Self Portrait by Charles Baudelaire

Charles Baudelaire's
Fleurs du mal / Flowers of Evil


Châtiment de l'Orgueil

En ces temps merveilleux où la Théologie
Fleurit avec le plus de sève et d'énergie,
On raconte qu'un jour un docteur des plus grands,
— Après avoir forcé les coeurs indifférents;
Les avoir remués dans leurs profondeurs noires;
Après avoir franchi vers les célestes gloires
Des chemins singuliers à lui-même inconnus,
Où les purs Esprits seuls peut-être étaient venus, —
Comme un homme monté trop haut, pris de panique,
S'écria, transporté d'un orgueil satanique:
«Jésus, petit Jésus! je t'ai poussé bien haut!
Mais, si j'avais voulu t'attaquer au défaut
De l'armure, ta honte égalerait ta gloire,
Et tu ne serais plus qu'un foetus dérisoire!»

Immédiatement sa raison s'en alla.
L'éclat de ce soleil d'un crêpe se voila
Tout le chaos roula dans cette intelligence,
Temple autrefois vivant, plein d'ordre et d'opulence,
Sous les plafonds duquel tant de pompe avait lui.
Le silence et la nuit s'installèrent en lui,
Comme dans un caveau dont la clef est perdue.
Dès lors il fut semblable aux bêtes de la rue,
Et, quand il s'en allait sans rien voir, à travers
Les champs, sans distinguer les étés des hivers,
Sale, inutile et laid comme une chose usée,
Il faisait des enfants la joie et la risée.

Charles Baudelaire


Punishment for Pride

In that marvelous time in which Theology
Flourished with the greatest energy and vigor,
It is said that one day a most learned doctor
— After winning by force the indifferent hearts,
Having stirred them in the dark depths of their being;
After crossing on the way to celestial glory,
Singular and strange roads, even to him unknown,
Which only pure Spirits, perhaps, had reached, —
Panic-stricken, like one who has clambered too high,
He cried, carried away by a satanic pride:
"Jesus, little jesus! I raised you very high!
But had I wished to attack you through the defect
In your armor, your shame would equal your glory,
And you would be no more than a despised fetus!"

At that very moment his reason departed.
A crape of mourning veiled the brilliance of that sun;
Complete chaos rolled in and filled that intellect,
A temple once alive, ordered and opulent,
Within whose walls so much pomp had glittered.
Silence and darkness took possession of it
Like a cellar to which the key is lost.

Henceforth he was like the beasts in the street,
And when he went along, seeing nothing, across
The fields, distinguishing nor summer nor winter,
Dirty, useless, ugly, like a discarded thing,
He was the laughing-stock, the joke, of the children.

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


The Punishment of Pride

When first Theology in her young prime
Flourished with vigour, in that wondrous time,
Of an illustrious Doctor it was said
That, having forced indifferent hearts to shed
Tears of emotion, moved to depths profound:
And having to celestial glory found
Marvellous paths, to his own self unknown,
Where only purest souls had fared alone —
Like a man raised too high, as in a panic,
Crazed with a vertigo of pride satanic,
He cried "Poor Christ, I've raised you to renown!
But had I wished to bring you crashing down
Probing your flaws, your shame would match your pride
And you'd be but a foetus to deride!"

Immediately he felt his wits escape,
That flash of sunlight veiled itself in crepe.
All chaos through his intellect was rolled,
A temple once, containing hoards of gold,
By opulence and order well controlled,
And topped with ceilings splendid to behold.
Silence and night installed their reign in him.
It seemed he was a cellar dank and dim,
To which no living man could find the key;
And from that day a very beast was he.
And while he wandered senseless on his way,
Not knowing spring from summer, night from day,
Foul, dirty, useless, and with no hereafter,
He served the children as a butt for laughter.

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


The Punishment of Pride

Once in that marvelous and unremembered time
When theologic thought was flowering at its prime,
A pious metaphysician, the pundit of his day,
He who could move the hearts of murderers, so they say,
Having attained to a most fearful pitch of grace
By curious pathways he himself could scarcely trace,
For all his subtlety of logic — this austere
And venerable person (like one who climbs a sheer
Peak unperturbed, but at the top grows dizzy) cried,
Suddenly overtaken with satanic pride:
"Jesus, my little Jesus! I have exalted you
Into a very Titan — yet wielding as I do
The wand of dialectic, I could have made you shrink
To fetus-like proportions and fade away, I think!"

He thought no more, for instantly his reason cracked.
The noontide of this great intelligence was blacked
Out. Elemental chaos rolled through this serene
Temple, where so much order and opulence had been.
From its gold floor to its groined ceiling it grew dim:
Silence and utter night installed themselves in him,
As in an antique dungeon whereof the key is lost.
And from that day, through rain and snow, through sleet and frost,
Not knowing spring from winter and too mad to care,
He roamed about gesticulating, with the air
Of an old suit of underclothes hung out to dry,
And made the children laugh whenever he went by.

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


The Chastisement of Pride

In those old times wherein Theology
Flourished with greater sap and energy,
A celebrated doctor — so they say —
Having stirred many careless hearts one day
Down to their dullest depths, and having shown
Strange pathways leading to the heavenly throne —
Tracks he himself had never journeyed on
(Whereby maybe pure spirits alone had gone) —
Frenzied and swollen by a devilish pride,
Like to a man who has climbed too high, outcried:
"Ah, little Jesus, I have lifted thee!
But had I willed to assault thy dignity,
Thy shame had matched thy present fame, and lo!
Thou wouldst be but a wretched embryo!"

Straightway his reason left him; that keen mind,
Sunbright before, was darkened and made blind;
All chaos whirled within that intellect
Erewhile a shrine with all fair gems bedeckt.
Beneath whose roof such pomp had shone so bright;
He was possessed by silence and thick night
As is a cellar when its key is lost

Thenceforth he was a brute beast; when he crossed
The fields at times, not seeing any thing.
Knowing not if 'twere winter or green spring,
Useless, repulsive, vile, he made a mock
For infants, a mere children's laughing-stock.

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

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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.