Do not miss: ‘Les Fleurs du Mal’, by Charles Baudelaire, translated by Aaron Poochigian

If translating sounds like a dusty occupation, you don’t know the fearless work of Aaron Poochigian. This ancient Minnesotan spilled blood at the Guthrie Theater in 2020 with his visceral, contemporary take on an ancient Greek classic: Euripides’ “Les Bacchantes”. Now, with a bold new translation of Charles Baudelaire’s “Les fleurs du mal”, Poochigian is taking on the greatest challenge in modern French literature – and succeeding.

Baudelaire was “the first seer, the king of poets, a true God”, according to his compatriot and fellow bad boy Arthur Rimbaud. A creature from 19th century Paris who frequented the city’s greatest painters; a drug addict and libertine; A fallen Catholic who never gave up fighting with the divine, Baudelaire helped establish a fashion of bohemian excess that continues to this day. He died, little known, at the age of 46, but his artistic influence spread everywhere.

American poets have repeatedly translated this Parisian dandy, as if he were an antidote to our national cult of mutual aid and forced optimism. He was particularly attractive to formalists – Edna St. Vincent Millay, Robert Lowell, Anthony Hecht, Richard Wilbur, Allen Tate, and others – who saw how Baudelaire’s use of traditional rhyme and metric added to the expression of his sordid subjects. Poochigian traces a similar journey through 126 poems, capturing the entirety of Baudelaire’s 1857 masterpiece, which was to be read as a sequence.

This new translation is accompanied by notable trimmings: an expansive introduction by poet Dana Gioia and a personal essay by best-selling novelist Daniel Handler (“Lemony Snicket”). Both texts underline the vast cultural significance of this Parisian writer. Want to read Baudelaire in French? The full text of “Les Fleurs du Mal” is also included.

The evil flowers

By: Charles Baudelaire, translated from French by Aaron Poochigian.

Publisher: Liveright, 400 pages, $ 27.95.


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