The flowers of evil

The flowers of evil refer to a volume of poetry called “les fleurs du mal” written by French poet Charles Baudelaire( 1821-1867).

I could not end a tour to Montparnasse cemetery without showing you one of the most viewed gravestones.

Either the guide books or internet sources all mention this grave or everyone is suddenly gone mad about poetry( I opt for the first). But, it is pretty curious to see the small streams of visitors that come to peer out of curiosity.

Perhaps a part of people’s fascination may be the word “evil”. Baudelaire did not write dainty little poems. Many of his poems talked of the darker side of life including erotica, death and solitude. The poems in the flowers of evil were almost censured at one time by the French government but these charges were dropped

I had read a few of his poems in college in French class and came to a quick conclusion at a younger age that there was little that was happy or light to be found here. I guess you need to be receptive to these types of vibrations.

There are three names; the first, his Step-Father’s, than Baudelaire’s, than finally, his Mother’s. You can see several notes offered to the poet by “fans”.

I wanted to leave you with one poem to give you an idea of how a an entire Baudelaire poem could read like translated in English. These choice is wide and I will leave you with a link if you want to read one of his “saltier” poems.

But, I do like his poem about cats. But, it is not only about a cat, but a “cat woman”.
Here it is in English:

The Cat

Come, my fine cat, against my loving heart;
Sheathe your sharp claws, and settle.
And let my eyes into your pupils dart
Where agate sparks with metal.

Now while my fingertips caress at leisure
Your head and wiry curves,
And that my hand’s elated with the pleasure
Of your electric nerves,

I think about my woman — how her glances
Like yours, dear beast, deep-down
And cold, can cut and wound one as with lances;

Then, too, she has that vagrant
And subtle air of danger that makes fragrant
Her body, lithe and brown.

— Roy Campbell, Poems of Baudelaire (New York: Pantheon Books, 1952)

You can find more poems in English at: http://fleursdumal.org/toc_alphabetical.php

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4 thoughts on “The flowers of evil

  1. Fabulous post, Barbara!

    “Many of his poems talked of the darker side of life including erotica, death and solitude. The poems in the flowers of evil were almost censured at one time by the French government but these charges were dropped.”

    WOW! Even though his poems talked of the darker side, I still find this so fascinating. I believe we each have dark and light within us, so I guess this guy used his poetry to express primarily his dark side.

    Thank you so much for sharing this, my friend!

    LOVED the poem!

    XO

  2. Hi Ronnie,

    Many people would be fascinated by such a poet. I have read some of his poems. I am not shocked but they usually do bring me down. I believe that there was a lot of personal suffering. Baudelaire lost his father at a young age and had never liked his father-in-law. If that won’t screw you up as a child.

    You are so welcome. That poem must be one of the most beautiful hommages to cats… and the feline side of somen!

    Enjoy your trip on the darker side(hehehe).
    xo

  3. I know his poems in French but reading an English translation was interesting! I can’t imagine how hard it must have been to translate… and the result is excellent. A different vibe but the heart is here.

  4. Salut Zhu,
    Yes! The English translations are supurb. I spent long moments admiring the choice of imagery. Since I translate, I can only be in sheer admiration of such tiny masterpieces.
    Nothing ever replaces the music and feeling of the original. I can guarentee you that if I was in a mood to read, say Spleen, on a gloomy day, it would be in French. Point à la ligne. 🙂
    Bises x

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