Self Portrait by Charles Baudelaire

Charles Baudelaire's
Fleurs du mal / Flowers of Evil

Une Charogne

Rappelez-vous l'objet que nous vîmes, mon âme,
Ce beau matin d'été si doux:
Au détour d'un sentier une charogne infâme
Sur un lit semé de cailloux,

Les jambes en l'air, comme une femme lubrique,
Brûlante et suant les poisons,
Ouvrait d'une façon nonchalante et cynique
Son ventre plein d'exhalaisons.

Le soleil rayonnait sur cette pourriture,
Comme afin de la cuire à point,
Et de rendre au centuple à la grande Nature
Tout ce qu'ensemble elle avait joint;

Et le ciel regardait la carcasse superbe
Comme une fleur s'épanouir.
La puanteur était si forte, que sur l'herbe
Vous crûtes vous évanouir.

Les mouches bourdonnaient sur ce ventre putride,
D'où sortaient de noirs bataillons
De larves, qui coulaient comme un épais liquide
Le long de ces vivants haillons.

Tout cela descendait, montait comme une vague
Ou s'élançait en pétillant;
On eût dit que le corps, enflé d'un souffle vague,
Vivait en se multipliant.

Et ce monde rendait une étrange musique,
Comme l'eau courante et le vent,
Ou le grain qu'un vanneur d'un mouvement rythmique
Agite et tourne dans son van.

Les formes s'effaçaient et n'étaient plus qu'un rêve,
Une ébauche lente à venir
Sur la toile oubliée, et que l'artiste achève
Seulement par le souvenir.

Derrière les rochers une chienne inquiète
Nous regardait d'un oeil fâché,
Epiant le moment de reprendre au squelette
Le morceau qu'elle avait lâché.

— Et pourtant vous serez semblable à cette ordure,
À cette horrible infection,
Etoile de mes yeux, soleil de ma nature,
Vous, mon ange et ma passion!

Oui! telle vous serez, ô la reine des grâces,
Apres les derniers sacrements,
Quand vous irez, sous l'herbe et les floraisons grasses,
Moisir parmi les ossements.

Alors, ô ma beauté! dites à la vermine
Qui vous mangera de baisers,
Que j'ai gardé la forme et l'essence divine
De mes amours décomposés!

Charles Baudelaire

A Carcass

My love, do you recall the object which we saw,
That fair, sweet, summer morn!
At a turn in the path a foul carcass
On a gravel strewn bed,

Its legs raised in the air, like a lustful woman,
Burning and dripping with poisons,
Displayed in a shameless, nonchalant way
Its belly, swollen with gases.

The sun shone down upon that putrescence,
As if to roast it to a turn,
And to give back a hundredfold to great Nature
The elements she had combined;

And the sky was watching that superb cadaver
Blossom like a flower.
So frightful was the stench that you believed
You'd faint away upon the grass.

The blow-flies were buzzing round that putrid belly,
From which came forth black battalions
Of maggots, which oozed out like a heavy liquid
All along those living tatters.

All this was descending and rising like a wave,
Or poured out with a crackling sound;
One would have said the body, swollen with a vague breath,
Lived by multiplication.

And this world gave forth singular music,
Like running water or the wind,
Or the grain that winnowers with a rhythmic motion
Shake in their winnowing baskets.

The forms disappeared and were no more than a dream,
A sketch that slowly falls
Upon the forgotten canvas, that the artist
Completes from memory alone.

Crouched behind the boulders, an anxious dog
Watched us with angry eye,
Waiting for the moment to take back from the carcass
The morsel he had left.

— And yet you will be like this corruption,
Like this horrible infection,
Star of my eyes, sunlight of my being,
You, my angel and my passion!

Yes! thus will you be, queen of the Graces,
After the last sacraments,
When you go beneath grass and luxuriant flowers,
To molder among the bones of the dead.

Then, O my beauty! say to the worms who will
Devour you with kisses,
That I have kept the form and the divine essence
Of my decomposed love!

