Self Portrait by Charles Baudelaire

Charles Baudelaire's
Fleurs du mal / Flowers of Evil

Au Lecteur

La sottise, l'erreur, le péché, la lésine,
Occupent nos esprits et travaillent nos corps,
Et nous alimentons nos aimables remords,
Comme les mendiants nourrissent leur vermine.

Nos péchés sont têtus, nos repentirs sont lâches;
Nous nous faisons payer grassement nos aveux,
Et nous rentrons gaiement dans le chemin bourbeux,
Croyant par de vils pleurs laver toutes nos taches.

Sur l'oreiller du mal c'est Satan Trismégiste
Qui berce longuement notre esprit enchanté,
Et le riche métal de notre volonté
Est tout vaporisé par ce savant chimiste.

C'est le Diable qui tient les fils qui nous remuent!
Aux objets répugnants nous trouvons des appas;
Chaque jour vers l'Enfer nous descendons d'un pas,
Sans horreur, à travers des ténèbres qui puent.

Ainsi qu'un débauché pauvre qui baise et mange
Le sein martyrisé d'une antique catin,
Nous volons au passage un plaisir clandestin
Que nous pressons bien fort comme une vieille orange.

Serré, fourmillant, comme un million d'helminthes,
Dans nos cerveaux ribote un peuple de Démons,
Et, quand nous respirons, la Mort dans nos poumons
Descend, fleuve invisible, avec de sourdes plaintes.

Si le viol, le poison, le poignard, l'incendie,
N'ont pas encor brodé de leurs plaisants dessins
Le canevas banal de nos piteux destins,
C'est que notre âme, hélas! n'est pas assez hardie.

Mais parmi les chacals, les panthères, les lices,
Les singes, les scorpions, les vautours, les serpents,
Les monstres glapissants, hurlants, grognants, rampants,
Dans la ménagerie infâme de nos vices,

II en est un plus laid, plus méchant, plus immonde!
Quoiqu'il ne pousse ni grands gestes ni grands cris,
Il ferait volontiers de la terre un débris
Et dans un bâillement avalerait le monde;

C'est l'Ennui! L'oeil chargé d'un pleur involontaire,
II rêve d'échafauds en fumant son houka.
Tu le connais, lecteur, ce monstre délicat,
— Hypocrite lecteur, — mon semblable, — mon frère!

Charles Baudelaire

To the Reader

Folly, error, sin, avarice
Occupy our minds and labor our bodies,
And we feed our pleasant remorse
As beggars nourish their vermin.

Our sins are obstinate, our repentance is faint;
We exact a high price for our confessions,
And we gaily return to the miry path,
Believing that base tears wash away all our stains.

On the pillow of evil Satan, Trismegist,
Incessantly lulls our enchanted minds,
And the noble metal of our will
Is wholly vaporized by this wise alchemist.

The Devil holds the strings which move us!
In repugnant things we discover charms;
Every day we descend a step further toward Hell,
Without horror, through gloom that stinks.

Like a penniless rake who with kisses and bites
Tortures the breast of an old prostitute,
We steal as we pass by a clandestine pleasure
That we squeeze very hard like a dried up orange.

Serried, swarming, like a million maggots,
A legion of Demons carouses in our brains,
And when we breathe, Death, that unseen river,
Descends into our lungs with muffled wails.

If rape, poison, daggers, arson
Have not yet embroidered with their pleasing designs
The banal canvas of our pitiable lives,
It is because our souls have not enough boldness.

But among the jackals, the panthers, the bitch hounds,
The apes, the scorpions, the vultures, the serpents,
The yelping, howling, growling, crawling monsters,
In the filthy menagerie of our vices,

There is one more ugly, more wicked, more filthy!
Although he makes neither great gestures nor great cries,
He would willingly make of the earth a shambles
And, in a yawn, swallow the world;

He is Ennui! — His eye watery as though with tears,
He dreams of scaffolds as he smokes his hookah pipe.
You know him reader, that refined monster,
— Hypocritish reader, — my fellow, — my brother!

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

To the Reader

Folly and error, avarice and vice,
Employ our souls and waste our bodies' force.
As mangey beggars incubate their lice,
We nourish our innocuous remorse.

Our sins are stubborn, craven our repentance.
For our weak vows we ask excessive prices.
Trusting our tears will wash away the sentence,
We sneak off where the muddy road entices.

Cradled in evil, that Thrice-Great Magician,
The Devil, rocks our souls, that can't resist;
And the rich metal of our own volition
Is vaporised by that sage alchemist.

The Devil pulls the strings by which we're worked:
By all revolting objects lured, we slink
Hellwards; each day down one more step we're jerked
Feeling no horror, through the shades that stink.

