Self Portrait by Charles Baudelaire

Charles Baudelaire's
Fleurs du mal / Flowers of Evil


Ma jeunesse ne fut qu'un ténébreux orage,
Traversé çà et là par de brillants soleils;
Le tonnerre et la pluie ont fait un tel ravage,
Qu'il reste en mon jardin bien peu de fruits vermeils.

Voilà que j'ai touché l'automne des idées,
Et qu'il faut employer la pelle et les râteaux
Pour rassembler à neuf les terres inondées,
Où l'eau creuse des trous grands comme des tombeaux.

Et qui sait si les fleurs nouvelles que je rêve
Trouveront dans ce sol lavé comme une grève
Le mystique aliment qui ferait leur vigueur?

— Ô douleur! ô douleur! Le Temps mange la vie,
Et l'obscur Ennemi qui nous ronge le coeur
Du sang que nous perdons croît et se fortifie!

Charles Baudelaire

The Enemy

My youth has been nothing but a tenebrous storm,
Pierced now and then by rays of brilliant sunshine;
Thunder and rain have wrought so much havoc
That very few ripe fruits remain in my garden.

I have already reached the autumn of the mind,
And I must set to work with the spade and the rake
To gather back the inundated soil
In which the rain digs holes as big as graves.

And who knows whether the new flowers I dream of
Will find in this earth washed bare like the strand,
The mystic aliment that would give them vigor?

Alas! Alas! Time eats away our lives,
And the hidden Enemy who gnaws at our hearts
Grows by drawing strength from the blood we lose!

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

The Enemy

My youth was but a tempest, dark and savage,
Through which, at times, a dazzling sun would shoot
The thunder and the rain have made such ravage
My garden is nigh bare of rosy fruit.

Now I have reached the Autumn of my thought,
And spade and rake must toil the land to save,
That fragments of my flooded fields be sought
From where the water sluices out a grave.

Who knows if the new flowers my dreams prefigure,
In this washed soil should find, as by a sluit,
The mystic nourishment to give them vigour?

Time swallows up our life, O ruthless rigour!
And the dark foe that nibbles our heart's root,
Grows on our blood the stronger and the bigger!

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

The Enemy

My youth was a dark storm,
Crossed here and there by brilliant suns;
Thunder and rain have caused such quick ravage
That there remain in my garden very few red fruits.

Now I have touched the autumn of my mind,
And I must use the spade and rakes
To assemble again the drenched lands,
Where the water digs holes as large as graves.

And who knows whether the new flowers I dream of
Will find in this soil washed like a shore
The mystic food which would create their strength?

— О grief! О grief! Time eats away life,
And the dark Enemy who gnaws the heart
Grows and thrives on the blood we lose.

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

The Ruined Garden

My childhood was only a menacing shower,
cut now and ten by hours of brilliant heat.
All the top soil was killed by rain and sleet,
my garden hardly bore a standing flower.

From now on, my mind's autumn! I must take
the field and dress my beds with spade and rake
and restore order to my flooded grounds.
There the rain raised mountains like burial mounds.

I throw fresh seeds out. Who knows what survives?
What elements will give us life and food?
This soil is irrigated by the tides.

Time and nature sluice away our lives.
A virus eats the heart out of our sides,
digs in and multiplies on our lost blood.

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

The Enemy

I think of my gone youth as of a stormy sky
Infrequently transpierced by a benignant sun;
Tempest and hail have done their work; and what have I? —
How many fruits in my torn garden? — scarcely one.

And now that I approach the autumn of my mind,
And must reclaim once more the inundated earth —
Washed into stony trenches deep as graves I find
I wield the rake and hoe, asking, "What is it worth?"

Who can assure me, these new flowers for which I toil
Will find in the disturbed and reconstructed soil
That mystic aliment on which alone they thrive?

Oh, anguish, anguish! Time eats up all things alive;
And that unseen, dark Enemy, upon the spilled
Bright blood we could not spare, battens, and is fulfilled.

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

The Enemy

My childhood was nought but a ravaging storm,
Enlivened at times by a brilliant sun;
The rain and the winds wrought such havoc and harm
That of buds on my plot there remains hardly one.

Behold now the Fall of ideas I have reached,
And the shovel and rake one must therefore resume,
In collecting the turf, inundated and breached,
Where the waters dug trenches as deep as a tomb.

And yet these new blossoms, for which I craved,
Will they find in this earth — like a shore that is laved —
The mystical fuel which vigour imparts?

Oh misery! — Time devours our lives,
And the enemy black, which consumeth our hearts
On the blood of our bodies, increases and thrives!

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


my youth was all a murky hurricane;
not oft did the suns of splendour burst the gloom;
so wild the lightning raged, so fierce the rain,
few crimson fruits my garden-close illume.

now I have touched the autumn of the mind,
I must repair and smooth the earth, to save
my little seed-plot, torn and undermined,
guttered and gaping like an open grave.

and will the flowers all my dreams implore
draw from this garden wasted like a shore
some rich mysterious power the storm imparts?

— o grief! o grief! time eats away our lives,
and the dark Enemy gnawing at our hearts
sucks from our blood the strength whereon he thrives!

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

The Enemy

Naught but a long blind tempest was my youth,
Sun-shot at times; the thunder and the rain
Have worked their havock with so little ruth
That in my garden few red fruits remain.

Now have I reached the autumn of my thought,
And shovel and pick must use some soil to save
From out the ruins that the rain hath wrought
Where all around great pits gape like the grave.

Who knows if these last flowers of my dreams
Shall find beneath this naked strand that streams
The mystic substance which their strength imparts?

O misery! misery! Time eats our lives,
And that dark Enemy who gnaws our hearts
Grows by the blood he sucks from us, and thrives.

— Jack Collings Squire, Poems and Baudelaire Flowers (London: The New Age Press, Ltd, 1909)


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.