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

The Carcase

The object that we saw, let us recall,
This summer morn when warmth and beauty mingle —
At the path's turn, a carcase lay asprawl
Upon a bed of shingle.

Legs raised, like some old whore far-gone in passion,
The burning, deadly, poison-sweating mass
Opened its paunch in careless, cynic fashion,
Ballooned with evil gas.

On this putrescence the sun blazed in gold,
Cooking it to a turn with eager care —
So to repay to Nature, hundredfold,
What she had mingled there.

The sky, as on the opening of a flower,
On this superb obscenity smiled bright.
The stench drove at us, with such fearsome power
You thought you'd swoon outright.

Flies trumpeted upon the rotten belly
Whence larvae poured in legions far and wide,
And flowed, like molten and liquescent jelly,
Down living rags of hide.

The mass ran down, or, like a wave elated
Rolled itself on, and crackled as if frying:
You'd think that corpse, by vague breath animated,
Drew life from multiplying.

Through that strange world a rustling rumour ran
Like rushing water or a gust of air,
Or grain that winnowers, with rhythmic fan,
Sweep simmering here and there.

It seemed a dream after the forms grew fainter,
Or like a sketch that slowly seems to dawn
On a forgotten canvas, which the painter
From memory has drawn.

Behind the rocks a restless cur that slunk
Eyed us with fretful greed to recommence
His feast, amidst the bonework, on the chunk
That he had torn from thence.

Yet you'll resemble this infection too
One day, and stink and sprawl in such a fashion,
Star of my eyes, sun of my nature, you,
My angel and my passion!

Yes, you must come to this, O queen of graces,
At length, when the last sacraments are over,
And you go down to moulder in dark places
Beneath the grass and clover.

Then tell the vermin as it takes its pleasance
And feasts with kisses on that face of yours,
I've kept intact in form and godlike essence
Our decomposed amours!

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

A Carrion

Remember the object we saw, dear one,
On that fine summer morning so mild:
At the turn of a path a loathsome carrion
On a bed sown with pebbles,

Its legs in the air, like a lubricious woman,
Burning and sweating venom,
Opened in a nonchalant cynical way
Her body full of stench.

The sun shone on that rottenness,
As if to roast it thoroughly,
And return a hundredfold to great Nature
All that it joined together.

And the sky looked at the superb carcass
Like a flower blossoming.
The smell was so strong that there on the grass
You believed you might faint.

The flies swarmed over the putrid belly,
From which emerged black battalions
Of maggots, which flowed like a thick liquid
Along those human rags.

All of it descended, or rose like a wave,
Or rushed forth buzzing;
One might have said that the body, swollen with a vague breath,
Lived by multiplying itself.

And that world gave forth a strange music,
Like running water and wind,
Or the grain which a winnower in rhythmic motion
Shakes and turns in his basket.

The shapes had dimmed and were only a dream,
A sketch slow to emerge
On the forgotten canvas, and which the artist finishes
Only by memory.

Behind rocks a restless bitch
Watched us with an angry eye,
Waiting for the moment to take from the skeleton
The piece it had relinquished.

— And yet you will be similar to that filth,
To that horrible infection,
Star of my eyes, sun of my nature,
You, my angel and my passion!

Yes! you will be like that, O queen of graces,
After the last sacraments,
When you go, under the grass and rich blossomings,
To rot among the bones.

Then, O my beauty, tell the vermin
Which will eat you with kisses,
That I have kept the form and the divine essence
Of my decomposed loves!

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

A Carcass

Recall to mind the sight we saw, my soul,
That soft, sweet summer day:
Upon a bed of flints a carrion foul,
Just as we turn'd the way,

Its legs erected, wanton-like, in air,
Burning and sweating pest,
In unconcern'd and cynic sort laid bare
To view its noisome breast.

The sun lit up the rottenness with gold,
To bake it well inclined,
And give great Nature back a hundredfold
All she together join'd.

The sky regarded as the carcass proud
Oped flower-like to the day;
So strong the odour, on the grass you vow'd
You thought to faint away.

