This month marks the 159th anniversary of Charles Baudelaire’s symbolist French poetry masterpiece, Les Fleurs du mal (The Flowers of Evil). T.S. Eliot called it the greatest example of modern poetry in any language. The six poems about death and sex stunned the literary world, and the work was put on trial by the Sûreté Publique (Public Safety) section of the Ministry of the Interior. From the New York Review of Books:
Les Fleurs du mal is so disturbing a book, so spectacular and so patchy, so atrocious as Baudelaire himself said, that readers have always been tempted to avert their eyes from it—to prefer the prose poems, for example, or the intimate journals, or to bury themselves in the wretched, posturing letters in which Baudelaire, early and late, tried to persuade his mother that he really was the little boy she had always wanted, ‘that he was working hard,’ as F. W. J. Hemmings nicely puts it, ‘and would shortly be at the top of the class.’
Baudelaire’s provocative poems also produced some of the most stunning book cover designs and illustrations, which we revisit in our gallery.