Poe and Baudelaire

Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849) American author, poet, editor, literary critic. [image via wikipedia]

Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849) American author, poet, editor, literary critic. [image via wikipedia]

In celebration of Edgar Allan Poe’s birthday this past Sunday, I revisited Baudelaire’s translation of Poe’s The Raven.

Between 1852 and 1865, Charles Baudelaire translated a lot of Poe’s works, especially his short fiction.  In fact, he was one of the reasons Poe’s works became renown and admired in Europe.  Although the two men never met, Baudelaire believed that he had met a kindred spirit in Poe.

Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867) French poet, essayist, art critic and translator. [Photo by Nadar via Wikipedia]

Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867) French poet, essayist, art critic and translator. [Photo by Nadar via Wikipedia]

My copy of Baudelaire’s translation of The Raven is a bilingual edition illustrated by Hamiru Aqi. I love the drawings as well as having the two poets’ words side by side.





Poe’s famous first lines:



and Baudelaire’s translation:




“To elevate the soul, poetry is necessary.”  Edgar Allan Poe



65 thoughts on “Poe and Baudelaire

  1. wonderful. French and English are so different in feeling…same meanings, more or less the same words but the English is almost abrupt compared to the French. Our language is made for people who like to get to the point. French is…not. I like the pictures too.

  2. A special book for sure. I don’t read enough classics–in fact, it’s been quite some time since I have (though my book club will be reading A Tale of Two Cities this spring, so that will give me a chance to revisit that wonderful book). But I’d love to go back and revisit some of Poe’s stuff, too. I only read a bit of his in high school, which is a shame to admit!

    • Poe’s short stories are worth rereading, especially for a thriller writer; some of them are quite bone chilling. I wonder if people are often put off reading or rereading classics as adults because of their introduction to them as children in school. Perhaps by a bad teacher who made a certain book or author incredibly dull (I’ve had my share). Or maybe it’s just that there are new books to read. So many books, so little time!

      • That’s a good point about the initial introduction to classics. In high school and college, reading is always disrupted to talk about this; dissect that; write a report on that, etc. Of course, that’s necessary to learn, and I loved my lit courses, but sometimes you just want to read a book and leave it at that. 🙂

  3. It must be tough to translate poetry, to get the rhymes and the rhythms in there. They might even have to be kindred souls for it to truly work. Poetry is a magical kind of language because it does elevate the soul more than any other kind of writing. You’re making me want to read The Raven again – perfect for a snow day!

  4. I was just over at Fiction Fan’s Tuesday Terror post saying that I prefer Poe when I want to feel scared. I will say it again! But the comment about French is priceless. I only have high school French and haven’t used it it years. I miss hearing it spoken.

  5. Letizia. I wish I had your command of the Romance languages. But in any language Poe is a talent. A fine Southerner who’s talent has few equals. His private life left a lot to be desired, but that’s true on many of us. Wonderful post.

  6. Not much of a classics gal myself, but you can’t knock Poe…that’s for sure! I really love those drawings, especially the feathers. I’ve had a pair of feather earrings in my wardrobe consistently for the past five years. Love them!

  7. “Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
    Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortals ever dared to dream before.” Edgar Allan Poe, The Raven

    Edgar Allen Poe’s stories are chilling indeed!! And I find them even more chilling when I listen to someone read them aloud! You have a treasure in that edition!!!

    Your post reminded me that we need each other to tell the story. That there are connections that create synergies that allow a greater flow of knowledge and experience.

  8. I always enjoyed Poe growing up, but it has been so long since I read any of his works. Thank you for the reminder. I am not as familiar with Baudelaire, but my hat is off to him for translating one of America’s finest. 🙂

    • Baudelaire is worth exploring when you get a chance. His most famous work is Les Fleurs du Mal (I suppose its The Flowers of Evil in English?). Quite different from Poe although perhaps stemming from the same emotions?

  9. I am reading Poe right now, maybe it was because of his birthday ha! Love the post had to share it on Facebook, I love illustrated poem books, they are my weakness, cannot say no to one. I do not have this one, but will look for it now ;). Funny I was going to do a post about illustrated books, but I am too lazy because is cold, so I am reading.

    • That’s the great thing about these anniversaries – it reminds us to revisit these wonderful authors.

      Thanks for sharing the post on FB! I hope you get this edition, it’s so lovely that I keep it displayed on my desk.

      I look forward to reading a post on illustrated books from you when it gets warmer, haha!

  10. A couple of months ago, I was in a seminar where we traced how Baudelaire became better and better at translating Poe. One of the books we read was also a bilingual edition: http://www.amazon.fr/Double-assassinat-dans-rue-Morgue/dp/2070394913/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1391122243&sr=8-1&keywords=bilingue+double+assassinat+dans+la+rue+morgue

    This book, of course, isn’t nearly as nice as yours! Thank you for the post. Will be coming back regularly. 🙂

    • I don’t have that particular translation, thanks for leading me to it. That seminar must have been so interesting, to see Baudelaire’s evolution as a translator (even the beauty of the imperfections!).

  11. Baltimore Ravens are named in honor of Edgar Allan Poe’s poem. Looks like the lucky bird got a lot of free publicity! Let’s not forget Poe’s cat either, who I guess is equally famous 🙂

  12. “To elevate the soul, poetry is necessary.” Edgar Allan Poe
    Excellent post… I found that Baudelaire´s translation hits many points but misses the rhyme, the assonance and dissonance and the music of onomatopeia…
    But, one thing is sure: both Baudelaire and Poe are magnificient… Thanks for sharing, Letizia,

    Aquileana 🙂

    • Translating poetry is so tricky, it’s true. I agree, Baudelaire’s translation works well in some respects but not in others. But he also adds something to the original as well. And, as you point out, both are great. Thanks for dropping by and commenting 🙂

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