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Review: Selected Poems from Les Fleurs du Mal, by Charles Baudelaire

In proposing these new translations of selected poems from Les Fleurs du Mal, Jan Owen has risen to the challenge of bringing us a Baudelaire who remains our brother, despite the intervals in time and conventions of emotional tenor: reminding us of an intensity of living which is also ours, even when we choose to look away from it. The resultant poems are a marvel, both technically and in the empathy for their content demonstrated by each choice of word and phrase. The extent to which they succeed underlines the necessary kinship, also, between the translator and the poet she renders.


Owen's musicality, technical facility and her sheer inventiveness in finding ways to echo, if not to mirror, Baudelaire's content and form in sonnets and other taut forms are one sure sign of her kinship.


The success of these translations may be judged by their rendering of the most celebrated poems, such as The Albatross, Correspondences, The Voyage, Meditation: Owen does not falter on any of these poems. Her Correspondences is the most delightful translation of that poem I have read; she is bold, here also, leaning on her affinity with the poet to judge when a changed expression is nonetheless a fine equivalent.


Read these translations for their boldness, yet affinity with a great poet; and read them for the impish joy that here and there comes through in a slangy choice of words, which, perfectly musical, gives the poems a new and contemporary voice.