Candace Pert  Interview

Candace Pert Interview

Carolyn and I have appreciated the work of the late neuroscientist and pharmacologist Candace Pert, who conducted groundbreaking research that changed the way scientists view the relationship between mind and body, and was a major proponent of alternative medicine. Pert discovered the opiate receptor— the cellular binding site for endorphins in the brain— and she paved the way for the field of mind-body medicine.

Candace Beebe Pert was born in 1946 in New York City. Her father was a commercial artist and her mother worked in the courts as a clerk typist. Although Pert was initially interested in studying psychology, she studied biology in college and sought a more solid scientific basis for understanding human behavior. Pert completed her undergraduate studies in biology cum laude in 1970 at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania.

In 1972, while still a graduate student in her mid-twenties at Johns Hopkins University, Pert discovered the opiate receptor, the molecular-docking site where drugs like opium and morphine bind to nerve cells in the human brain. This breakthrough finding led to the discovery of endorphins— natural, painkilling opiate-like chemicals in the brain, which Pert refers to as “the underlying mechanism for bliss and bonding.”

These findings dramatically increased our understanding of how drugs interact with the nervous system, and how the body and brain communicate with each other. Pert went on to discover numerous receptor sites for other drugs and naturally occurring substances in the brain, and she helped map the chemical communication system that operates between the brain and the immune system. This paved the way for an understanding of mind-body medicine and the biochemical basis for emotions.

In 1974, Pert received her Ph.D. in pharmacology, with distinction, from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, where she worked in the laboratory of Solomon Snyder. From 1975 to 1987, Pert conducted research at the National Institute of Mental Health, where she served as Chief of the Section on Brain Biochemistry in the Clinical Neuroscience Branch. In 1987, Pert founded a private biotech laboratory that she directed for a few years, and then conducted AIDS research in the Department of Physiology and Biophysics at Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington D.C.

Pert spent over forty years trying to decode the biochemical language of what she refers to as the body’s “information molecules”— such as peptides and other ligands— which regulate the biochemical aspects of human physiology. Her interdisciplinary model of the “body-mind” explains how these chemicals distribute information simultaneously to every cell in the body. This understanding has unlocked the secret of how our emotions can literally create or destroy our health.

Many people believe that Pert should have won the Nobel Prize for her discovery of the opiate receptor— which is considered one of the most important discoveries in the history of neuroscience— but that internal politics interfered with her being properly recognized for her work. In this regard, it is important to note that Pert discovered the opiate receptor only after her supervisor had specifically ordered her to stop looking for it, concluding that it was a fruitless search, and Pert had to continue her research in secret.

Pert’s supervisor, Solomon Snyder, was later awarded the Lasker Award (an award for outstanding medical research) for its discovery without her. Such omissions are common in the world of science; contributions by graduate students in a research lab are rarely acknowledged beyond listing them as the primary author on the published article. However, Pert did something unusual: she protested, sending a letter to the head of the foundation that awards the prize, saying she had “played a key role in initiating the research and following it up” and was “angry and upset to be excluded.” Her letter caused significant discussion in the field, and many saw her exclusion as a typical example of the barriers women face in science careers.

In 1997, Pert’s book, Molecules of Emotion: Why You Feel the Way You Feel, was published. It recounts the story of her revolutionary discovery, the development of her research, and the evolution of her philosophy, as well as the storm of controversy that formed around her work. It reads like a spellbinding action-adventure story and offers a personal and insightful reinterpretation of neuroscience and mind-body medicine.

In 2001, Pert was featured in Washingtonian magazine as one of Washington’s fifty “Best and Brightest” individuals, and she was featured in Bill Moyers’s highly acclaimed PBS television series Healing and the Mind, as well as in the companion book that went with the series. Pert created the audio series Your Body Is Your Subconscious Mind, and also a psychoactive CD to enhance healing and personal transformation called To Feel Go(o)d.

Pert lectured extensively about the implications of her research for mind-body medicine, and her work helped to heal the pathological divisions in Western culture between mind and body, science and spirituality. “Finally, here is a Western scientist who has done the work to explain the unity of matter and spirit, body and soul!” wrote physician Deepak Chopra in the introduction to her book.

