The Flowers of Evil as translated by Aaron Poochigian

On the 200th anniversary of Baudelaire’s birth comes this stunning landmark translation of the book that launched modern poetry.

Flowers of Evil has always been part of my life since my college days. That is where most people get to hear about Charles Baudelaire. I own various translations of Flowers of Evil. Being fluent in French poses no issue for me to read the book in French, however, Aaron Poochigian‘s translation shines the prose to a more modern contemporary tone. I am really excited about getting this version of Baudelaire’s classic book. It’s a great testament that Flowers of Evil still continues to influence poets. I found myself reading Flowers of Evil even more in COVID times. The dark and sombre themes run through once again in our present time. It’s not every day I get excited about a translation but after hearing Aaron Poochigian’s passion for Baudelaire on Jacke Wilson’s podcast The History of Literature has me sold. The History of Literature Podcast covers everything from the Epic of Gilgamesh to contemporary classics. I highly recommend you buy The Flowers of Evil translated by Aaron Poochigian.

No One Here Gets Out Alive by Jerry Hopkins and Daniel Sugerman was the first place I heard of Charles Baudelaire. The Doors’ “End of the Night” to Baudelaire’s “Death of the Poor” The former finds Morrison crooning:

Realms of bliss, realms of light
Some are born to sweet delight
Some are born to sweet delight
Some are born to the endless night

In the latter, Baudelaire declares:

It is death who gives us life in excitation
It is the end of life, the one hope, the one delight
That, divine elixir, is our Intoxication
And which gives us the heart to follow the endless night

The American poet Dana Gioia calls Charles Baudelaire “the first modern poet,” adding “In both style and content, his provocative, alluring, and shockingly original work shaped and enlarged the imagination of later poets, not only in his native France but across Europe and the Americas.” In this episode, acclaimed translator and poet Aaron Poochigian joins Jacke to talk about his new translation of Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du mal, or The Flowers of Evil.

Known to his contemporaries primarily as an art critic, but ambitious to secure a more lasting literary legacy, Charles Baudelaire, a Parisian bohemian, spent much of the 1840s composing gritty, often perverse, poems that expressed his disgust with the banality of modern city life.

First published in 1857, the book that collected these poems together, Les Fleurs du mal, was an instant sensation—earning Baudelaire plaudits and, simultaneously, disrepute. Only a year after Gustave Flaubert had endured his own public trial for published indecency (for Madame Bovary), a French court declared Les Fleurs du mal an offence against public morals and six poems within it were immediately suppressed (a ruling that would not be reversed until 1949, nearly a century after Baudelaire’s untimely death). Subsequent editions expanded on the original, including new poems that have since been recognized as Baudelaire’s masterpieces, producing a body of work that stands as the most consequential, controversial, and influential book of poetry from the nineteenth century.

Acclaimed translator and poet Aaron Poochigian tackles this revolutionary text with an ear attuned to Baudelaire’s lyrical innovations—rendering them in “an assertive blend of full and slant rhymes and fluent iambs” (A. E. Stallings)—and an intuitive feel for the work’s dark and brooding mood. Poochigian’s version captures the incantatory, almost magical, the effect of the original—reanimating for today’s reader Baudelaire’s “unfailing vision” that “trumpeted the space and light of the future” (Patti Smith).

An introduction by Dana Gioia offers a probing reassessment of the supreme artistry of Baudelaire’s masterpiece, and an afterword by Daniel Handler explores its continued relevance and appeal. Featuring the poems in English and French, this deluxe dual-language edition allows readers to commune both with the original poems and with these electric, revelatory translations.

Aaron Poochigian has published four books of poetry, including American Divine, which won the 2020 Richard Wilbur Poetry Award, and several translations. He lives in New York.