Just as a lustful pauper bites and kisses
The scarred and shrivelled breast of an old whore,
We steal, along the roadside, furtive blisses,
Squeezing them, like stale oranges, for more.

Packed tight, like hives of maggots, thickly seething
Within our brains a host of demons surges.
Deep down into our lungs at every breathing,
Death flows, an unseen river, moaning dirges.

If rape or arson, poison, or the knife
Has wove no pleasing patterns in the stuff
Of this drab canvas we accept as life —
It is because we are not bold enough!

Amongst the jackals, leopards, mongrels, apes,
Snakes, scorpions, vultures, that with hellish din,
Squeal, roar, writhe, gambol, crawl, with monstrous shapes,
In each man's foul menagerie of sin —

There's one more damned than all. He never gambols,
Nor crawls, nor roars, but, from the rest withdrawn,
Gladly of this whole earth would make a shambles
And swallow up existence with a yawn...

Boredom! He smokes his hookah, while he dreams
Of gibbets, weeping tears he cannot smother.
You know this dainty monster, too, it seems —
Hypocrite reader! — You! — My twin! — My brother!

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

To the Reader

Folly, error, sin and avarice
Occupy our minds and waste our bodies,
And we feed our polite remorse
As beggars feed their lice.

Our sins are stubborn, our repentance is cowardly;
We ask high prices for our vows,
And we gaily return to the muddy road,
Believing we will wash away all our spots with vile tears.

On the pillow of evil it is Thrice-Great Satan
Who endlessly rocks our bewitched mind,
And the rich metal of our will
Is vaporized by that wise chemist.

It is the Devil who pulls the strings that move us!
In repulsive objects we find enticing lures;
Each day we go down one more step toward Hell,
Without horror, through the darkness which smells rank.

Just as a lustful pauper who kisses and bites
The martyred breast of an aged whore,
We steal, as we move along, a clandestine pleasure
Which we squeeze hard like an old orange.

Packed tight and swarming like a million maggots,
A crowd of Demons carouse in our brains,
And, when we breathe, Death into our lungs
Descends, an invisible river, with heavy wailings.

If rape, poison, the knife and arson
Have not yet woven with their pleasing patterns
The banal canvas of our pitiful fate,
It is because our soul, alas, is not bold enough.

But among the jackals, panthers, bitches,
Monkeys, scorpions, vultures, serpents,
The monsters squealing, yelling, grunting, crawling
In the infamous menagerie of our vices

There is one uglier, more wicked and more foul than all!
Although he does not make great gestures or great cries,
He would gladly make the earth a shambles
And swallow the world in a yawn;

It is boredom! his eyes weeping an involuntary tear,
He dreams of gibbets as he smokes his hookah.
You know him, reader, this delicate monster,
— Hypocrite reader — my twin — my brother!

— Wallace Fowlie, Flowers of Evil (New York: Dover Publications, 1964)

To the Reader

Folly and error, sin and avarice,
Labor our minds and bodies in their course,
Blithely we nourish pleasurable remorse
As beggars feed their parasitic lice.

Our sins are stubborn, our repentance faint,
We sell our weak confessions at high price,
Returning gaily to the bogs of vice,
Thinking base tears can cleanse our every taint.

Pillowed on evil, Satan Trismegist
Ceaselessly cradles our enchanted mind,
The flawless metal of our will we find
Volatilized by this rare alchemist.

The Devil holds the puppet threads; and swayed
By noisome things and their repugnant spell,
Daily we take one further step toward Hell,
Suffering no horror in the olid shade.

As an impoverished rake will kiss and bite
The bruised blue nipples of an ancient whore,
We steal clandestine pleasures by the score,
Which, like dried orange rinds, we pressure tight.

Serried, aswarm, like million maggots, so
Demons carouse in us with fetid breath,
And, when we breathe, the unseen stream of death
Flows down our lungs with muffled wads of woe.

If poison, knife, rape, arson, have not dared
Yet stamp the pleasing pattern of their gyves
On the dull canvas of our sorry lives,
It is because our torpid souls are scared.

But side by side with our monstrosities —
Jackals and bitch hounds, scorpions, vultures, apes,
Panthers and serpents whose repulsive shapes
Pollute our vice's dank menageries,

There is one viler and more wicked spawn,
Which never makes great gestures or loud cries
Yet would turn earth to wastes of sumps and sties
And swallow all creation in a yawn:

Ennui! Moist-eyed perforce, worse than all other,
Dreaming of stakes, he smokes his hookah pipe.
Reader, you know this fiend, refined and ripe,
Reader, O hypocrite — my like! — my brother!

— Jacques LeClercq, Flowers of Evil (Mt Vernon, NY: Peter Pauper Press, 1958)

To the Reader

Infatuation, sadism, lust, avarice
possess our souls and drain the body's force;
we spoonfeed our adorable remorse,
like whores or beggars nourishing their lice.

