Flowers of Evil


What pairing could be more perfect for Valentine's Day than poetry and flowers? Of course, the flowers here are all from my favorite garden in Pennsylvania, Longwood Gardens. My husband and I traveled to the lush conservatory on a remarkably lovely and bleak February day to enjoy the "soft humidity of plants." Naturally, I brought along my brand new translation of Fleurs du Mal.



The moody Symbolisme francais hardly embodies the stereotype of love poetry-- but then who cares? I like moody poetry, especially in translation, and the smell of petrichor on a rainy day. I'd rather read Baudelaire in a downpour than Rupi Kaur in the sunshine.


Transcendentalists may rapture to the beauties of nature, and I with them, but Baudelaire lives in a world apart-- the lush velvet and rich golds of civilization. For me, the beauty lies in the contrast between the two. "The spear is as beautiful in the throwing as the shield in the act of blocking it" or whatever. One deepens my appreciation of the other.


I first encountered Baudelaire as a translation assignment in my senior year of high school. I was preparing to take a subject test in French, so my instructor assigned me Baudelaire for practice.



Baudelaire’s poetry illustrates the infinite nuance of the French language; it challenges translators to retain all the grandiose ennui implied by the poet. As someone who has wrestled with the language, I recommend the Edna St. Vincent Millay and George Dillion translation. Not only are the translations top notch, but Millay's preface is intelligent and humorous.



Whether you find flowers evil or lovely, I hope you all enjoy your Valentine's Day. Love all things the way you want to love them, in spite of the saccharine holiday vibes.



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