Two editions of Fleurs du mal were published in Baudelaire's lifetime — one in 1857 and an expanded edition in 1861. "Scraps" and censored poems were collected in Les Épaves in 1866. After Baudelaire died the following year, a "definitive" edition appeared in 1868.

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Les Petites Vieilles

À Victor Hugo

I

Dans les plis sinueux des vieilles capitales,
Où tout, même l'horreur, tourne aux enchantements,
Je guette, obéissant à mes humeurs fatales,
Des êtres singuliers, décrépits et charmants.

Ces monstres disloqués furent jadis des femmes,
Eponine ou Laïs! Monstres brisés, bossus
Ou tordus, aimons-les! ce sont encor des âmes.
Sous des jupons troués et sous de froids tissus

Ils rampent, flagellés par les bises iniques,
Frémissant au fracas roulant des omnibus,
Et serrant sur leur flanc, ainsi que des reliques,
Un petit sac brodé de fleurs ou de rébus;

Ils trottent, tout pareils à des marionnettes;
Se traînent, comme font les animaux blessés,
Ou dansent, sans vouloir danser, pauvres sonnettes
Où se pend un Démon sans pitié! Tout cassés

Qu'ils sont, ils ont des yeux perçants comme une vrille,
Luisants comme ces trous où l'eau dort dans la nuit;
Ils ont les yeux divins de la petite fille
Qui s'étonne et qui rit à tout ce qui reluit.

— Avez-vous observé que maints cercueils de vieilles
Sont presque aussi petits que celui d'un enfant?
La Mort savante met dans ces bières pareilles
Un symbole d'un goût bizarre et captivant,

Et lorsque j'entrevois un fantôme débile
Traversant de Paris le fourmillant tableau,
Il me semble toujours que cet être fragile
S'en va tout doucement vers un nouveau berceau;

À moins que, méditant sur la géométrie,
Je ne cherche, à l'aspect de ces membres discords,
Combien de fois il faut que l'ouvrier varie
La forme de la boîte où l'on met tous ces corps.

— Ces yeux sont des puits faits d'un million de larmes,
Des creusets qu'un métal refroidi pailleta...
Ces yeux mystérieux ont d'invincibles charmes
Pour celui que l'austère Infortune allaita!

II

De Frascati défunt Vestale enamourée;
Prêtresse de Thalie, hélas! dont le souffleur
Enterré sait le nom; célèbre évaporée
Que Tivoli jadis ombragea dans sa fleur,

Toutes m'enivrent; mais parmi ces êtres frêles
Il en est qui, faisant de la douleur un miel,
Ont dit au Dévouement qui leur prêtait ses ailes:
Hippogriffe puissant, mène-moi jusqu'au ciel!

L'une, par sa patrie au malheur exercée,
L'autre, que son époux surchargea de douleurs,
L'autre, par son enfant Madone transpercée,
Toutes auraient pu faire un fleuve avec leurs pleurs!

III

Ah! que j'en ai suivi de ces petites vieilles!
Une, entre autres, à l'heure où le soleil tombant
Ensanglante le ciel de blessures vermeilles,
Pensive, s'asseyait à l'écart sur un banc,

Pour entendre un de ces concerts, riches de cuivre,
Dont les soldats parfois inondent nos jardins,
Et qui, dans ces soirs d'or où l'on se sent revivre,
Versent quelque héroïsme au coeur des citadins.

Celle-là, droite encor, fière et sentant la règle,
Humait avidement ce chant vif et guerrier;
Son oeil parfois s'ouvrait comme l'oeil d'un vieil aigle;
Son front de marbre avait l'air fait pour le laurier!

IV

Telles vous cheminez, stoïques et sans plaintes,
À travers le chaos des vivantes cités,
Mères au coeur saignant, courtisanes ou saintes,
Dont autrefois les noms par tous étaient cités.

Vous qui fûtes la grâce ou qui fûtes la gloires,
Nul ne vous reconnaît! un ivrogne incivil
Vous insulte en passant d'un amour dérisoire;
Sur vos talons gambade un enfant lâche et vil.

