Self Portrait by Charles Baudelaire

Charles Baudelaire's
Fleurs du mal / Flowers of Evil

Le Mauvais Moine

Les cloîtres anciens sur leurs grandes murailles
Etalaient en tableaux la sainte Vérité,
Dont l'effet réchauffant les pieuses entrailles,
Tempérait la froideur de leur austérité.

En ces temps où du Christ florissaient les semailles,
Plus d'un illustre moine, aujourd'hui peu cité,
Prenant pour atelier le champ des funérailles,
Glorifiait la Mort avec simplicité.

— Mon âme est un tombeau que, mauvais cénobite,
Depuis l'éternité je parcours et j'habite;
Rien n'embellit les murs de ce cloître odieux.

Ô moine fainéant! quand saurai-je donc faire
Du spectacle vivant de ma triste misère
Le travail de mes mains et l'amour de mes yeux?

Charles Baudelaire

The Bad Monk

Cloisters in former times portrayed on their high walls
The truths of Holy Writ with fitting pictures
Which gladdened pious hearts and lessened the coldness,
The austere appearance, of those monasteries.

In those days the sowing of Christ's Gospel flourished,
And more than one famed monk, seldom quoted today,
Taking his inspiration from the graveyard,
Glorified Death with naive simplicity.

— My soul is a tomb where, bad cenobite,
I wander and dwell eternally;
Nothing adorns the walls of that loathsome cloister.

O lazy monk! When shall I learn to make
Of the living spectacle of my bleak misery
The labor of my hands and the love of my eyes?

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

The Evil Monk

The walls of cloisters on their frescoed lath
Displayed, in pictures, sacred truths of old,
Whose sight would warm the entrails of one's faith
To temper their austerity and cold.

In times when every sowing flowered for Christ
Lived famous monks, now out of memory's reach;
The graveyard for their library sufficed,
And Death was glorified in simple speech.

My soul's a grave, where, evil cenobite,
To all eternity I have been banned.
Nothing adorns this cloister full of spite.

O idle monk! Say, to what end were planned
The living spectacle of my sad plight,
Love of my eye, or labour of my hand?

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

The Evil Monk

The cloisters old, expounded on their walls
With paintings, the Beatic Verity,
The which — ado'rning their religious halls,
Enriched the frigidness of their Austerity.

In days when Christian seeds bloomed o'er the land,
Full many a noble monk unknown to-day,
Upon the field of tombs would take his stand,
Exalting Death in rude and simple way.

My soul is a tomb where — bad monk that I be —
I dwell and search its depths from all eternity,
And nought bedecks the walls of the odious spot.

Oh sluggard monk! when shall I glean aright
From the living spectacle of my bitter lot,
To mold my handy work and mine eyes' Delight?

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

Le Mauvais Moine

the wide cold walls of cloisters, long ago
set forth God's Holy Truth for all to see,
and gazing friars there, with hearts aglow,
rejoiced despite their chill austerity.

then, when the seed of Christ would always grow,
illustrious monks, now lost to memory,
would choose the burial-plot for studio
to chant Death's glory, unaffectedly.

my soul's a tomb, which — wretched friar! — I
have paced since Time began, and occupy;
bare-walled and hateful still my cloister stands.

o slothful monk! when shall I learn to find
in the stark drama of this living mind
joy for mine eyes and work to fit my hands?

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

The Evil Monk

The ancient cloisters on their lofty walls
Had holy Truth in painted frescoes shown,
And, seeing these, the pious in those halls
Felt their cold, lone austereness less alone.

At that time when Christ's seed flowered all around,
More than one monk, forgotten in his hour,
Taking for studio the burial-ground,
Glorified Death with simple faith and power.

And my soul is a sepulchre where I,
Ill cenobite, have spent eternity:
On the vile cloister walls no pictures rise.

O when may I cast off this weariness,
And make the pageant of my old distress
For these hands labour, pleasure for these eyes?

— F.P. Sturm, from Baudelaire: His Prose and Poetry, edited by Thomas Robert Smith (New York: Boni and Liveright, 1919)


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.