Charles Baudelaire wrote of The Flowers of Evil: “There are in every man at all times two simultaneous impulses: one toward God, the other toward Satan.” Its principal themes of sex and death, created a public scandal. The work was banned for verses then considered obscene and “an insult to public decency.” Six of the poems remained banned until 1949 and shocked the literary world with their outspoken portrayal of lesbian love, linking of sexuality and death, their unremitting irony, and unflinching celebration of the seamy side of urban life.
Today, The Flowers of Evil and Baudelaire are held in great regard. T.S. Eliot considered The Flowers of Evil not only the creation of modernism but also its crowning achievement; he called it “the greatest example of modern poetry in any language.”
CHARLES BAUDELAIRE (1821-1867) was a French poet, art critic and philosopher. He is considered one of the most important innovators, Arthur Rimbaud having called him, “the king of poets, a true God”.
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.