Pert’s research interests have ranged from decoding “information molecules” to trying to find cures for cancer and AIDS. She held a number of patents for modified peptides in the treatment of psoriasis, Alzheimer’s disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, stroke, and head trauma. One of these, peptide T, was found to be helpful for the treatment of AIDS. Pert has published more than 250 scientific papers on peptides and their receptors, and the role of these neuropeptides in the immune system. Some of Dr. Pert’s papers are among the most cited scientific papers in human history.

Pert died in 2013 at the age of 67. She is remembered for the important role that she played in how Mind-Body medicine became recognized as an area of legitimate scientific research. According to Pert’s website, her fans refer to her as The Mother of Psychoneuroimmunology and The Goddess of Neuroscience. A book about Pert’s life by Pamela Ryckman was recently published, Candace Pert: Genuis, Greed, and Madness in the World of Science.

I interviewed Candace Pert in 2004 for my book Conversations on the Edge of the Apocalypse. Candace generates a lot of warmth and positive energy. She gets excited and enthusiastic about her ideas, and she laughs a lot. My impression of Candace was that she was like an octopus, capable of doing innumerable tasks at once. Here are some excerpts from our conversation:

David: John Lilly was a big fan of your work. That’s how I first found out about you actually. He used to talk about you a lot.

Candace: I have pictures of him and me. He came to the National Cathedral. He was wonderful. God, that’s such a shame when people have to die. I’ve had people close to me die, and sometimes I think there are some amazing communications and synchronicities, where you think that they are trying to communicate, or some aspect of what has survived is coming back. There are some amazing stories, with things like doors slamming. I’ve had a few things happen at funerals. I’ve been through quite a few funerals in the last few years, and have seen things like leaves swirling at critical moments in the burial ceremony. There’s stuff that seems kind of amazing.

David: What is your concept of God, and do you see any teleology in evolution?

Candace: We don’t have to say that evolution is guided by intelligence, but it’s very clear to me that the process itself— stars cooling, entropy, evolution— is always leading toward more and more complexity and more and more perfection. So, the actual physical laws of the universe are God. You don’t have to invoke anything beyond that. I mean, God is not incompatible with the laws of science. God is a manifestation of that. There’s no incompatibility. We’re not talking about The Bible; we’re talking about the true laws of science. So, I guess that’s why I’m so into truth-seeking because truth-seeking is God-seeking at the same time.

David:  What do you think happens to consciousness after death?

Candace: That’s a great question. Years ago, I had to answer that question to get a big honorarium, so I participated, and what I said then is still relevant. It’s this idea that information is never destroyed. More and more information is constantly being created, and it’s not lost, and energy and matter are interconvertible. So somehow there must be some survival because one human being represents a huge amount of information. So, I can imagine that there is survival, but I’m not sure exactly what form that it takes. I think Buddhist practice is interesting. There’s this whole idea that you’re actually preparing yourself for death, and if you do it just right you can make the transition better.

by David Jay Brown

Sadhguru Profile

Sadhguru Profile

Carolyn and I have appreciated the work of Yogi, spiritual teacher, and environmentalist Sadhguru, who is the founder of the Isha Foundation in India. He is the author of several bestselling books and is the recipient of numerous awards for his valuable ecological work. Sadhguru Jagadish Vasudev was born in 1957 in Karnataka, India. His father was an ophthalmologist and his mother was a homemaker. He was the youngest of five children.

After Vasudev completed his formal education, he enrolled at the University of Mysore in India, where he performed well studying English literature. After graduating from school, Vasudev built a poultry farm in Mysore. The farm became a successful business, and it required minimal attention throughout the day, so Vasudev was able to pursue other interests during his time off, such as writing poetry.

In 1982, at the age of 25, Vasudev had a spiritual experience that changed his life. He drove up a hill in Mysore and sat out on a rock. As he was sitting there, Vasudev had a boundary-dissolving mystical experience that he described like this, “All my life I had thought, this is me…But now the air I was breathing, the rock on which I was sitting, the atmosphere around me— everything had become me.”

