Self Portrait by Charles Baudelaire

Charles Baudelaire's
Fleurs du mal / Flowers of Evil

Remords posthume

Lorsque tu dormiras, ma belle ténébreuse,
Au fond d'un monument construit en marbre noir,
Et lorsque tu n'auras pour alcôve et manoir
Qu'un caveau pluvieux et qu'une fosse creuse;

Quand la pierre, opprimant ta poitrine peureuse
Et tes flancs qu'assouplit un charmant nonchaloir,
Empêchera ton coeur de battre et de vouloir,
Et tes pieds de courir leur course aventureuse,

Le tombeau, confident de mon rêve infini
(Car le tombeau toujours comprendra le poète),
Durant ces grandes nuits d'où le somme est banni,

Te dira: «Que vous sert, courtisane imparfaite,
De n'avoir pas connu ce que pleurent les morts?»
— Et le ver rongera ta peau comme un remords.

Charles Baudelaire

Posthumous Remorse

When you will sleep, O dusky beauty mine,
Beneath a monument fashioned of black marble,
When you will have for bedroom and mansion
Only a rain-swept vault and a hollow grave,

When the slab of stone, oppressing your frightened breast
And your flanks now supple with charming nonchalance,
Will keep your heart from beating, from wishing,
And your feet from running their adventurous course,

The tomb, confidant of my infinite dreams
(For the tomb will always understand the poet)
Through those long nights from which all sleep is banned, will say:

"What does it profit you, imperfect courtesan,
Not to have known why the dead weep?"
— And like remorse the worm will gnaw your skin.

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

Posthumous Remorse

When you're asleep, dear shadow-coloured wench,
Within a coal-black, marble monument:
When, for your room and mansion, you are pent
In a wet cellar and a hollow trench:

When the stone, pressing on your startled breast
And flanks in fluent suppleness competing,
Prevents your heart from wishing or from beating,
Your feet from racing on their reckless quest.

The tomb that shares my deathless recollection
(For poets best are understood by tombs)
On those long nights, when never sleep presumes,

Will say, "What boots, frail vase of imperfection,
Not to have known what pains with death begin?" —
And, like remorse, the worm will gnaw your skin.

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

Posthumous Remorse

When, O sweet dusky beauty, you shall rest
Deep under a bleak marble monument,
When for last manor yours the tenement
Of rainswept vault or hollow ditch at best,
When the long stone weighs down your frightened breast
And flanks — so supple now and indolent —
Choking your heart's beat and your feet's intent
To race again on their adventurous quest,

The tomb, confidant of my endless dreams, shall keep
Vigil through those long nights that know not sleep,
(Poet and tomb were friends since Time began)
Saying: "What use, imperfect courtesan,
Not to make known what dead men mourn perforce?"
While the worm gnaws you sharply as remorse.

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

Remorse Too Late

My dark and lovely thing, when you at length lie dead,
And sleep beneath a slab of marble black as pitch;
And have, for perfumed alcove and seductive bed,
Only a rainy cavern and a hollow ditch;

When the oppressive stone upon your frightened breast
Lets settle all its weight, and on your supple thighs;
Restrains your heart from beating, flattens it to rest;
Bends down and binds your feet, so roving, so unwise;

The tomb, that knows me well and reads my dream aright,
(What poet but confides his secret to the tomb?)
Will say to you some day during that endless night,

"They fare but ill, vain courtesan, in this cold room,
Who bring here no warm memories of true love to keep!"
— And like remorse the worm will gnaw you in your sleep.

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

Posthumous Remorse

Ah, when thou shalt slumber, my darkling love,
Beneath a black marble-made statuette,
And when thou'lt have nought for thy house or alcove,
But a cavernous den and a damp oubliette.

When the tomb-stone, oppressing thy timorous breast,
And thy hips drooping sweetly with listless decay,
The pulse and desires of mine heart shall arrest,
And thy feet from pursuing their adventurous way,

Then the grave, that dark friend of my limitless dreams
(For the grave ever readeth the poet aright),
Amid those long nights, which no slumber redeems

'Twill query — "What use to thee, incomplete spright
That thou ne'er hast unfathomed the tears of the dead"? —
Then the worms will gnaw deep at thy body, like Dread.

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

Remords posthume

when thou wilt sleep, dark girl of shadowy gaze,
down in the cold black marble of a tomb,
a dripping vault thine only tiring-room,
thine only bed a grave where all decays,

when rock shall press thy paling breast and graze
thy limbs now languorous-lovely in the gloom
— shall crush thy faltering heart, thy will consume
and halt thy feet in their adventurous ways,

the Grave, that knows what infinite dreams I keep,
(o Grave, the poet's friend forever, thou!)
all through the night bereft of exiled sleep,

shall ask: "art sorry, wretched wanton, now,
not to have learned why dead men weep, perforce?"
— and worms shall gnaw thy breast like sharp remorse.

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

The Remorse of the Dead

O shadowy Beauty mine, when thou shalt sleep
In the deep heart of a black marble tomb;
When thou for mansion and for bower shalt keep
Only one rainy cave of hollow gloom;

And when the stone upon thy trembling breast,
And on thy straight sweet body's supple grace,
Crushes thy will and keeps thy heart at rest,
And holds those feet from their adventurous race;

Then the deep grave, who shares my reverie,
(For the deep grave is aye the poet's friend)
During long nights when sleep is far from thee,

Shall whisper: "Ah, thou didst not comprehend
The dead wept thus, thou woman frail and weak" —
And like remorse the worm shall gnaw thy cheek.

— 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.