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The Flowers of Evil by Charles Baudelaire Summary
The Flowers of Evil (1857) is a collection of poems by Charles Baudelaire. Translated into English by Cyril Scott in 1909, Baudelaire’s poems remain lively and idiosyncratic nearly two centuries after they came into existence. Comprised mostly of sonnets and short lyrics, The Flowers of Evil captures Baudelaire’s sense of the changing role of the poet in modern life. Rather than focus on beauty and other ideals, Baudelaire explores the totality of human experience—the good, bad, and ugly of life on earth. “When by the changeless Power of a Supreme Decree / The poet issues forth upon this sorry sphere, / His mother, horrified, and full of blasphemy, / Uplifts her voice to God, who takes compassion on her.” In his opening benediction, Baudelaire reverses the typical trope of invoking the muses or celebrating poetry as a divine gift. Instead, he depicts the poet as a being cursed, a “hideous Child of Doom.” Childhood for Baudelaire is a subject of particular interest, a time described, in his poem “The Enemy,” as “a ravaging storm, / Enlivened at times by a brilliant sun...” The youthful experience of melancholy clearly informs the poet’s outlook as an adult: “Time devours our lives, / And the enemy black, which consumeth our hearts / On the blood of our bodies, increases and thrives!” While much of Baudelaire’s work deals with darkness and despair, his poems can rise to the heights of celebration and ecstasy, his voice soft and sweet as he invites his sister on a journey to an imagined land of “order and loveliness, / Luxury, calm and voluptuousness.” Ultimately, Baudelaire’s vision—however irreverent—is guided by truth and morality, which drive him on a torturous path from good to evil, beauty to death, and back. With a beautifully designed cover and professionally typeset manuscript, this edition of The Flowers of Evil is a classic of French literature reimagined for modern readers.