After having a similar spiritual experience around six days later, Vasudev shut down his poultry business and he began to travel around India on his motorcycle, seeking insight into his spiritual experience. Vasudev developed a love for riding motorcycles. One of his favorite places to ride was the Chamundi Hills in Mysore, although he sometimes drove as far as Nepal. In 1983, after about a year of meditation and travel, Vasudev felt inspired to teach yoga in Mysore, to share his transformative, inner experience with others.

Vasudev took the name “Sadhguru,” which means “uneducated guru.” A guru is a “dispeller of darkness,” or a teacher, and Sadhguru means a teacher who does not come from a lineage of gurus. In other words, he’s a self-taught guru. In 1992, Vasudev established the Isha Foundation, a nonprofit, spiritual organization and yoga center in Coimbatore, India. The foundation offers a system of yoga that combines postural yoga with chanting, breathing, and meditation. They also have initiatives to improve the quality of education in rural India, and the organization is supported by over nine million volunteers in more than 300 centers worldwide.

Through the Isha Foundation, Sadhguru has launched several ecologically oriented projects and campaigns focused on environmental conservation and protection. In 2017, Sadhguru launched Rally for Rivers, a campaign intended to build widespread support for river revitalization efforts across India, and in 2019, he launched the Cauvery Calling campaign, which focused on planting trees along the Cauvery River, to replenish depleted water levels.

In 2017, Sadhguru received the Padma Vibhushan, India’s second-highest civilian award, for his “contributions to spirituality and humanitarian services,” and in 2018 the president of India awarded him the Rashtriya khel Protsahan Puraskar, an honor for organizing India’s largest rural sports festival. In 2022, Sadhguru completed a 100-day motorcycle journey from London to India, to bring attention to his Journey to Save Soil campaign, which focuses on raising awareness about soil degradation issues and the benefits of using organic matter in farming.

According to India Today, in 2019 Sadhguru was one of the fifty “most powerful” people in India. He ranked number 40, and he was included because his Rally for Rivers campaign was the largest ecological movement ever, with support from over 162 million people. Sadhguru has appeared on many popular talk shows talking about his ecological campaigns, including the Joe Rogan podcast and The Daily Show.

Sadhguru is actively involved in an assortment of diverse and creative fields, such as architecture and visual design. He is the designer of several unique buildings and consecrated spaces at the Isha Yoga Center. Sadhguru also writes poetry and paints, and some of his artwork can be found on display at the Isha Foundation.

Sadhguru has authored over thirty books, including the New York Times bestsellers Inner Engineering: A Yogi’s Guide to Joy and Karma: A Yogi’s Guide to Crafting Your Destiny. His book Eternal Echoes is a collection of his poetry from 1994 to 2021.

Some of the quotes that Sadhguru is known for include:

Every moment there are a million miracles happening around you: a flower blossoming, a bird tweeting, a bee humming, a raindrop falling, a snowflake wafting along the clear evening air. There is magic everywhere. If you learn how to live it, life is nothing short of a daily miracle.

Whether you are a man, woman, animal, or an ant – the Source of Life is Within You.

A human is not a being; he is a becoming. He is an ongoing process – a possibility. For this possibility to be made use of, there is a whole system of understanding the mechanics of how this life functions and what we can do with it, which we refer to as yoga.

Mind is not in any one place. Every cell in this body has its own intelligence. The brain is sitting in your head, but mind is all over the place.

You may not be able to shape every situation in your life, but you certainly have the potential to determine how you experience every moment of your life.

This is the power of Inner Engineering.

In yogic culture, Growth means Dissolution. You dissolve your limited persona to become as vast as the Universe. When you are nothing, in some way, you are everything.

What happened yesterday, you cannot change. What is happening today, you can only experience. What is tomorrow, you have to Create.

The sign of intelligence is that you are constantly wondering. Idiots are always dead sure about every damn thing they are doing in their life.

The most beautiful moments in life are moments when you are expressing your joy, not when you are seeking it.

