The Flowers of Evil: A Quick Stroll Through the Garden
Les Fleurs du Mal (The Flowers of Evil) by Charles Pierre Baudelaire is considered one of the greatest examples of modern poetry in any language, the new “shudder” of literature.*
It was first published in 1857 and shocked French literary circles with its portrayal of lesbian love, the merging of sexuality and death and its ironic and sordid description of life in Paris during the height of the industrial age.
The book was confiscated by the police and Baudelaire and his publisher were put on trial for offending public decency. As a consequence of the prosecution, Baudelaire was fined 300 francs. Subsequently, the ban was lifted on the condition that six offending poems were excluded from the book. This ban was finally overturned in 1949.
The book, rich and diverse, is arranged into six themes:
· Spleen and Ideal
· Parisians Scenes
· Flowers of Evil
The book sings and celebrates love. It questions the role of evil in humanity. It paints a portrait of Paris over 24 hours from the morning sun to the following day’s twilight; with its ugly geometrical harshness (a little too perfect, a little too bourgeois), celebrating its beggars,
prostitutes, gamblers…the unappealing crumbs of imperialism.
Baudelaire is a poet with highly original style of prose-poetry. He produced notable works as an essayist, art critic, and a pioneering translator of Edgar Allan Poe and he influenced a whole
generation of romantic poets including Rimbaud, Mallarme and Valeriane, among others.
Musical without the rhythm or rhyme, Baudelaire’s masterpiece elevated the art of poetry beyond sounds and words.
A poem can depict the ugly beautifully and portrays the beautiful grotesquely, while serenading the reader with a burden of exquisite sadness.
*Upon reading the Swan from Les Fleurs du Mal, Victor Hugo announced that Baudelaire had
created a new shudder, a new thrill in literature.