Self Portrait by Charles Baudelaire

Charles Baudelaire's
Fleurs du mal / Flowers of Evil

Avec ses vêtements ondoyants et nacrés

Avec ses vêtements ondoyants et nacrés,
Même quand elle marche on croirait qu'elle danse,
Comme ces longs serpents que les jongleurs sacrés
Au bout de leurs bâtons agitent en cadence.

Comme le sable morne et l'azur des déserts,
Insensibles tous deux à l'humaine souffrance
Comme les longs réseaux de la houle des mers
Elle se développe avec indifférence.

Ses yeux polis sont faits de minéraux charmants,
Et dans cette nature étrange et symbolique
Où l'ange inviolé se mêle au sphinx antique,

Où tout n'est qu'or, acier, lumière et diamants,
Resplendit à jamais, comme un astre inutile,
La froide majesté de la femme stérile.

Charles Baudelaire

With Her Pearly, Undulating Dresses

With her pearly, undulating dresses,
Even when she's walking, she seems to be dancing
Like those long snakes which the holy fakirs
Set swaying in cadence on the end of their staffs.

Like the dull sand and the blue of deserts,
Both of them unfeeling toward human suffering,
Like the long web of the ocean's billows,
She unfurls herself with unconcern.

Her glossy eyes are made of charming minerals
And in that nature, symbolic and strange,
Where pure angel is united with ancient sphinx,

Where everything is gold, steel, light and diamonds,
There glitters forever, like a useless star,
The frigid majesty of the sterile woman.

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

With Waving Opalescence in Her Gown

With waving opalescence in her gown,
Even when she walks along, you think she's dancing.
Like those long snakes which charmers, while entrancing,
Wave with their wands, in cadence, up and down.

Like the sad sands of deserts and their skies,
By human sufferings untouched and free,
Or like the surfy curtains of the sea,
She flaunts a cold indifference. Her eyes

Are made of charming minerals well-burnished.
Her nature, both by sphynx and angel furnished,
Is old, intact, symbolic, and bizarre:

She seems, made all of gems, steel, light, and gold,
In barrenness, majestic, hard, and cold,
To blaze forever, like a useless star.

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

She Doesn't Walk

She doesn’t walk; she rather dances through salons
Within her buoyant gowns of glittering, silver nacre,
Curling like the snake of a turbaned Hindu fakir,
Unrolled from in between his undulant batons.

Like the dismal desert sands or its skies of endless blues,
Oblivious to pain or grief or yearning sighs,
Enveloping like nets of the sea-tide’s fall and rise,
No passion she responds to, no injury she rues.

Her suave marble eyes, profound, bizarre, and bright,
Lure with a fascinating subtlety that links
The smiling virgin seraph to the strange and ageless Sphinx.

Here steel and diamond, gold and agate spark a light,
Twinkling like a star’s eternal, icy flame,
The distant, mystic beauty of the cold and sterile dame.

— Edward Eriksson


In undulant robes with nacreous sheen impearled
She walks as in some stately saraband;
Or like lithe snakes by sacred charmers curled
In cadence wreathing on the slender wand.

Calm as blue wastes of sky and desert sand
That watch unmoved the sorrows of this world;
With slow regardless sweep as on the strand
The long swell of the woven sea-waves swirled.

Her polished orbs are like a mystic gem,
And, while this strange and symbolled being links
The inviolate angel and the antique sphinx,

Insphered in gold, steel, light and diadem
The splendour of a lifeless star endows
With clear cold majesty the barren spouse.

— W. J. Robertson, from Baudelaire: His Prose and Poetry, edited by Thomas Robert Smith (New York: Boni and Liveright, 1919)


With pearly robes that wave within the wind,
Even when she walks, she seems to dance,
Like swaying serpents round those wands entwined
Which fakirs wave in rhythmic elegance.

So like the desert's Blue, and the sands remote,
Both, deaf to mortal suffering and to strife,
Or like the sea-weeds 'neath the waves that float,
Indifferently she moulds her budding life.

Her polished eyes are made of minerals bright,
And in her mien, symbolical and cold,
Wherein an angel mingles with a sphinx of old,

Where all is gold, and steel, and gems, and light,
There shines, just like a useless star eternally,
The sterile woman's frigid majesty.

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

Avec ses vêtements ondoyants et nacrés

with all her undulant pearly draperies,
she moves in measures lovelier than a dance,
as in the fakirs' Indian sorceries
tall cobras 'neath a moving rod advance

like drear Sahara's sand or azure skies,
insentient both to human suffering,
like the long lacy nets the surges bring,
her slow indifferent length she amplifies.

her eyes are made from agates polished bright,
and in that strange symbolic soul which links
the inviolate angel and the fabled sphynx,

where all is gold, steel, diamonds and light,
glitters forever, starlike, far, inhuman,
the regal coldness of the sterile woman.

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


With her dresses undulating, pearly,
Even walking one would think her dancing,
Like those long serpents which holy charmers
Move in harmony at the tips of their batons.

Like the dull sand and the blue of deserts,
Unmoved alike by human pain,
Like the long fabric of the swell of seas,
She unfolds herself with indifference.

Her polished eyes are of delicious metals,
And in this strange, symbolic nature
Where virgin angel meets with ancient sphinx,

Where all is only gold and steel and light and diamonds,
There shines for ever, like a useless star,
The cold majesty of the sterile woman.

— 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.