If you resist change, you resist life.

by David Jay Brown

William Butler Yeats Profile

William Butler Yeats Profile

Carolyn and I have admired the work of Irish poet and playwright William Butler Yeats, who won the 1923 Nobel Prize in Literature, and whose work was inspired by his mystical experiences. Yeats was a driving force behind the Irish Literary Revival, a movement that renewed interest in aspects of Celtic cultures, and he co-founded the Abbey Theatre in Dublin.

William Butler Yeats was born in Sandymount, Ireland in 1865. Yeats’ mother came from a wealthy merchant background, and his family was unusually creative. Jervis Yeats, William’s great-great-grandfather, was a well-known painter, and his father, brother, and sisters, were all painters or artists. In 1867, the family moved to London to aid their father in his career as a portrait painter.

Yeats received his initial education at home, where his mother entertained him with Irish folktales. He read poetry from an early age and was fascinated by Irish legends. In 1877, Yeats entered the Godolphin School in West London, where he studied for four years. Yeats had difficulty with language because he was tone-deaf. He was also a poor speller due to dyslexia, and so was “only fair” in his academic performance.

That same year Yeats began writing his first poetry when he was seventeen. He was influenced by the work of Percy Bysshe Shelley and William Blake, and he wrote early poems about love, magicians, monks, and a woman accused of paganism.

In 1880, Yeats’ family returned to Dublin for financial reasons. Yeats resumed his education at Dublin’s Erasmus Smith High School. His father’s studio was nearby, and Yeats spent a great deal of time there, where he met many of the city’s artists and writers. In 1885, the Dublin University Review published Yeats’ first poems, as well as an essay entitled The Poetry of Sir Samuel Ferguson. Between 1884 and 1886, Yeats attended the Metropolitan School of Art in Dublin.

In 1889, Yeats’ first volume of verse, The Wanderings of Oisin and Other Poems, was published. It is slow-paced lyrical poetry that tells the story of a mythical hero who embarks on a journey to the Land of Youth, and is notable for its use of vivid imagery, mythological references, and a sense of nostalgia for Ireland’s past.

Yeats had mystical experiences throughout his life, and he describes having had visionary encounters with spirits or supernatural beings since childhood. Yeats said that he had visions of a figure that appeared to be a spiritual guide and that this figure communicated with him, and provided him with insights and wisdom about life and art. Yeats was deeply interested in mysticism, the occult, and the esoteric, and these interests were reflected in his poetry and writings. For example, in the following excerpt from his poem Vacillation, Yeats describes how he felt during a mystical experience:

“While on the shop and street I gazed,
My body for a moment blazed,
And twenty minutes, more or less,
It seemed, so great my happiness,
That I was blessed and could bless.”

In 1890, Yeats joined the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, a secret society in Great Britain devoted to the study and practice of ritual magic, the occult, metaphysics, and spiritual development, and his interest in mysticism was further informed by Hinduism, astrology, spiritualism, and theosophical beliefs. Yeats also believed in fairies, that they are real, living creatures.

The late 19th Century saw a literary movement called The Irish Literary Revival, which was a flowering of Irish creative talent in poetry, music, art, and literature. There were two main hubs, London and Dublin, and Yeats was considered a major figure in this movement. In 1888, he published Fairy and Folk Tales of Irish Peasantry, and in 1893, he published The Celtic Twilight, a collection of folklore and reminiscences from Ireland that were important to this moment.

Yeats also wrote plays. In 1903 he published On Baile’s Strand, about the Irish mythological hero Cuchulain, which was first performed at the grand opening of the Abbey Theatre in Dublin in 1904. The Abbey Theatre — which is one of Ireland’s leading cultural institutions — was co-founded in 1899 by Yeats, along with Lady Gregory and Edward Martyn. The Abbey Theatre was the first state-subsidized theatre in the English-speaking world, and the performances there played to a mainly working-class audience, rather than the usual middle-class Dublin theatergoers. Some of Yeats’ other plays included Dierdre and The King of the Great Clock Tower. In 1917, Yeats married Georgia Hyde-Less, who was 25 years younger, and they went on to have two children together. During their marriage, the couple experimented with various techniques for spirit contact, and communication with spirits, who they referred to as their “instructors.”

