That you come from heaven or from hell, who cares,
O Beauty! enormous, frightening, ingenuous monster!
If your eye, your smile, your foot, opens the door
Of an Infinite that I love and have never known?
Charles Baudelaire’s The Flowers of Evil reinvented beauty in the midst of modernity and has deeply influenced the course of world literature since its publication in mid-nineteenth century Paris. With profound irony, moral complexity, and formal virtuosity, Baudelaire’s singular volume speaks in a voice at once caustic and vulnerable, melancholic and humorous, bringing to the surface new depths of psychological and social life through an astonishing variety of poetic forms and styles.
This new translation by poetry scholar Nathan Brown presents precise English versions of Baudelaire’s poems alongside the French text. Brown has carefully preserved the lineation, figurative language, punctuation, and grammatical structures of the original, finally giving us an edition suitable not only for the general reader but also for use by scholars and teachers working in English. Recognized as the most successful translation of The Flowers of Evil by eminent poetry critic Marjorie Perloff, this version of Baudelaire sets a new standard for fidelity to the original and sensitivity to the tone of this central work of modern literature.
Because of the strictness of its external form (metrically formal rhyming stanzas, faithful to the French alexandrine), Les Fleurs du Mal is extraordinarily difficult to translate. I have, over the years, seen and taught many translations, some by celebrated poets, some by leading scholars, but to my eye and ear, Nathan Brown’s is the most successful. His Fleurs du Mal sacrifices only one feature—rhyme—in the interest of fidelity to the poems’ subtleties of tone and their figurative and rhetorical devices. The grammatical constructions, even the punctuation, follow the original closely! It works! Here is a superb translation of one of the great poetic works of Modernism.
— Marjorie Perloff (Sadie Dernham Patek Professor of Humanities Emerita, Stanford University)
Nathan Brown is Associate Professor of English and Canada Research Chair in Poetics at Concordia University, Montréal, where he directs the Centre for Expanded Poetics. He is the author of Rationalist Empiricism: A Theory of Speculative Critique and The Limits of Fabrication: Materials Science, Materialist Poetics. His critical study, Baudelaire’s Shadow: An Essay On Poetic Determination, was also published by MaMa in 2021.