Antonomasia's Reviews > Flowers of Evil / Les Fleurs du Mal

Flowers of Evil /  Les Fleurs du Mal by Charles Baudelaire
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it was amazing
bookshelves: poetry, aesthetes-decadents-and-romantics, c19th, france, 2013, favourites, lgbtq, francophonie

translated by Edna St. Vincent Millay & George Dillon

It's outrageous that this wonderful translation is out of print.
After looking at many versions (including Richard Howard, James McGowan, and Cyril Scott who was my second favourite) this was the only one with truly good poems which replicated the original structures and had the glittering night-magic of Baudelaire's sensual, sinister, romantic, gothic wonderland. Which would of course have something to do with one of the translators herself being a distinguished poet.

These are poetic translations rather than ones designed to reproduce the exact meanings line-by-line, but for the non-academic reader I think they are by far the most satisfying as poetry.

Female characters seem stronger than in other translations, undoubtedly Millay's work. One commentator in a source I now can't find says that in her translation of Baudelaire's women - often passive in the original - she finds a powerful active voice she only rarely displayed in her own poems.

I've taken a long time to finish Les Fleurs du Mal but this was largely because I despaired of how to describe Baudelaire's verse, something quite beyond my powers, and kept being distracted from reading by trying to find (im)possible phrases.

Some of the translations from this edition can be found here, with a bit of patience, clicking and scrolling.
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Quotes Antonomasia Liked

Charles Baudelaire
“I love to watch the fine mist of the night come on,
The windows and the stars illumined, one by one,
The rivers of dark smoke pour upward lazily,
And the moon rise and turn them silver. I shall see
The springs, the summers, and the autumns slowly pass;
And when old Winter puts his blank face to the glass,
I shall close all my shutters, pull the curtains tight,
And build me stately palaces by candlelight.”
Charles Baudelaire, Les Fleurs du Mal


Reading Progress

April 17, 2013 – Started Reading
April 17, 2013 – Shelved
April 17, 2013 –
0.0% "Now I remember why I didn't read this when I was much younger: translated poetry always exasperates me. The French sounds gorgeous and makes pretty pictures in my head but I don't understand every word. Perhaps I should just read that instead.\n Or read both original and translation which means the book isn't half its page-length after all. :("
June 3, 2013 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-4 of 4 (4 new)

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message 1: by Alex (new) - added it

Alex Sarll Had no idea Millay had translated these! Given I love both, I shall have to keep an eye out (I find reading poetry on a screen something of a trial).


message 2: by Antonomasia (last edited Jun 03, 2013 04:44AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Antonomasia I was lucky to find a very reasonably priced paperback on Amazon marketplace (sold by someone who was herself a published poet!) but sadly the only copies on there just now are £40 and in America.

Which of Millay's own poems / collections would you recommend?


message 3: by Alex (new) - added it

Alex Sarll I only have a Selected, picked up when I first heard about her, and I can't even remember the name of the volume (or the period) from which my favourites come. The lines 'What lips my lips have kissed' and 'She has more hair than she needs' should take you to my two favourites via some corner or other of the net.


Antonomasia Thank you! Renascence & Other Poems was free for the Kindle (they also have A Few Figs from Thistles) but I know next to nothing about her.


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