The flies the putrid belly buzz'd about,
Whence black battalions throng
Of maggots, like thick liquid flowing out
The living rags along.

And as a wave they mounted and went down,
Or darted sparkling wide;
As if the body, by a wild breath blown,
Lived as it multiplied.

From all this life a music strange there ran,
Like wind and running burns;
Or like the wheat a winnower in his fan
With rhythmic movement turns.

The forms wore off, and as a dream grew faint,
An outline dimly shown,
And which the artist finishes to paint
From memory alone.

Behind the rocks watch'd us with angry eye
A bitch disturb'd in theft,
Waiting to take, till we had pass'd her by,
The morsel she had left.

Yet you will be like that corruption too,
Like that infection prove —
Star of my eyes, sun of my nature, you,
My angel and my love!

Queen of the graces, you will even be so,
When, the last ritual said,
Beneath the grass and the fat flowers you go,
To mould among the dead.

Then, O my beauty, tell the insatiate worm
Who wastes you with his kiss,
I have kept the godlike essence and the form
Of perishable bliss!

— Richard Herne Shepherd, Translations from Charles Baudelaire (London: John Camden Hotten, 1869)


Darling, do you recall that thing we found
("A lovely summer day!" you said)
That noisome carcass where the path swung round
A sprawling pebble-covered bed.

Its legs raised like a whore's in lubric play,
It burned, oozing rank fetors there,
Shameless and nonchalant, it offered day
Its belly. Poisons filled the air.

The sun beat down on this putrescent mold
As if to fry it to a turn,
To give great Nature back one hundredfold
All she had gathered in her urn.

The skies watched that proud carcass, lax or taut,
Bloom like a flowery mass.
So pungent was the stench, my love, you thought
To swoon away upon the grass.

Horseflies buzzed loud over this putrid belly,
Whence sallied column and battalion
Of sable maggots, flowing like a mucose jelly,
Over this live tatterdemalion.

Waves seemed to rise and fall over this mass,
Spurting with crepitation,
As though this corpse, filled with breaths of gas,
Lived by multiplication.

This world uttered a curious melody,
Like waters, wind, or grains of wheat
That winnowers keep stirring rhythmically
In the broad baskets at their feet.

The forms, fading into a dream, grew fainter;
Here was a sketch of misty tone
On a forgotten canvas which the painter
Completes from memory alone.

Hiding behind the rocks, an anxious bitch
Stood, watching us with angry eye,
Poised to regain the olid morsel which,
Hearing us come, she had laid by.

— Yet shall you be like this ordurous blight,
You, too, shall rot in just such fashion,
Star of my eyes, sun of my soul's delight,
Aye, you, my angel and my passion.

Such you, O queen of graces, in the hours,
When the last sacrament is said,
That bear you under rich sods and Iush flower
To molder with the moldering dead.

Then, O my beauty! Tell such worms as will
Kiss you in ultimate coition
That I have kept the form and essence of
My love in its decomposition.

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

A Carrion

Rememberest thou, my sweet, that summer's day,
How in the sun outspread
At a path's bend a filthy carcase lay
Upon a pebbly bed?

Like a lewd woman, with its legs in air,
Burned, oozed the poisonous mass;
Its gaping belly, calm and debonair,
Was full of noisome gas.

And steadily upon this rottenness.
As though to cook it brown
And render Nature hundredfold excess.
The sun shone down.

The blue sky thought the carrion marvellous,
A flower most fair to see;
And as we gazed it almost poisoned us —
It stank so horribly.

The flies buzzed on this putrid belly, whence
Black hosts of maggots came,
Which streamed in thick and shining rivers thence
Along that ragged frame.

Pulsating like a wave, spirting about
Bright jets, it seemed to live;
As though it were by some vague wind blown out,
Some breath procreative.

And all this life was strangely musical
Like wind or bubbling spring,
Or corn which moves with rhythmic rise and fall
In time of winnowing.