Honteuses d'exister, ombres ratatinées,
Peureuses, le dos bas, vous côtoyez les murs;
Et nul ne vous salue, étranges destinées!
Débris d'humanité pour l'éternité mûrs!

Mais moi, moi qui de loin tendrement vous surveille,
L'oeil inquiet, fixé sur vos pas incertains,
Tout comme si j'étais votre père, ô merveille!
Je goûte à votre insu des plaisirs clandestins:

Je vois s'épanouir vos passions novices;
Sombres ou lumineux, je vis vos jours perdus;
Mon coeur multiplié jouit de tous vos vices!
Mon âme resplendit de toutes vos vertus!

Ruines! ma famille! ô cerveaux congénères!
Je vous fais chaque soir un solennel adieu!
Où serez-vous demain, Eves octogénaires,
Sur qui pèse la griffe effroyable de Dieu?

Charles Baudelaire


Little Old Women

To Victor Hugo

I

In the sinuous folds of the old capitals,
Where all, even horror, becomes pleasant,
I watch, obedient to my fatal whims,
For singular creatures, decrepit and charming.

These disjointed monsters were women long ago,
Eponine or Lais! Monsters, hunch-backed, broken
Or distorted, let us love them! they still have souls.
Clothed in tattered petticoats and flimsy dresses

They creep, lashed by the iniquitous wind,
Trembling at the clatter of the omnibuses,
Each pressing to her side, as if it were a relic,
A small purse embroidered with rebuses or flowers;

They trot exactly like marionettes;
They drag themselves along like wounded animals,
Or dance, against their will, poor little bells
Pulled constantly by a heartless Demon! Broken

Though they are, they have eyes as piercing as gimlets,
That shine like those holes in which water sleeps at night;
They have the divine eyes of little girls
Who are amazed and laugh at everything that gleams.

— Have you observed how frequently coffins
For old women are almost as small as a child's?
Clever Death brings to these similar biers
A symbol of a strange and captivating taste,

And when I catch a glimpse of a feeble specter
Crossing the swarming scene that is Paris,
It always seems to me that that fragile creature
Is going quietly toward a second cradle;

Unless, pondering on geometry,
I try, at the sight of those discordant members,
To figure how many times the workman changes
The shape of the boxes where those bodies are laid.

— Those eyes are wells filled with a million tears,
Crucibles which a quenched metal spangled...
Those mysterious eyes have invincible charms
For one whom austere Misfortune has suckled!

II

Vestal in love with the late Frascati;
High priestess of Thalia, whose name is known
To her buried prompter; vanished celebrity
Whom Tivoli sheltered at the peak of her fame,

They all enrapture me; among those frail beings
There are some who, making honey out of sorrow,
Have said to Devotion who had lent them his wings:
"Powerful hippogriff, carry me to the sky!"

One, inured to misfortune by her fatherland,
Another, overwhelmed with grief by her husband,
Another, a Madonna transfixed by her child,
Each could have made a river with her tears!

III

Ah! how many of these women I have followed!
One, among others, at the hour when the sunset
Makes the sky bloody with vermilion wounds,
Pensive, used to sit alone on a bench

To hear one of those concerts rich in brass,
With which the soldiers sometimes flood our public parks
On those golden evenings when one feels new life within
And which inspire heroism in the townsman's heart.

Proud, still erect, feeling she must sit thus,
She thirstily drank in that stirring, martial song;
Her eyes opened at times like the eyes of an old eagle;
Her marble brow seemed to be made for the laurel!

IV

Thus you trudge along, stoical, uncomplaining,
Amid the confusion of cities full of life,
Mothers with bleeding hearts, courtesans, saints,
Whose names in years gone by were on everyone's lips.

O you who were charming or who were glorious,
None recognizes you! A drunken ruffian
Passing by insults you with an obscene remark;
A dirty, nasty child frisks about at your heels.

Wizened shadows, ashamed of existing,
With bent backs, you timidly keep close to the walls
And no person greets you, strange destinies!
Human wreckage, ripe for eternity!

