This translation of Baudelaire's magnum opus, perhaps the most powerful and influential book of verse from the 19th century, won the American Book Award for Translation. And the honor was well-deserved, for this is one of Richard Howard's greatest efforts. It's all here: a timeless translation, the complete French text, and Mazur's striking black and white monotypes in one elegant edition.
Baudelaire speaks to the senses the way Whitman speaks to word lovers, the way a spoken word piece sinks into its audience. His verses have a lasting presence.
I would definitely recommend this edition to first time readers of Baudelaire. I enjoyed reading in French but it was interesting to have the English versions as well to see if there was a trade-off in meaning or overall feel.
The words and messages seem fairly simplistic. Baudelaire has his moments, but they were way too infrequent. His subject matter was also simplistic, which tended to result in rather course poems, instead of uplifting common language to a higher plain. The Parisian Scenes and Death sections were the highlights and do have some interesting ideas worth exploring.
Overall, this was a book worth reading (and re-reading), but I don't think the potential of some of Baudelaire's ideas were fully realized.
As worms attack a corpse within a vault.
It's an interesting reflection that poems explicitly about necrophilia weren't banned upon publication, but those about, or even hinting at, lesbianism were. A man's pleasures were seemingly more acceptable, however depraved.
It's not all about sex though (ok, a lot of it is!), and Baudelaire also tackles art and artists, love and romance, depression and, well, more depression, the inequalities of society, and the lives of the poor and wretched inhabitants of Paris's deprived urban landscapes away from the bright lights of the cafes and salons of the bourgeoisie.
A slightly unsettling 5/5 🌟
Drawn as by a magnet's force,
Turn tamely back upon that appeal,
And when I look within myself,
I notice with astonishment
The fire of his opal eyes,
Clear beacons glowing, living jewels,
Taking my measure, steadily.
My (initial) amateur assessment is that the translation is to blame for my absence of astonishment. There's no way this could be the same genius who gave us Paris Spleen. Maybe I am but confused. Maybe the threads which shriek decay and ennui were of inadequate weight. Maybe my own disposition suffers from dread and I was left with a meh?
Perhaps I am inadequate. Perhaps I should pursue other editions and translators. I loved the allusion of street sweeps herding their storms. I love the self-deprecation. I just wanted more. Not the Absolute but more--on which to chew.
My policy is not to give a rating for a book I can't finish. After about a poem and a half, I gave up on this one. I will admit that difficult, translated poetry may not be the most suitable thing to listen to as an audiobook, especially if you aren't reading the text at the same time, but I still feel pretty certain that Douglas Harvey's narration is about as sub-par as it gets. I could have done a better job myself. Avoid, avoid, avoid.