Yeats was politically motivated, and he was a part of the Irish Nationalist Movement that asserted that the people of Ireland should govern Ireland as a sovereign state. In 1922, Yeats was appointed Senator for the Irish Free State, and he served two terms, until 1928. His time as a senator allowed him to contribute to the cultural and political landscape of Ireland in different ways.

In 1923, Yeats was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for “his always inspired poetry, which in a highly artistic form gives expression to the spirit of a whole nation,” beating out Nietzsche’s sister, Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche.

In 1925, Yeats published a book-length study of various philosophical, astrological, and poetic topics titled A Vision, which he wrote while experimenting with “automatic writing” with his wife, and serves as a “meditation on the relationships between imagination, history, and the occult.” This work was substantially revised by Yeats in 1937.

In 1934, Yeats received a controversial Steinach operation (a half of a vasectomy) which supposedly “rejuvenated” him for the last five years of his life. Yeats was reported to find “new vigor, evident from both his poetry and his intimate relations with younger women,” which he described as a “second puberty.”

Yeats died in 1939 in Menton, France at the age of 73. During his lifetime, Yeats published more than 100 works of poetry, drama, and prose, and was a towering figure in the world of English literature. In 1989, sculptor Rowan Gillespie created an eight-foot statue of Yeats, that now stands in front of the Ulster Bank Building on Stephen Street in Sligo, Ireland.

Some of the quotes that William Butler Yeats is known for include:

There are no strangers here; only friends you haven’t yet met.

Do not wait to strike till the iron is hot; but make it hot by striking.

Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.

Come Fairies, take me out of this dull world, for I would ride with you upon the wind and dance upon the mountains like a flame!

Happiness is neither virtue nor pleasure, nor this thing nor that, but simply growth. We are happy when we are growing.

Think like a wise man but communicate in the language of the people.

How can we know the dancer from the dance?

What can be explained is not poetry.

If suffering brings wisdom, I would wish to be less wise.

Life is a long preparation for something that never happens.

The innocent and the beautiful have no enemy but time.

How far away the stars seem, and how far is our first kiss, and ah, how old my heart.

Take, if you must, this little bag of dreams, Unloose the cord, and they will wrap you round.

by David Jay Brown

Andy Warhol Profile

Andy Warhol Profile

Carolyn and I have admired the work of visual artists, film directors, and leading figures in the Pop Art movement Andy Warhol. His work explores the relationship between artistic expression, advertising, and celebrity culture, in a variety of media, including painting, silk-screening, photography, film, and sculpture. Warhol’s work embraces and celebrates the banality of American culture, and he is well known for his witty and insightful quotes.

Andrew (Andy) Warhola Jr. was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1928. He was the fourth child in a working-class family, whose parents were emigrants from a geographical region that is now located in Slovakia. Warhol’s father worked in a coal mine and died in a car accident when Andy was thirteen.

In 1936, when Warhol was eight years old, he became infected with a nervous system affliction that caused involuntary movements in his extremities, and he was confined to bed for over two months. Warhol described this period as being an important developmental stage in his life, which was largely spent listening to the radio and collecting pictures of movie stars around his bed.

In 1945, Warhol graduated from Schenley High School in Pittsburgh, and he won a Scholastic Art and Writing Award. Warhol enrolled at Carnegie Mellon University, where he studied commercial art. In 1947 and 1948 Warhol’s illustrations appeared on the cover and interior of his student magazine. In 1949, Warhol earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in pictorial design, and his first commissions were to draw shoes for Glamour magazine.

In 1950, Warhol moved to New York City, where he began a career in magazine illustration and advertising, and his first job in the city was designing shoes for a shoe manufacturer. While working in the shoe industry, Warhol developed a “blotted line” printing technique, which involved applying ink to paper and then blotting the ink while still wet. His use of tracing paper and ink allowed him to repeat— and to create endless variations— of a basic image; a process that became important in his later work.

