Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867) is a French poet whose symbolist tendencies created the ground out of which poets such as Verlaine, Rimbaud, and Mallarmé emerged. Though writing in a Romantic background, Buadelaire moved the center of his poetry from the pastoral landscape to the urban center (in his case, Paris) and captured the evanescent, vice-ridden, and complex human landscape presented there. He is often creditied with coining the term "modernity." Central to Baudelaire's poetic thinking is the idea of "correspondences," in which all perceived phenomena are said to interrelate around an unspecified center, but whose overlapping may be captured in language, especially poetic trope-filled language. As well as being a poet, he was an in-demand art, music and literary critic (espousing Wagner and Delacroix especially) and became a pivotal translator of Poe into French. His most famous work, Les Fleur du mal was met with censure and disdain by many conservative critics, though it quickly gained praise among other artists and became foundational for the symbolist poets to follow. He was a dandy, a sometime drug-addict, and always seemed to live at the fringes of any secure environment. He suffered a severe stroke in 1866 and following a year of aphasia succumbed the following year. Many of his works were published posthumously.
Stevens relationship to Baudelaire resides, at least in part, in his symbolist tendencies, the movements of which seek to infuse certain images with significant, complex, and evolving meanings which take on significant weight within a poem. For the symbolists, absolute truth could only be described indirectly, an idea which forges a clear link with Stevens, whose "opaque" style often balks at addressing his poetic insights directly, but rather redirects the insight into word and idea play or by loading meaning into a symbol (such a "lake", "moon", "red", or "blackbird" for example).
Though Baudelaire is never formally addressed in Stevens' verse (he did address him in a letter), one critic has pointed out the possibility that the character "B." in "L'Esthetique du Mal" is actually a reference to the French poet. Not only does the title of Stevens' poem echo Baudelaire's major work, but this particular section of the poem seems to be addressing the idea of absolute poetry, a conversation fitting to Baudelaire.
References Poggenburg, Raymond P. "Baudelaire and Stevens" "L'Esthetique du Mal". South Atlantic Bulletin. 33.4 (1968):14-18. Web. JSTOR. 4 Feb 2014