can post directly to the blog in the future.

  2. I encountered “mon semblable! Mon frere!” on p. 52 of 1964 edition of The Betrayal by Henry Kreisel.

  3. Eliot notes the source of this in most editions of The Wasteland (his long list of sources at the back of his poem with line numbers etc). His poem is full of many many quotes or allusions. He himself once confessed to not understanding the Waste Land. Interesting the extra info re Baudelaire though. His poems are really worth reading. But I don’t think Eliot was interested in WWI his was more a spiritual discontent as to him, civilization’s fragmenting decline and move to things such as democracy (who put the “mock” in democracy?) and less centralization etc was a symptom of it’s general decline. Pound, who edited the Waste Land so that it starts not with a lot of pub dialogue (there were pages and pages of it, I saw a facsimile of the early draft), but with: April is the cruelest month, Pound shared his dislike of the modern situation but went to Italy and wrote antiSemitic and anti-Allies propaganda during the war. Eliot’s wife Viviian also wrote comments on the manuscript.


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