In 1952, Warhol had his first solo show, of his whimsical ink drawings of shoe advertisements, at the Hugo Gallery in New York (although that show was not very well received). In 1956, some of his work was included in a group exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in NYC. Warhol began creating art by tracing projected photographs, subtly alerting the image, such as his 1956 image of a Young Man Smoking a Cigarette.

It was around this time, in the late 1950s, that Warhol was hired by RCA Records to design record album covers and promotional materials. In 1962, Warhol learned silk screen printmaking techniques, and he began to participate in the Pop Art movement. Pop Art was a British and American art movement that emerged in the mid to late 1950s, and is based on imagery from modern popular culture and the mass media. Pop Art was largely viewed as a critical or ironic comment on traditional fine art values, and often used imagery that had been commonly used in advertising or comic books.

In 1962, Warhol was featured in an article in Time magazine with his painting Big Campbell’s Soup Can with Can Opener (Vegetable), which became his most sustained motif— the Campbell’s soup can. The painting was exhibited at the Wadsworth Museum in Connecticut that year, and a year later Warhol made his West Coast debut with his Campbell’s Soup Cans exhibition at Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles. That same year, Warhol also had exhibits at the Stable Gallery and the Museum of Modern Art in NYC, including a silkscreened painting series of iconic American images and objects, such as Marilyn Monroe portraits, Coca Cola bottles, and $100 bills.

In 1963, Warhol rented an old firehouse on East 47th Street in NYC that became his art studio and would turn into a legendary location called The Factory, where Warhol’s workers made silkscreens and lithographs under his direction. The Factory became famous for its exclusive parties in the 1960s, and was a hip hangout for artists, musicians, and celebrities, such as Allen Ginsberg, Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, and the Velvet Underground. Warhol created a Pop Art empire, and at exhibits he sold autographed soup cans and “sculptures” of boxes with commercial logos on them.

In 1968, there was an assassination attempt on Warhol by a radical feminist writer named Valerie Solanas, who shot Warhol at The Factory, but only minor injuries were sustained. Solanas was subsequently arrested and diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.

In 1969, Warhol co-founded Interview magazine with a British journalist. The magazine features in-depth, usually unedited interviews with celebrities, artists, musicians, and creative thinkers. It is still in print today.

In 1971, Warhol had a retrospective exhibition of his work at the Whitney Museum of American Art in NYC. In 1975, he published his book The Philosophy of Andy Warhol, which is a loosely formed autobiography. Although criticized as being merely a “business artist,” some critics have come to view Warhol’s superficiality and commerciality as “the most brilliant mirror of our times,” contending that “Warhol had captured something irresistible about the zeitgeist of American culture.”

Warhol also directed or produced hundreds of experimental films, and dozens of full-length movies—silent and sound, short and long, scripted and improvised— fifty of which have been preserved by the Museum of Modern Art. The styles range from minimalist avant-garde to more commercial productions. The Andy Warhol Film Project seeks to preserve Warhol’s nearly 650 films.

Warhol once said, “I’d like to be a machine, wouldn’t you?” In 1981, he got his wish when he worked on a project that was to create a traveling stage show— called A No Man Show— with a life-sized animatronic robot in the image of Warhol. The Andy Warhol Robot would then be able to read Warhol’s diaries as a theatrical production. This project was left unfinished when Warhol died, and over $400,000 was spent to create a Warhol robot, which is now in the hands of a private collector.

Warhol died in 1987 in New York City. After he died, Warhol’s body was brought back to Pittsburgh, where an open-coffin wake was held. The solid bronze casket had gold-plated rails and white upholstery. Warhol was dressed in a black cashmere suit, a paisley tie, a platinum wig, and sunglasses. He was laid out holding a small prayer book and a red rose, and the coffin was covered with white roses and asparagus ferns.

Warhol is remembered as one of the founding fathers of the Pop Art movement, and for challenging the very definition of art. Warhol’s artistic risks, and his lifelong experimentation with different subjects and media, made him a pioneer in almost all forms of visual art.

Some of the quotes that Andy Warhol is known for include:

Don’t pay any attention to what they write about you. Just measure it in inches.

If you want to know all about Andy Warhol, just look at the surface of my paintings and films and me, and there I am. There’s nothing behind it.

