Self Portrait by Charles Baudelaire

Charles Baudelaire's
Fleurs du mal / Flowers of Evil

La Vie antérieure

J'ai longtemps habité sous de vastes portiques
Que les soleils marins teignaient de mille feux,
Et que leurs grands piliers, droits et majestueux,
Rendaient pareils, le soir, aux grottes basaltiques.

Les houles, en roulant les images des cieux,
Mêlaient d'une façon solennelle et mystique
Les tout-puissants accords de leur riche musique
Aux couleurs du couchant reflété par mes yeux.

C'est là que j'ai vécu dans les voluptés calmes,
Au milieu de l'azur, des vagues, des splendeurs
Et des esclaves nus, tout imprégnés d'odeurs,

Qui me rafraîchissaient le front avec des palmes,
Et dont l'unique soin était d'approfondir
Le secret douloureux qui me faisait languir.

Charles Baudelaire

My Former Life

For a long time I dwelt under vast porticos
Which the ocean suns lit with a thousand colors,
The pillars of which, tall, straight, and majestic,
Made them, in the evening, like basaltic grottos.

The billows which cradled the image of the sky
Mingled, in a solemn, mystical way,
The omnipotent chords of their rich harmonies
With the sunsets' colors reflected in my eyes;

It was there that I lived in voluptuous calm,
In splendor, between the azure and the sea,
And I was attended by slaves, naked, perfumed,

Who fanned my brow with fronds of palms
And whose sole task it was to fathom
The dolorous secret that made me pine away.

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

Former Life

I've lived beneath huge portals where marine
Suns coloured, with a myriad fires, the waves;
At eve majestic pillars made the scene
Resemble those of vast basaltic caves.

The breakers, rolling the reflected skies,
Mixed, in a solemn, enigmatic way,
The powerful symphonies they seem to play
With colours of the sunset in my eyes.

There did I live in a voluptuous calm
Where breezes, waves, and splendours roved as vagrants;
And naked slaves, impregnated with fragrance,

Would fan my forehead with their fronds of palm:
Their only charge was to increase the anguish
Of secret grief in which I loved to languish.

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

My Former Life

I can remember a country of long, high colonnades
Which mirrored in their pale marble the prismatic light
Cast from the bright sea billows in a thousand shades,
And which resembled a cave of fluted basalt by night.

The ocean, strewn with sliding images of the sky,
Would mingle in a mysterious and solemn way,
Under the wild brief sunsets, its tremendous cry
With the reflected colors of the ruined day.

There did I dwell in quiet luxury apart,
Amid the slowly changing hues of clouds and waves;
And there I was attended by two naked slaves

Who sometimes fanned me with great fronds on either side,
And whose sole task was to let sink into my heart
The dolorous and beautiful secret of which I died.

— George Dillon, Flowers of Evil (NY: Harper and Brothers, 1936)

Former Life

A long time I lived under vast porticoes
Which marine suns tinged with a thousand fires,
And which their tall pillars, straight and majestic,
Caused to resemble basalt caves at night.

The surge, as it rolled images of the sky,
Mingled in a solemn mystical way
The omnipotent harmonies of its rich music
With the colors of the setting sun reflected in my eyes.

It is there I lived in serene sensuousness,
In the midst of blue sky, waves, splendor
And naked slaves, impregnated with perfumes,

Who cooled my brow with palms,
And whose one care was to understand
The grievous secret which made me sad.

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

La Vie antérieure

aeons I dwelt beneath vast porticoes
stained by the sun and sea with fiery dye,
whose lordly pillars, stark against the sky,
like caverned cliffs in evening's gold arose.

the rolling surges and their mirror skies
blent in a grave mysterious organ-air
the chords all-powerful of their music rare
with sunset's colours in my glowing eyes.

'twas there I lived before, 'mid azure waves,
blue skies and splendours, in voluptuous calm,
while, steeped in every fragrance, naked slaves

made cool my brow with waving fronds of palm:
— their only care to drive the secret dart
of my dull sorrow, deeper in my heart.

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

A Former Life

Long since, I lived beneath vast porticoes,
By many ocean-sunsets tinged and fired,
Where mighty pillars, in majestic rows,
Seemed like basaltic caves when day expired.

The rolling surge that mirrored all the skies
Mingled its music, turbulent and rich,
Solemn and mystic, with the colours which
The setting sun reflected in my eyes.

And there I lived amid voluptuous calms,
In splendours of blue sky and wandering wave,
Tended by many a naked, perfumed slave,

Who fanned my languid brow with waving palms.
They were my slaves — the only care they had
To know what secret grief had made me sad.

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

Previous Existence

For a long time I lived under vast colonnades,
Stained with a thousand fires by ocean suns,
Whose vast pillars, straight and majestic,
Made them seem in the evening like grottos of basalt.

The sea-swells, in swaying the pictures of the skies,
Mingled solemnly and mystically
The all-powerful harmonies of their rich music
With the colors of the setting sun reflected by my eyes.

It is there that I have lived in calm voluptuousness,
In the center of the blue, amidst the waves and splendors
And the nude slaves, heavy with perfumes,

Who refreshed my forehead with palm-leaves,
Their only care was to fathom
The dolorous secret that made me languish.

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


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.