To the Reader (2008)
[Click on the image above to see the view with binoculars.]
The poems [in Flowers of Evil] found a small but appreciative audience, but greater public attention was given to their subject matter. The principal themes of sex and death were considered scandalous, and the book became a by-word for unwholesomeness among mainstream critics of the day. Baudelaire, his publisher, and the printer were successfully prosecuted for creating an offense against public morals. In the poem “Au lecteur” (“To the Reader”) that prefaces Les fleurs du mal, Baudelaire accuses his readers of hypocrisy and of being as guilty of sins and lies as the poet.
—Language is a Virus
Flowers of Evil is perhaps the most influential book of poems of the nineteenth century. The title, like the poems themselves, establishes a dialectic between beauty and sin. A flower usually evokes the beauty of innocence — of nature in fragile, expectant bloom. But, the poet posits, is there not beauty as well in the excesses of nature, in the ugly aspects of being, in an amoral life? Is not even — or especially — the freshest flower always on the verge of decay? Baudelaire adored lust, ennui, and avarice. He opens his collection of poems with an address “To the Reader,” which announces both his own and his addressee’s propensity for falseness: “You — hypocrite reader — my twin — my brother.” Within us all lie the flowers of evil.
Image made with Orca. Post-processed until it became both putrid and sublime.