In the future, everyone will be famous for 15 minutes.

Art is already advertising. Mona Lisa could have been used to support a brand of chocolate, Coca-Cola, or anything else.

Being born is like being kidnapped. And then sold into slavery.

I am a deeply superficial person.

We seek to last more than we try to live.

When you work with people who misunderstand you, instead of getting transmissions, you get transmutations, and that’s much more interesting in the long run.

by David Jay Brown

Charles Baudelaire Profile

Charles Baudelaire Profile

Carolyn and I have both long admired the writings of the French poet, philosopher, essayist, and art critic Charles Baudelaire. Baudelaire is known for his major contributions to 19th-century French literature and is renowned for his revolutionary collection of lyric poems, Les Fleurs du mal (The Flowers of Evil).

Charles Pierre Baudelaire was born in Paris in 1821. His father was a senior civil servant and amateur artist, and he was 34 years older than Baudelaire‘s mother. Baudelaire was 6 years old when his father died, so he never had an opportunity to know him well, and his mother remarried a man that Baudelaire never got along with well.

Baudelaire was educated during his stay at a boarding school in Lyon. In 1835, a fellow student at the school had this to say about Baudelaire, “[He was] much more refined and distinguished than any of our fellow pupils… we are bound to one another… by shared tastes and sympathies, the precocious love of fine works of literature.” Baudelaire later attended the Lycée Louis-le-Grand in Paris, where he studied law, and gained his degree in 1839. At the time, the law was a popular course of study for those not yet decided on any particular career.

Baudelaire spent his days in art galleries and cafés, and he experimented with opium and hashish. In 1841 he went on a voyage to Calcutta, India, and the trip left vivid impressions on him that later influenced his poetry. Baudelaire found beauty in the darker elements of human experience and was rather eccentric in his style of dress. He often dressed in black, dyed his hair green, and rebelled against the conformist, bourgeois world of 19th-century Paris in both his personal life and his poetry.

Baudelaire’s first art review was published in 1845, and between 1844 and 1847 eleven of Baudelaire’s poems were published in the Parisian weekly review magazine L’Artiste under a pen name. These were Baudelaire’s first published poems and it is unknown why he used a pen name for both the poems and the art review.

In 1847, Baudelaire’s novella, La Fanfarlo was published. The name in the title, Fanfarlo, has been associated with a Polka-dancer of the time. This novella tells the fictionalized story of the writer’s love affair with a dancer. That same year Baudelaire became acquainted with the works of Edgar Allan Poe, which he felt a strong kinship with.

Baudelaire translated a number of important English works into French, such as Thomas De Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, and many of Poe’s works, which helped to popularize his work in France. Although Baudelaire admired Poe, and the two never met, there was a literary connection between the two writers. Baudelaire found tales and poems by Poe that he claimed, “had long existed” in his “own brain but never taken shape.” Baudelaire also wrote critical essays on contemporary art, and essays on a variety of other subjects.

In 1857 Baudelaire’s most famous work, Les Fleurs du mal was first published, although more poems were added in later editions. Upon its original publication, the poetry collection was embroiled in controversy. Within a month of its publication, the French authorities brought legal action against Baudelaire and his publisher, claiming that the work was “an insult to public decency.”

Although the French government condemned the poetry collection when it was first published, with six of its poems censored due to their “immorality,” it is now considered an important work of French poetry. The poems in this radical volume frequently break with tradition, and deal with themes relating to decadence, eroticism, suffering, and an aspiration toward an ideal world. The final volume of Les Fleurs du mal was published posthumously in 1868, and it includes nearly all of Baudelaire’s poetry, written from 1840 until his death. 

Despite his inheritance of a respectable fortune at the age of 21, making his way financially wasn’t easy for Baudelaire, as he had a taste for extravagance. By 1844, just two years later, he had spent nearly half of his inheritance, and he had become known in artistic circles as a “dandy” and “free spender.” Baudelaire “regularly begged his mother for money throughout his career, often promising that a lucrative publishing contract or journalistic commission was just around the corner.” During the course of his life, he borrowed from his mother an estimated total of 20,473 francs, and much of what is known of his later life comes from his correspondence with her. Baudelaire faced increasing financial difficulties toward the end of his life; he was forced to sell off many of his possessions in order to pay his debts and was frequently in and out of debtors’ prison.