The lines became indefinite and faint
As a thin dream that dies,
A half-forgotten scene the hand can paint
Only from memories...

Behind the rocks there lurked a hungry hound
With melancholy eye,
Longing to nose the morsel he had found
And gnaw it greedily.

Yet thou shalt be as vile a carrion
As this infection dire,
O bright star of my eyes, my nature's sun,
My angel, my desire!

Yea, such, O queen of the graces, shalt thou be
After the last soft breath.
Beneath the grass and the lush greenery
A-mouldering in death!

When thy sweet flesh the worms devour with kisses,
Tell them, O beauty mine.
Of rotting loves I keep the bodily blisses
And essence all-divine!

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

The Corpse

Remember, my Beloved, what thing we met
By the roadside on that sweet summer day;
There on a grassy couch with pebbles set,
A loathsome body lay.

The wanton limbs stiff-stretched into the air,
Steaming with exhalations vile and dank,
In ruthless cynic fashion had laid bare
The swollen side and flank.

On this decay the sun shone hot from heaven
As though with chemic heat to broil and bum,
And unto Nature all that she had given
A hundredfold return.

The sky smiled down upon the horror there
As on a flower that opens to the day;
So awful an infection smote the air,
Almost you swooned away.

The swarming flies hummed on the putrid side,
Whence poured the maggots in a darkling stream,
That ran along these tatters of life's pride
With a liquescent gleam.

And like a wave the maggots rose and fell,
The murmuring flies swirled round in busy strife:
It seemed as though a vague breath came to swell
And multiply with life

The hideous corpse. From all this living world
A music as of wind and water ran,
Or as of grain in rhythmic motion swirled
By the swift winnower's fan.

And then the vague forms like a dream died out,
Or like some distant scene that slowly falls
Upon the artist's canvas, that with doubt
He only half recalls.

A homeless dog behind the boulders lay
And watched us both with angry eyes forlorn,
Waiting a chance to come and take away
The morsel she had torn.

And you, even you, will be like this drear thing,
A vile infection man may not endure;
Star that I yearn to! Sun that lights my spring!
O passionate and pure!

Yes, such will you be, Queen of every grace!
When the last sacramental words are said;
And beneath grass and flowers that lovely face
Moulders among the dead.

Then, O Belovèd, whisper to the worm
That crawls up to devour you with a kiss,
That I still guard in memory the dear form
Of love that comes to this!

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

A Carrion

Do you remember the thing we saw, my soul,
That summer morning, so beautiful, so soft:
At a turning in the path, a filthy carrion,
On a bed sown with stones,

Legs in the air, like a lascivious woman,
Burning and sweating poisons,
Opened carelessly, cynically,
Its great fetid belly.

The sun shone on this fester,
As though to cook it to a turn,
And to return a hundredfold to great Nature
What she had joined in one;

And the sky saw the superb carcass
Open like a flower.
The stench was so strong, that you might think
To swoon away upon the grass.

The flies swarmed on that rotten belly,
Whence came out black battalions
Of spawn, flowing like a thick liquid
Along its living tatters.

All this rose and fell like a wave,
Or rustled in jerks;
One would have said that the body, fun of a loose breath,
Lived in this its procreation.

And this world gave out a strange music,
Like flowing water and wind,
Or a winnower's grain that he shakes and turns
With rhythmical grace in his basket.

The forms fade and are no more than a dream,
A sketch slow to come
On the forgotten canvas, and that the artist completes
Only by memory.

Behind the boulders an anxious bitch
Watched us with angry eyes,
Spying the moment to regain in the skeleton
The morsel she had dropped.

— And yet you will be like this excrement,
This horrible stench,
O star of my eyes, sun of my being,
You, my angel, my passion.

Yes, such you will be, queen of gracefulness,
After the last sacraments,
When you go beneath the grasses and fat flowers,
Moldering amongst the bones.

Then, my beauty, say to the vermin
Which will eat you with kisses,
That I have kept the shape and the divine substance
Of my decomposed loves!

— 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.