The Flowers of Evil, which T.S. Eliot called the greatest example of modern poetry in any language, shocked the literary world of nineteenth-century France with its outspoken portrayal of lesbian love, its linking of sexuality and death, its unremitting irony, and its unflinching celebration of the seamy side of urban life. The volume was seized by the police, and Baudelaire and his publisher were put on trail for offense to public decency. Six offending poems were banned, in a conviction that was not overturned until 1949.
This bold new translation, which restores the banned poems to their original places and reveals the full richness and variety of the collection, makes available to English speakers a powerful and original vision of the world. Jonathan Culler’s introduction outlines the vision, stressing that Baudelaire is more than just the poet of the modern city. Originally to be called ‘The Lesbians’, The Flowers of Evil contains the most extraordinary body of love poetry.
This edition includes the French texts and comprehensive explanatory notes to the poems.
It is rare that I ever sit down and devour a whole book of poetry in a matter of day, if I remember correctly the last book I did that with was Edgar Allen Poe years ago. My first time hearing Baudelaire’s name was from the lead singer of my favorite band, he even has a song that refers to Baudelaire’s work and it’s complexity. So when I saw it on my friend’s shelf I had to read it.
These poems are so different from what I’m use to reading, there is a very specific sort of style to it. He takes gritty and dark things and turns them into something poetic, and as a reader it really puts you in a different place. Instead of reading about some beautiful woman of comfortable means you see his affection being given to the more promiscuous of woman, instead of speaking in flowering details about how gorgeous something is he weaves words around things that would repulse most. He does speak of things that are innocent and beautiful but he puts them next to things that could be considered seedy and distasteful. It’s that complex juxtaposition that really drew me in and the reason I kept reading the poems like I ‘needed’ them it’s so different.
I would say that Baudelaire is definitely not for everyone because some of the imagery was a bit ‘wince’ worthy at times, and he’s not someone who is shy about sex. In fact everything in this is written with such passion that he’s almost celebrating everything for the beauty of what it is. He’s certainly a poet that will stick with me and I can see why Eliot would call him one of the greatest modern poets, because he makes an impact.