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The Baudelaire Project (Poems from Les Fleurs du Mal)

posted Jul 29, 2010, 9:57 AM by James Mah   [ updated Jul 30, 2010, 12:06 PM ]

The Baudelaire Project (Poems from Les Fleurs du Mal)

Drypoint of a portrait of Baudelaire from a painting by Emile Deroy, 1844

The Baudelaire Project is conceived as an artist's book of selected poems, translated by myself and illustrated with original prints, to be bound and issued in an edition of no more than ten copies. The project is a result of the confluence of my interest in fine books, in French poetry and in printmaking.

I first started to read French poetry in order to improve my pronunciation, as the rhymes provided valuable clues as to how certain words are pronounced. Quite soon, I discovered that I enjoyed simply reading and appreciating the poems in their original language. I was reading mostly 19th century material because almost all of the poems from that period rhymed, so it was in such an anthology that I was introduced to Baudelaire, who stood out from the rest, as his poems carried a ring of modernity to them even though they were all written before 1860. Probably more important was that for me, many of Baudelaire's poems had a delicious musicality that stuck in the mind.

At that point, I purchased a volume of Les Fleurs du Mal with parallel French original and English translation on facing pages. On reading the translations, I found that in most cases, they did not match the construct of the poems that had entrenched themselves in my mind's ear. The musicality that I found so delicious was in fact missing. Even though this particular volume was published only in the early 1960s, (at a remove of only one generation from myself) the translations, although there were some fine passages, on the whole did not satisfy me in terms of what I thought the poems could be in English. I concluded that Baudelaire's poems have a universality that each generation must reinterpret for themselves, and it was at that point that I decided to try my hand at translating some of the poems for myself in order to clarify what I thought I had found it them. 

Drypoint of Momento Mori