Self Portrait by Charles Baudelaire

Charles Baudelaire's
Fleurs du mal / Flowers of Evil


La Muse vénale

Ô muse de mon coeur, amante des palais,
Auras-tu, quand Janvier lâchera ses Borées,
Durant les noirs ennuis des neigeuses soirées,
Un tison pour chauffer tes deux pieds violets?

Ranimeras-tu donc tes épaules marbrées
Aux nocturnes rayons qui percent les volets?
Sentant ta bourse à sec autant que ton palais
Récolteras-tu l'or des voûtes azurées?

II te faut, pour gagner ton pain de chaque soir,
Comme un enfant de choeur, jouer de l'encensoir,
Chanter des Te Deum auxquels tu ne crois guère,

Ou, saltimbanque à jeun, étaler tes appas
Et ton rire trempé de pleurs qu'on ne voit pas,
Pour faire épanouir la rate du vulgaire.

Charles Baudelaire


The Venal Muse

Muse of my heart, you who love palaces,
When January frees his north winds, will you have,
During the black ennui of snowy evenings,
An ember to warm your two feet blue with cold?

Will you bring the warmth back to your mottled shoulders,
With the nocturnal beams that pass through the shutters?
Knowing that your purse is as dry as your palate,
Will you harvest the gold of the blue, vaulted sky?

To earn your daily bread you are obliged
To swing the censer like an altar boy,
And to sing Te Deums in which you don't believe,

Or, hungry mountebank, to put up for sale your charm,
Your laughter wet with tears which people do not see,
To make the vulgar herd shake with laughter.

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


The Venal Muse

Muse of my heart, of palaces the lover,
Where will you, when the blast of winter blows
In the black boredom of snowed lights, discover
A glowing brand to warm your violet toes?

How will you there revive your marbled skin
At the chill rays your shutters then disperse?
The gold of azure heavens will you win
When empty are your palate and your purse?

You'll need each evening, then, to earn your bread,
As choirboys swinging censers that are dead
Who sing Te Deums which they disbelieve:

Or, fasting pierrette, trade your loveliness
And laughter, soaked in tears that none can guess,
The boredom of the vulgar to relieve.

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


The Venal Muse

Muse of my heart, of palaces the lover,
Where will you, when the blast of winter blows
In the black boredom of snowed lights, discover
A glowing brand to warm your violet toes?

How will you there revive your marbled skin
At the chill rays your shutters then disperse?
The gold of azure heavens will you win
When empty are your palate and your purse?

You'll need each evening, then, to earn your bread,
As choirboys swinging censers that are dead
Who sing Te Deums which they disbelieve:

Or, fasting pierrette, trade your loveliness
And laughter, soaked in tears that none can guess,
The boredom of the vulgar to relieve.

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


The Venal Muse

Lover of palaces, Muse of my heart, O sweet,
When hailstones fly from January's frosty sling,
On snowy nights amid black ennui, who shall bring
A cheery log to thaw your violet chill feet?
Shall you warm your wan mottled shoulder with the wing
Of bleak nocturnal beams that soar from the dank street?
Knowing you have no coin in purse nor bread to eat,
Shall you rake gold from blue arched skies for harvesting?

To earn your daily bread as the dense nights grow denser,
Shall you play acolyte and blithely swing your censer,
Chanting faithless Te Deums; or a moment after,
A famished mountebank, sell the charmed mysteries
Of laughter bathed in tears that no man ever sees
To rouse the rabble herd to fits of obscene laughter?

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


The Mercenary Muse

Muse of my heart, so fond of palaces, reply:
When January sends those blizzards wild and white,
Shall you have any fire at all to huddle by,
Chafing your violet feet in the black snowy night?

Think: when the moon shines through the window, shall you try
To thaw your marble shoulders in her square of light?
Think: when your purse is empty and your palate dry,
Can you from the starred heaven snatch all the gold in sight?

No, no; if you would earn your bread, you have no choice
But to become a choir-boy, and chant in a loud voice
Te Deums you have no faith in, and swing your censer high;

Or be a mountebank, employing all your art —
Yes, on an empty stomach and with an anguished heart —
To chase the boredom of the liverish gallery.

— Edna St. Vincent Millay, Flowers of Evil (NY: Harper and Brothers, 1936)


The Venal Muse

Muse of my heart
You are a lover
Of January storms and sleet.
Gleaming starlight
Does not whet
Your dead palate and
Only complaints spring
From your mouth about
Your purse stuffed with azure.
You hate the Te Deums
I force you to sing
And starve
Waiting to feed on the anger
Of commuters stuck in
Afternoon traffic.

— Will Schmitz


The Venal Muse

Oh Muse of my heart — so fond of palaces old,
Wilt have — when New-Year speeds its wintry blast,
Amid those tedious nights, with snow o'ercast,
A log to warm thy feet, benumbed with cold?

Wilt thou thy marbled shoulders then revive
With nightly rays that through thy shutters peep?
And — void thy purse and void thy palace — reap
A golden hoard within some azure hive?

Thou must, to earn thy daily bread, each night,
Suspend the censer like an acolyte,
Te-Deums sing, with sanctimonious ease,

Or as a famished mountebank, with jokes obscene
Essay to lull the vulgar rabble's spleen;
Thy laughter soaked in tears which no one sees.

— Cyril Scott, Baudelaire: The Flowers of Evil (London: Elkin Mathews, 1909)


La Muse vénale

o Muse I love, whom palaces delight,
when 'round thy door the blasts of winter cry,
wilt have, while snowy eves in boredom die,
one ember left for feet all freezing white?

wilt warm thy cold blue shoulders in the light
the stars impart through shutters left awry?
— or climb, with hungry mouth and purse, the sky
to glean the gold from azure vaults of night?

thou must, to earn thy daily bread, employ
a well-swung censer, like a choir-boy,
and chant Te Deum from a heart unstirred,

or, starving clown, lay bare thy loveliness
and laugh through tears thou darest not confess,
to rouse the bilious humour of the herd.

— Lewis Piaget Shanks, Flowers of Evil (New York: Ives Washburn, 1931)


La Muse vénale

Ma muse a ma ane, lover a riches 'n luxury,
When January unleashes icy blasts 'n snows,
While the icy nights smother us wi broodin
Where will ye find the embers tae warm ma purple toes?

D'ye think the street lamps peepin through the windae blinds
Will warm yer shivrin shoulders, or thase heedlamps a passin cars
When yer belly's empty as yer pocket 'n yer gob's gone dry
Will ye fill yer pockets wi the heavin's golden stars?

Or will ye recite the hymns a the Bible-punching bunch
Tae win yersel a free ticket fer their street buffet lunch?
Knowin' a the while that ye'r sellin yer soul cheap.
Or, like the trapeze artist will ye swing and leap

Aboot, dain' yer acrobatics wi a painted smile
Tae win their laughs an tips, greetin' inside a the while?

— Scots translation by James W. Underhill


The Mercenary Muse

O Muse of my heart, votary of palaces,
Shall you, when January looses its boreal winds,
Have any firebrand to warm your violet feet
In the black boredoms of snowy evenings?

Shall you revive your marble shoulders
By the gleams of night that stab the shutters?
And, feeling your purse as empty as your palace,
Will you reap the gold of azure skies?

To win your evening bread you need,
Like a choir-boy, to play with the censer,
To chant the Te Deums you scarcely believe in,

Or, famished vagabond, expose your charms
And your laughter soaked in crying that is not seen,
In order to dispel the spleen of the people.

— Geoffrey Wagner, Selected Poems of Charles Baudelaire (NY: Grove Press, 1974)

Navigation

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.