In 1859 Baudelaire’s health began to deteriorate due to chronic illness brought on by stress, poverty, syphilis, and his long-term use of laudanum, a tincture of opium. In 1861 his financial difficulties increased when his publisher went bankrupt. Despite these difficulties, Baudelaire continued to write and publish his works, and he gained recognition for his critical essays.

Baudelaire died in 1867 at the age of 47, leaving behind a legacy as one of the greatest poets in French literature. He is buried in the Cimetière du Montparnasse in Paris. Baudelaire’s mother died in 1871, outliving her son by almost four years.

Despite Baudelaire’s relatively slim production of poetry, his work has had a huge influence on Modernism, a movement in the arts that aims to break with classical and traditional forms of expression, and which embraced experimentation and “a focus on the individual experience.” Baudelaire is noted for his innovative use of creative language, as well as for his use of symbolism and imagery in his poetry, and his work has had a significant impact on later poets.

Some of the quotes that Charles Baudelaire is known for include:

The dance can reveal everything mysterious that is hidden in music, and it has the additional merit of being human and palpable. Dancing is poetry with arms and legs.

Any healthy man can go without food for two days — but not without poetry.

A book is a garden, an orchard, a storehouse, a party, a company by the way, a counselor, a multitude of counselors.

An artist is an artist only because of his exquisite sense of beauty, a sense which shows him intoxicating pleasures, but which at the same time implies and contains an equally exquisite sense of all deformities and all disproportion.

Always be a poet, even in prose.

Nothing can be done except little by little.

I can barely conceive of a type of beauty in which there is no Melancholy.

Whether you come from heaven or hell, what does it matter, O Beauty!

The poet enjoys the incomparable privilege of being able to be himself and others, as he wishes.

by David Jay Brown

William Blake Profile

William Blake Profile

Carolyn and I both appreciate William Blake’s divinely inspired artwork and magnificent poetry.

Born in London in 1757, Blake was an English poet, painter, prophet, and printmaker known for his extraordinary visionary paintings, lithographs, drawings, and numerous volumes of beautiful mystical poems.

Blake attended school just long enough to learn how to read and write. He read widely on his own and was exposed to many bound books and prints by his parents. At the age of ten, his parents arranged for him to take drawing classes, and he went on to become a professional engraver. In 1779 he enrolled as a student at the Royal Academy of Arts in London, where he studied for six years.

From a young age, and throughout his life, Blake claimed to see visions of a spiritual nature. The visions were often associated with religious themes and imagery; he claimed to see angels too. As a Romantic artist and poet, Blake stressed the primacy of individual imagination and inspiration to the creative process. He believed that imaginative insight was the only way to remove the veil of rational thought that obscures the true nature of reality, claiming that “If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.”

Blake’s extraordinary paintings depict powerful biblical and literary scenes, glorious angels, and radiant illuminated beings, while his poems speak out against social injustices and express mystical visions. Blake illustrated his poems and created beautiful books, such as Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience, by integrating writing and painting into a single creative process and using innovative production techniques that combined image and text in single compositions.

Blake’s spiritual visions and insights were central to his creativity, and in his work, he created a complex and unique mythology, with a pantheon populated by deities such as Orc, Urizen, and Enitharmion. Blake illustrated spectacular grand narratives of his own design that were played out in a universe that seemed to exist in a separate reality.

Blake didn’t have it easy. His contemporaries considered him insane, and his lack of commercial success meant he lived in relative poverty. But today he is appreciated as a seminal figure in the history of poetry and visual art of the Romantic Age. Blake died in 1827, with his beloved wife by his side.

Some quotes that William Blake is remembered for include:

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.

The man who never alters his opinion is like standing water, and breeds reptiles of the mind.

The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way. Some see nature all ridicule and deformity… and some scarce see nature at all. But to the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself.

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

by David Jay Brown