Our sins are mulish, our confessions lies;
we play to the grandstand with our promises,
we pray for tears to wash our filthiness;
importantly pissing hogwash through our styes.

The devil, watching by our sickbeds, hissed
old smut and folk-songs to our soul, until
the soft and precious metal of our will
boiled off in vapor for this scientist.

Each day his flattery makes us eat a toad,
and each step forward is a step to hell,
unmoved, through previous corpses and their smell
asphyxiate our progress on this road.

Like the poor lush who cannot satisfy,
we try to force our sex with counterfeits,
die drooling on the deliquescent tits,
mouthing the rotten orange we suck dry.

Gangs of demons are boozing in our brain —
ranked, swarming, like a million warrior-ants,
they drown and choke the cistern of our wants;
each time we breathe, we tear our lungs with pain.

If poison, arson, sex, narcotics, knives
have not yet ruined us and stitched their quick,
loud patterns on the canvas of our lives,
it is because our souls are still too sick.

Among the vermin, jackals, panthers, lice,
gorillas and tarantulas that suck
and snatch and scratch and defecate and fuck
in the disorderly circus of our vice,

there's one more ugly and abortive birth.
It makes no gestures, never beats its breast,
yet it would murder for a moment's rest,
and willingly annihilate the earth.

It's BOREDOM. Tears have glued its eyes together.
You know it well, my Reader. This obscene
beast chain-smokes yawning for the guillotine —
you — hypocrite Reader — my double — my brother!

— Robert Lowell, from Marthiel & Jackson Matthews, eds., The Flowers of Evil (NY: New Directions, 1963)


Envy, sin, avarice & error
These are friends we know already —
Feeding them sentiment and regret
I'd hoped they'd vanish.

But wrongs are stubborn
We have our records
and tho it can be struggled with
There's no soft way to a dollar.

On the bedroom's pillows
The leisure senses unravel.
It's too hard to be unwilling
When there's so little to amuse.

The devil twists the strings on which we jerk!
Objects and asses continue to attract us.
Each day it's closer to the end
Without butter on our sufferings' amends.

Like some poor short-dicked scum
Biting and kissing the scarred breast
Of a whore who'd as soon
Drive nails through his nuts
We breath death into our skulls
Afraid to let it go.

If the drugs, sex, perversion and destruction
Haven't made it to your suburb yet
Graffitied your garage doors
Of our common fate, don't worry.

If the short and long con
Both ends against the middle
Trick a fool
Set the dummy up to fight
And the other old dodges
All howling to scream and crawl inside
Haven't arrived broken you down

It's because your boredom has kept them away.
There's no act or cry
That can take this world apart
Snuff out its miserable contemplation

Boredom! Our jailer. Starving or glutted
By the executions? Smoke, desperate for a whiter lie,
You, my easy reader, never satisfied lover.

— Will Schmitz

To the Reader

Foolishness, error, sin, niggardliness,
Occupy our minds and work on our bodies,
And we feed our mild remorse,
As beggars nourish their vermin.

Our sins are insistent, our repentings are limp;
We pay ourselves richly for our admissions,
And we gaily go once more on the filthy path
Believing that by cheap fears we shall wash away all our sins.

On the pillow of evil it is Satan Trismegistus
Who soothes a long while our bewitched mind,
And the rich metal of our determination
Is made vapor by that learned chemist.

It is the Devil who holds the reins which make us go!
In repulsive objects we find something charming;
Each day we take one more step towards Hell —
Without being horrified — across darknesses that stink.

Like a beggarly sensualist who kisses and eats
The martyred breast of an ancient strumpet,
We steal where we may a furtive pleasure
Which we handle forcefully like an old orange.

Tight, swarming, like a million worms,
A population of Demons carries on in our brains,
And, when we breathe, Death into our lungs
Goes down, an invisible river, with thick complaints.

If rape, poison, the dagger, arson,
Have not as yet embroidered with their pleasing designs
The recurrent canvas of our pitiable destinies,
It is that our spirit, alas, is not brave enough.

But among the jackals, the panthers, the bitch-hounds,
The apes, the scorpions, the vultures, the serpents,
The monsters screeching, howling, grumbling, creeping,
In the infamous menagerie of our vices,

There is one uglier, wickeder, more shameless!
Although he makes no large gestures nor loud cries
He willingly would make rubbish of the earth
And with a yawn swallow the world;

He is Ennui! — His eye filled with an unwished-for tear,
He dreams of scaffolds while puffing at his hookah.
You know him, reader, this exquisite monster,
— Hypocrite reader, — my likeness, — my brother!

— Eli Siegel, Hail, American Development (New York: Definition Press, 1968)


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.