The Flowers of Evil

The Flowers of Evil

The Flowers of Evil

The Flowers of Evil

Synopsis

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 tried for offence to public decency. Six 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.

Excerpt

The translator's pleasures and responsibilities are both heady and humbling. Presuming to translate a great poet, Charles Baudelaire, I was poignantly aware that he had not chosen me to be his collaborator, and that he would have no active say in what his work was to become in my hands. My first allegiance, then, is to Baudelaire, to be a colleague in some way worthy of him. But I have another allegiance as well, to the English-speaking reader of poetry, which requires me to produce in ever), case, to the best of my creative ability, a poem that will provide the kind of satisfaction to be gained from reading poetry originally created in English. It is unfortunately true that no translator succeeds in this ambition more than part of the time; still, one tries all of the time. As John Frederick Nims has put it, 'the greatest infidelity is to pass off a bad poem in English as representing a good poem in another language'. I act as a poet when I am devising my translations, and it is as a poet that I hope to serve both Baudelaire and the modern reader.

Can there be too many translations of a poet of central importance like Charles Baudelaire? Perhaps so, but will there ever be enough good ones: accurate and poetic? Each translator necessarily brings himself into the equation, so that in each new version Baudelaire will be found transmuted, not only presented in an alien language, but alloyed with an alien sensibility, no two translations ever being alike. The reader with little or no French who would come to Baudelaire should try several routes--read several translations. As translator I have studied all other translations I have come across, while remaining faithful, I trust, to the voice (or voices) in which I myself can best replicate Baudelaire's poetic effects. As 'modern', as frequently outrageous as Baudelaire is in subject and imagery, he is most often traditional in form. What I've tried most to capture, then, is this tension between modern or romantic subject, and classical form (I oversimplify, but the point must be made), which is for me the wonder of Baudelaire's poetic voice. The translator must attempt in some way, in every poem, to capture this tension: to miss it is to lose Baudelaire, indeed to betray him.

Concerning Baudelaire's formality, all of his poems rhyme, and many are written in the classic, 12-syllable alexandrine line. Here arise two major problems, and matters for decision, for translators into English. Most translators have made their choices and have stuck to them . . .

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