Tuesday, 31 May 2016

The Flowers of Evil by Charles Baudelaire

New translation by Anthony Mortimer

Poetry tends to take me out of my comfort zone when reading and so I don’t read a lot of it. I do like to try new things though and I was intrigued by this controversial collection by Charles Baudelaire. 

Condemned in 1857 as offensive to public morality, The Flowers of Evil is now considered one of the most influential volumes of poetry published in the nineteenth century. 

Charles Baudelaire (1821-67) drew on his experiences of life in Paris to examine humanity in all its forms and across a variety of themes including beauty, sex and sensuality, city life and religion. 

The poems are in different forms too; some are mini essays almost or small speeches on a topic whereas others are lilting and lyrical. I preferred the ones that seemed softer and more rhythmic as the words flowed nicer for me which was a nice balance against some of the darker, more serious themes that are explored. 

There were two elements in a lot of the poems that I particularly enjoyed. One was mythological references, which for me provided strong imagery and an element of storytelling. The second one was the sense of smell or references to scents, fragrances or perfume. Although lots of the poems are very descriptive in terms of sights or feelings, there seemed a recurring theme about the power of scents connected to people or events and I really liked the imagery that those olfactory descriptions provided. 

I’m by no means an expert of poetry and I won’t even start to say that I understood everything in this volume. Some of the verses are quite intense and so I dipped in and out of it rather than trying to read it all in one go. 

Published by Alma Books, this translation by Anthony Mortimer (who has also translated the works of authors such as Dante, Villon and Petrarch) is a dual text edition and so has the original French besides the English. My secondary school French was nowhere near up to scratch to take on the French side of things but I’m sure it is just as powerful in its original language. 

A brave and intense volume, I can see why these poems are still being published today and I’d imagine this to be a worthwhile addition to any poetry fan’s collection. 

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