The Flowers of Evil by Charles Baudelaire

Flowers of EvilFlowers of Evil by Charles Baudelaire
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Baudelaire threw himself a poetry pity party and called it a book. Now, I gather that this book was really ground-breaking at this time; it was maligned for years. Frank writing about sexual assignations, devils, and disillusionment with life, as well as the role of art and the poet in society make an appearance in nearly every poem. Much of what he wrote about was taboo at the time but is de rigueur in our world. He combines traditional poetical structure with these shocking, new subjects in a work that was scandalous when it was published. There are still poems that will appall readers – I’d love to blot The Martyr from my recollection – to say nothing of his scathing attitudes towards sexually assertive women; but overall this book makes me think of Faust. A narrator’s desperate search for meaning and novelty taking them further into depravity, though here Baudelaire doesn’t close the book by sending his poet-narrator to hell for his explorations. Some editions end with The Voyage, an homage to TS Eliot and my favourite piece from the whole book. Not quite the only poem I liked, but almost. My particular edition includes a splash of random poems after The Voyage, but you have to keep those mentally separate from the rest of the work if you’re going to really appreciate the narrator’s travel through his own personal Rubicon. This edition also includes every poem in the original French. Which is great if you’re bilingual but if you bought the book thinking the multiple translations were going to be multiple English translations by different translators so you can get a more refined sense of the original poem without having to learn fluent French you are going to be disappointed. But then once you start getting tired of all these depressing poems rambling on about death and how nobody appreciates poets these days, you’ll be relieved to discover the book is only half as thick as you think because the back end is all French. Always look on the bright side. Perhaps if someone had taught Baudelaire that his book would have been a little more cheerful.

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