Monday, July 30, 2007

Les Fleurs du Mal is an incredible and exhaustive site. It contains everything you’d want to read by Charles Baudelaire – both the original French and a variety of English translations for each poem. I’ve just found the site and have read a few poems. It’s definitely one to bookmark.

The site is great for reference. However, I prefer paper. I can’t read any more than a few poems at a time on a computer screen. I don't know what it is, but I find it hard to concentrate on poems online. Often, if I really like a poem I find on the Internet, I'll print it out to read it properly.

Can anyone help by pointing me to the best book collection of English translations of Baudelaire?


Anonymous said...

I really like Richard Howard's 'Fleurs du Mal':

Though I don't have any other complete translations on my shelf to compare it with, I'm sure I did a spot-check comparison in the book shop between the same handful of poems in all books available before going for this one.

Complete English & French texts. Here's the first four stanzas of his 'To the Reader':

Stupidity, delusion, selfishness and lust
torment our bodies and possess our minds,
and we sustain our affable remorse
the way a beggar nourishes his lice.

Our sins are stubborn, our contrition lame;
we want our scruples to be worth our while --
how cheerfully we crawl back to the mire:
a few cheap tears will wash our stains away!

Satan Trismegistus subtly rocks
our ravished spirits on his wicked bed
until the precious metal of our will
is leached out by this cunning alchemist:

the Devil's hand directs our every move --
the things we loathed become the things we love;
day by day we drop through stinking shades
quite undeterred on our descent to Hell.


Anonymous said...

Link is too long to work: try


Anonymous said...

... though Lowell's 'version' is in a different class I think:

Infatuation, sadism, lust, avarice
possess our souls and drain the body's force;
we spoonfeed our adorable remorse,
like whores or beggars nourishing their lice.

Our sins are mulish, our confessions lies;
we play to the grandstand with our promises,
we pray for tears to wash our filthiness;
importantly pissing hogwash through our styes.

The devil, watching by our sickbeds, hissed
old smut and folk-songs to our soul, until
the soft and precious metal of our will
boiled off in vapor for this scientist.

Each day his flattery makes us eat a toad,
and each step forward is a step to hell,
unmoved, through previous corpses and their smell
asphyxiate our progress on this road.


Anonymous said...

Although hasn't transcribed the Lowell quite right. Should be:

Each day his flattery makes us eat a toad,
and each step forward is a step to hell,
unmoved, though previous corpses and their smell
asphyxiate our progress on this road.

And it's a comma after 'filthiness' in stanza 2, not a semi-colon.


Rob said...

Thanks, Andy. I found a secondhand copy of Howard's translations at amazon. I'll take a look in town and compare a few translations in case there's anything that appeals to me more, but Howard seems good.

The Lowell is something else. I mean:

"Each day his flattery makes us eat a toad,"

where on earth did that come from?!

Anonymous said...

It came from a bad place ...

He should have taken Ron Burgundy's advice:

"There's only one thing a man can do when he's suffering from a spiritual and existential funk ... buy new suits!"

I can imagine Brick eating a toad on a daily basis ...

Anonymous said...

A bit late perhaps, but there is an Oxford World's Classics version , translated by James McGowan, which I find reasonable. McGowan keeps the verse pattern of Baudelaire and his translations are tolerably faithful to the original.

Rob said...

Gill, you're not too late, as I haven't bought anything yet. I've glanced at that version. It looks OK too. Whether I want the rhymes, or whether I want the greater accuracy that might come from not having them - I'm not sure.

Anonymous said...

I've got the McGowan translation. In his preface he says "As 'modern' Baudelaire is in subject and imagery, he is most often traditional in form. What I've tried most to capture, then, is this tension between modern or romantic subject, and classical form".

Unfortunately, his emphasis on form sacrifices a lot of the original. He leaves out entire clauses, substitutes images with something 'workable' but far less vivid in order to fit the rhyme and metre, and so on.


Rob said...

DF, yes, I noticed in one rhyming translation, which may have been McGowan's (can't remember for sure), that whereas Howard in S4 has:

day by day we drop through stinking shades

and Lowell's version has:

...through previous corpses and their smell

the rhyming version had something about falling through a dark stench, which didn't quite get to the point that he's moving through the dead, those who've walked the same path before him. That seemed like a big miss to me.