But I, I watch you tenderly from a distance;
My anxious eyes are fixed on your uncertain steps,
As if I were your own father; how wonderful!
I taste unknown to you clandestine pleasures:

I see your untried passions come into full bloom;
I live your vanished days, gloomy or filled with light;
My heart multiplied enjoys all of your vices!
My soul is resplendent with all of your virtues!

Ruins! my family! O kindred minds!
I bid you each evening a solemn farewell!
Octogenarian Eves, upon whom rests
God's terrible claw, where will you be tomorrow?

— William Aggeler, The Flowers of Evil (Fresno, CA: Academy Library Guild, 1954)


The Little Old Women

To Victor Hugo

I

in sinuous folds of cities old and grim,
Where all things, even horror, turn to grace,
I follow, in obedience to my whim,
Strange, feeble, charming creatures round the place.

These crooked freaks were women in their pride,
Fair Eponine or Lais! Humped and bent,
Love them! Because they still have souls inside.
Under their draughty skirts in tatters rent,

They crawl: a vicious wind their carrion rides;
From the deep roar of traffic see them cower,
Pressing like precious relies to their sides
Some satchel stitched with mottoes or a flower.

They trot like marionettes along the level,
Or drag themselves like wounded deer, poor crones!
Or dance, against their will, as if the devil
Were swinging in the belfry of their bones.

Cracked though they are, their eyes are sharp as drills
And shine, like pools of water in the night, —
The eyes of little girls whom wonder thrills
To laugh at all that sparkles and is bright.

The coffins of old women very often
Are near as small as those of children are.
Wise Death, who makes a symbol of a coffin
Displays a taste both charming and bizarre.

And when I track some feeble phantom fleeing
Through Paris's immense ant-swarming Babel,
I always think that such a fragile being
Is moving softly to another cradle.

Unless, sometimes, in geometric mood,
To see the strange deformities they offer,
I muse how often he who saws the wood
Must change the shape and outline of the coffer.

Those eyes are wells a million teardrops feed,
Crucibles spangled by a cooling ore,
Invincible in charm to all that breed
Austere Misfortune suckled with her lore.

II

Vestal whom old Frascati could enamour:
Thalia's nun, whose name was only known
To her dead prompter: madcap full of glamour
Whom Tivoli once sheltered as its own —

They all elate me. But of these a few,
Of sorrow having made a honeyed leaven,
Say to Devotion, "Lend me wings anew,
O powerful Hippogriff, and fly to heaven."

One for her fatherland a martyr: one
By her own husband wronged beyond belief:
And one a pierced Madonna through her son —
They all could make a river with their grief.

III

Yes, I have followed them, time and again!
One, I recall, when sunset, like a heart,
Bled through the sky from wounds of ruddy stain,
Pensively sat upon a seat apart,

To listen to the music, rich in metal
That's played by bands of soldiers in the parks
On golden, soul-reviving eves, to fettle,
From meek civilian hearts, heroic sparks.

This one was straight and stiff, in carriage regal,
She breathed the warrior-music through her teeth,
Opened her eye like that of an old eagle,
And bared a forehead moulded for a wreath.

IV

Thus, then, you journey, uncomplaining, stoic
Across the strife of modern cities flung,
Sad mothers, courtesans, or saints heroic,
Whose names of old were heard on every tongue,

You once were grace, and you were glory once.
None know you now. Derisory advances
Some drunkard makes you, mixed with worse affronts.
And on your heels a child-tormentor prances.

But I who watch you tenderly: and measure
With anxious eye, your weak unsteady gait
As would a father — get a secret pleasure
On your account, as on your steps I wait.

I see your passionate and virgin crazes;
Sombre or bright, I see your vanished prime;
My soul, resplendent with your virtue, blazes,
And revels in your vices and your crimes.

Poor wrecks! My family! Kindred in mind, you
Receive from me each day my last addresses.
Eighty-year Eves, will yet tomorrow find you
On whom the claw of God so fiercely presses?

— Roy Campbell, Poems of Baudelaire (New York: Pantheon Books, 1952)