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 sexuality and death, its unremitting irony, and its unflinching celebration of the seamy side of urban life. Originally to be called 'The Lesbians', The Flowers of Evil contains the most extraordinary body of love poetry. The poems also pose the question of the role of evil in our lives, of whether there are not external forces working to frustrate human plans and to enlist men and women on appalling or stultifying scenarios not of their own making.
The rendering of Baudelaire's ground-breaking classic into English has been tackled numerous times in various ways since the 19th century. In this version, rather than utilizing rhymed stanzas, free verse or prose, prolific poet and translator Waldrop attempts to capture Baudelaire's ever-elusive tone in versets, paragraphs of "measured prose" similar to those used in the King James Bible. While readers may miss the compression and restraint that line breaks demanded in earlier translations, Waldrop does succeed in approaching Baudelaire's layered irony, at once serious and over-the-top, comic and scandalous. Reading "Like some rake...gumming the brutalized tit of a superannuated whore" , it becomes clear why the French government saw fit to ban some of this work in 1857. At the same time, Baudelaire-the archetypal urban dandy-could see the beauty of a female beggar ("your sickly young body, densely freckled, has a sweetness for this poor poet"), identify himself with the "awkward and ashamed" albatross abused by sailors, and see in a naked lover "the hips of Antiope united with the bust of a beardless boy." Waldrop sounds off on all-things-Baudelaire in an informative introduction. New translations of this seminal poet will continue to surface with each new generation of readers and writers: Waldrop brings a contemporary feels to Baudelaire's most important work.