Self Portrait by Charles Baudelaire

Charles Baudelaire's
Fleurs du mal / Flowers of Evil

Tu mettrais l'univers entier dans ta ruelle

Tu mettrais l'univers entier dans ta ruelle,
Femme impure! L'ennui rend ton âme cruelle.
Pour exercer tes dents à ce jeu singulier,
Il te faut chaque jour un coeur au râtelier.
Tes yeux, illuminés ainsi que des boutiques
Et des ifs flamboyants dans les fêtes publiques,
Usent insolemment d'un pouvoir emprunté,
Sans connaître jamais la loi de leur beauté.

Machine aveugle et sourde, en cruautés féconde!
Salutaire instrument, buveur du sang du monde,
Comment n'as-tu pas honte et comment n'as-tu pas
Devant tous les miroirs vu pâlir tes appas?
La grandeur de ce mal où tu te crois savante
Ne t'a donc jamais fait reculer d'épouvante,
Quand la nature, grande en ses desseins cachés,
De toi se sert, ô femme, ô reine des péchés,
— De toi, vil animal, — pour pétrir un génie?

Ô fangeuse grandeur! sublime ignominie!

Charles Baudelaire

You Would Take the Whole World to Bed with You

You would take the whole world to bed with you,
Impure woman! Ennui makes your soul cruel;
To exercise your teeth at this singular game,
You need a new heart in the rack each day.
Your eyes, brilliant as shop windows
Or as blazing lamp-stands at public festivals,
Insolently use a borrowed power
Without ever knowing the law of their beauty.

Blind, deaf machine, fecund in cruelties!
Remedial instrument, drinker of the world's blood,
Why are you not ashamed and why have you not seen
In every looking-glass how your charms are fading?
Why have you never shrunk at the enormity
Of this evil at which you think you are expert,
When Nature, resourceful in her hidden designs,
Makes use of you, woman, O queen of sin,
Of you, vile animal, — to fashion a genius?

O foul magnificence! Sublime ignominy!

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

You'd Stick the World into Your Bedside Lane

You'd stick the world into your bedside lane.
It's boredom makes you callous to all pain.
To exercise your teeth for this strange task,
A heart upon a rake, each day, you'd ask.
Your eyes lit up like shopfronts, or the trees
With lanterns on the night of public sprees,
Make insolent misuse of borrowed power
And scorn the law of beauty that's their dower.

Oh deaf-and-dumb machine, harm-breeding fool
World sucking leech, yet salutary tool!
Have you not seen your beauties blanch to pass
Before their own reflection in the glass?
Before this pain, in which you think you're wise,
Does not its greatness shock you with surprise,
To think that Nature, deep in projects hidden,
Has chosen you, vile creature of the midden,
To knead a genius for succeeding time.

O sordid grandeur! Infamy sublime!

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

You Hungry Bitch

You hungry bitch,
You'd take the galaxy to bed!
Surely, life's a bore
Unless you grind a heart between your teeth to keep your gums healthy.
Your eyes,
glittering like carnival lights,
dance into the night--
a torch-lit grandstand in July!
They strike without mercy in their glowing beauty:
Don't you know that eyes have claws even in their radiance?

Robust as an engine,
senselessly pumping out your savageries,
sightlessly sucking up the world's blood!
How is it
you never see your allurements vanish in a mirror?
How is it
(and this makes your guilt egregious that you think you have a mind)
you never draw back in horror
when Nature,
awesome in its curious designs,
has chosen you,
queen of vices,
you stinking animal,
to birth
a genius?

O filthy glory!
O sublime hellishness!

— Edward Eriksson

Tyranny of Woman

Aye, you would bed with the whole universe,
Lewd woman! Ennui makes your soul perverse;
Cruel, you whet your teeth at this weird play,
You need a fresh heart in the rack each day.
Your eyes blaze like illumined shops or lights
Of serried lamps on festive public nights,
They use a borrowed puissance haughtily
Unconscious of their beauty's tyranny.

Blind, deaf machine, geared to increase man's pain,
Tool primed to suckle blood from his last vein,
Have you no shame when every looking glass
Betrays your faded beauties as you pass,
When cunning Nature's hidden plans begin
To use you, beast! woman, vile queen of sin,
To fashion genius in carnality?

O shameless might! Sublime ignominy!

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

You'd Take the Entire Universe to Bed with You

You'd take the entire universe to bed with you,
I think, just out of boredom, you lecherous, idle shrew!
You need, to keep your teeth sound, exercise your jaws,
Daily, for dinner, some new heart between your paws!
Your eyes, all lighted up like shops, like public fairs,
How insolent they are! — as if their power were theirs
Indeed! — this borrowed power, this Beauty, you direct
And use, whose law, however, you do not suspect.

Unwholesome instrument for health, O deaf machine
And blind, fecund in tortures! — how is it you have not seen,
You drinker of the world's blood, your mirrored loveliness
Blench and recoil? how is it you feel no shame? confess:
Has never, then, this evil's very magnitude
Caused you to stagger? — you, who think yourself so shrewd
In evil? — seeing how Nature, patient and abstruse —
O Woman, Queen of Sins, Vile Animal, — has made use
Of you, to mould a genius? — employed you all this time?

O muddy grandeur! — ignominy ironic and sublime!

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


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.