Self Portrait by Charles Baudelaire

Charles Baudelaire's
Fleurs du mal / Flowers of Evil

Don Juan aux enfers

Quand Don Juan descendit vers l'onde souterraine
Et lorsqu'il eut donné son obole à Charon,
Un sombre mendiant, l'oeil fier comme Antisthène,
D'un bras vengeur et fort saisit chaque aviron.

Montrant leurs seins pendants et leurs robes ouvertes,
Des femmes se tordaient sous le noir firmament,
Et, comme un grand troupeau de victimes offertes,
Derrière lui traînaient un long mugissement.

Sganarelle en riant lui réclamait ses gages,
Tandis que Don Luis avec un doigt tremblant
Montrait à tous les morts errant sur les rivages
Le fils audacieux qui railla son front blanc.

Frissonnant sous son deuil, la chaste et maigre Elvire,
Près de l'époux perfide et qui fut son amant,
Semblait lui réclamer un suprême sourire
Où brillât la douceur de son premier serment.

Tout droit dans son armure, un grand homme de pierre
Se tenait à la barre et coupait le flot noir;
Mais le calme héros, courbé sur sa rapière,
Regardait le sillage et ne daignait rien voir.

Charles Baudelaire

Don Juan in Hades

When Don Juan descended to the underground sea,
And when he had given his obolus to Charon,
That gloomy mendicant, with Antisthenes' proud look,
Seized the two oars with strong, revengeful hands.

Showing their pendent breasts and their unfastened gowns
Women writhed and twisted under the black heavens,
And like a great flock of sacrificial victims,
A continuous groan trailed along in the wake.

Sganarelle with a laugh was demanding his wage,
While Don Luis with a trembling finger
Was showing to the dead, wandering along the shores,
The impudent son who had mocked his white brow.

Shuddering in her grief, Elvira, chaste and thin,
Near her treacherous spouse who was once her lover,
Seemed to implore of him a final, parting smile
That would shine with the sweetness of his first promises.

Erect in his armor, a tall man carved from stone
Was standing at the helm and cutting the black flood;
But the hero unmoved, leaning on his rapier,
Kept gazing at the wake and deigned not look aside.

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

Don Juan in Hell

When, having reached the subterranean wave,
Don Juan paid his passage from the shore,
Proud as Antisthenes, a surly knave
With vengeful arms laid hold of either oar.

With hanging breasts between their mantles showing
Sad women, writhing under the black sky,
Made, as they went, the sound of cattle lowing
As from a votive herd that's led to die.

Sganarelle for his wages seemed to linger,
And laughed; while to the dead assembled there,
Don Luis pointed out with trembling finger
The son who dared to flout his silver hair.

Chilled in her crepe, the chaste and thin Elvira,
Standing up close to her perfidious spouse,
Seemed to be pleading from her old admirer
For that which thrilled his first, unbroken vows.

A great stone man in armour leaped aboard;
Seizing the helm, the coal-black wave he cleft.
But the calm hero, leaning on his sword,
Had eyes for nothing but the wake they left.

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

Don Juan in Hades

He found the wide bark rocking in the Stygian breeze
And came aboard, having first paid Charon what he owed.
A beggar, somber and haughty as Antisthenes,
Seized the long oars with a revengeful gesture and rowed.

Writhing and tearing open their garments while he crossed,
A crowd of disappointed females, herded there
Along the bank like victims for a holocaust,
Filled with a soft and bestial moaning the dark air.

Sganarelle laughed triumphantly, demanding his wage;
Don Luis, still wrathful, pointed with a palsied hand
To the unruly son who mocked him in his old age,
Calling to witness the dead throngs upon that strand.

She whom he wed in church and loved a little while,
Elvira, thin and trembling in her black robes of grief,
Seemed to implore of her betrayer a last smile
In memory of his first ardor, noble and brief.

The knight he murdered and whose ghost he had rebuked
Stood now, a tall and cuirassed helmsman, at the stem;
But the calm hero, leaning upon his rapier, looked
Absently into the water, ignoring all of them.

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

Don Juan In Hell

The night Don Juan came to pay his fees
To Charon, by the caverned water's shore,
A Beggar, proud-eyed as Antisthenes,
Stretched out his knotted fingers on the oar.

Mournful, with drooping breasts and robes unsewn
The shapes of women swayed in ebon skies,
Trailing behind him with a restless moan
Like cattle herded for a sacrifice.

Here, grinning for his wage, stood Sganarelle,
And here Don Luis pointed, bent and dim,
To show the dead who lined the holes of Hell,
This was that impious son who mocked at him.

The hollow-eyed, the chaste Elvira came,
Trembling and veiled, to view her traitor spouse.
Was it one last bright smile she thought to claim,
Such as made sweet the morning of his vows?

A great stone man rose like a tower on board,
Stood at the helm and cleft the flood profound:
But the calm hero, leaning on his sword,
Gazed back, and would not offer one look round.

— James Elroy Flecker, Flowers of Evil (NY: New Directions, 1955)

Don Juan in Hades

When the hidalgo reached the subterranean seas,
And, with an obol, paid Charon's accustomed score,
A gloomy beggarman, proud as Antisthenes,
With strong revengeful hands seized either trailing oar.

With sagging breasts and gray unfastened gowns, a crowd
Of women writhed in woe under a leaden sky,
In their grim wake a groan trailed, mournfully and loud,
Like flocks of sacrificial victims trudging by.

Sganarelle, grinning, claimed his wages; dour and lank,
Don Luis, with trembling finger, pointed at the prow,
To show the phantoms wandering on the river bank
That impious son who mocked his father's snow-white brow.

Elvira, chaste and gaunt, shuddered in sorrow, while
Beside her traitorous spouse (her lover, once) she seemed
To crave the favor of an ultimate bright smile,
Sweet as his first-made vows and as the dream she dreamed.

Erect in coat-of-mail, a tall man, hewn of stone,
Stood at the helm, cleaving the flood. But in mute pride,
Leaning upon his sword, impassive and alone,
The hero watched the wave nor deigned to look aside.

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

Don Juan in Hades

When Juan sought the subterranean flood,
And paid his obolus on the Stygian shore,
Charon, the proud and sombre beggar, stood
With one strong, vengeful hand on either oar.

With open robes and bodies agonised,
Lost women writhed beneath that darkling sky;
There were sounds as of victims sacrificed:
Behind him all the dark was one long cry.

And Sganarelle, with laughter, claimed his pledge;
Don Luis, with trembling finger in the air,
Showed to the souls who wandered in the sedge
The evil son who scorned his hoary hair.

Shivering with woe, chaste Elvira the while,
Near him untrue to all but her till now,
Seemed to beseech him for one farewell smile
Lit with the sweetness of the first soft vow.

And clad in armour, a tall man of stone
Held firm the helm, and clove the gloomy flood;
But, staring at the vessel's track alone,
Bent on his sword the unmoved hero stood.

— 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.