Self Portrait by Charles Baudelaire

Charles Baudelaire's
Fleurs du mal / Flowers of Evil

À Celle qui est trop gaie

Ta tête, ton geste, ton air
Sont beaux comme un beau paysage;
Le rire joue en ton visage
Comme un vent frais dans un ciel clair.

Le passant chagrin que tu frôles
Est ébloui par la santé
Qui jaillit comme une clarté
De tes bras et de tes épaules.

Les retentissantes couleurs
Dont tu parsèmes tes toilettes
Jettent dans l'esprit des poètes
L'image d'un ballet de fleurs.

Ces robes folles sont l'emblème
De ton esprit bariolé;
Folle dont je suis affolé,
Je te hais autant que je t'aime!

Quelquefois dans un beau jardin
Où je traînais mon atonie,
J'ai senti, comme une ironie,
Le soleil déchirer mon sein,

Et le printemps et la verdure
Ont tant humilié mon coeur,
Que j'ai puni sur une fleur
L'insolence de la Nature.

Ainsi je voudrais, une nuit,
Quand l'heure des voluptés sonne,
Vers les trésors de ta personne,
Comme un lâche, ramper sans bruit,

Pour châtier ta chair joyeuse,
Pour meurtrir ton sein pardonné,
Et faire à ton flanc étonné
Une blessure large et creuse,

Et, vertigineuse douceur!
À travers ces lèvres nouvelles,
Plus éclatantes et plus belles,
T'infuser mon venin, ma soeur!

Charles Baudelaire

To One Who Is Too Gay

Your head, your bearing, your gestures
Are fair as a fair countryside;
Laughter plays on your face
Like a cool wind in a clear sky.

The gloomy passer-by you meet
Is dazzled by the glow of health
Which radiates resplendently
From your arms and shoulders.

The touches of sonorous color
That you scatter on your dresses
Cast into the minds of poets
The image of a flower dance.

Those crazy frocks are the emblem
Of your multi-colored nature;
Mad woman whom I'm mad about,
I hate and love you equally!

At times in a lovely garden
Where I dragged my atony,
I have felt the sun tear my breast,
As though it were in mockery;

Both the springtime and its verdure
So mortified my heart
That I punished a flower
For the insolence of Nature.

Thus I should like, some night,
When the hour for pleasure sounds,
To creep softly, like a coward,
Toward the treasures of your body,

To whip your joyous flesh
And bruise your pardoned breast,
To make in your astonished flank
A wide and gaping wound,

And, intoxicating sweetness!
Through those new lips,
More bright, more beautiful,
To infuse my venom, my sister!

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

To One Who Is Too Gay

Your head, your gestures, and your air
Are lovely as a landscape; smiles
Rimple upon your face at whiles
Like winds in the clear sky up there.

The grumpy passers that you graze
Are dazzled by the radiant health,
And the illimitable wealth
Your arms and shoulders seem to blaze.

The glaring colours that, in showers,
Clash in your clothes with such commotion,
In poets' minds suggest the notion
Of a mad ballet-dance of flowers.

These garish dresses illustrate
Your spirit, striped with every fad.
O madwoman, whom, quite as mad,
I love as madly as I hate.

Sometimes in gardens, seeking rest,
Where I have dragged my soul atonic,
I've felt the sun with gaze ironic
Tearing the heart within my breast.

The spring and verdure, dressed to stagger,
Humiliate me with such power
That I have punished, in a flower,
The insolence of Nature's swagger.

And so, one night, I'd like to sneak,
When night has tolled the hour of pleasure,
A craven thief, towards the treasure
Which is your person, plump and sleek.

To punish your bombastic flesh,
To bruise your breast immune to pain,
To farrow down your flank a lane
Of gaping crimson, deep and fresh.

And, most vertiginous delight!
Into those lips, so freshly striking
And daily lovelier to my liking —
Infuse the venom of my sprite.

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

A Girl Too Gay

Oh, you are lovely! Every heart
Surrenders to your sorceries;
And laughter, like a playful breeze,
Is always blowing your lips apart.

Your health is radiant, infinite,
Superb: When you go down the street
Each mournful passerby you meet
Is dazzled by the blaze of it!

Your startling dresses, overwrought
With rainbow hues and sequined showers,
Bring to a poet's mind the thought
Of a ballet of drunken flowers.

They are the very symbol of
Your gay and crudely colored soul,
As stripèd as a barber's pole,
Exuberant thing I hate and love!

Sometimes when wandering, full of gloom,
In a bright garden, I have felt
Horror for all I touched and smelt:
The world outrageously in bloom,

The blinding yellow sun, the spring's
Raw verdure so rebuked my woes
That I have punished upon a rose
The insolence of flowering things.

Likewise, some evening, I would creep,
When midnight sounds, and everywhere
The sighing of lovers fills the air,
To the hushed alcove where you sleep,

And waken you by violent storm,
And beat you coldly till you swooned,
And carve upon your perfect form,
With care, a deep seductive wound —

And (joy delirious and complete!)
Through those bright novel lips, through this
Gaudy and virgin orifice,
Infuse you with my venom, sweet.

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

To a Blithe Spirit

The toss of your hair, your dancing eye,
Are cheerful as a woodland place;
And laughter plays across your face
Like a fresh wind in a blue sky.

The gloomy shadows you pass by
Are brightened by your spirit’s lilt,
You who are so free of guilt,
Your shoulders never heave a sigh.

Your rustling dresses’ spangled flowers
Imitate all the garden’s hues,
Re-weaving for a poet’s muse
A light ballet of rainbowed showers.

These gorgeous garments emblemize
Your spirit’s whirling gaiety,
An attitude so troubling me
That where I love I must despise.

Sometimes in misery I poke
Along a rose-abundant plot:
I feel the sun grown golden-hot
And comprehend the stupid joke.

Green hues across the countryside
Have come as torture to my heart:
And then I’ve torn a flower apart,
To punish Nature for her pride.

And so I would prepare to call
Some night and, with a bitter smile,
Come upon your flesh’s guile:
Yes, darkly, coward-like I’d crawl,

As in your heap of joy you sleep,
To stab your spirit’s lovely lie:
To slice upon your tender thigh
A laceration, long and deep,

(The gritty sweetness of it all!)
And as those oozing lips so spread,
Sensationally, madly red,
In you, dear sister, spit my gall!

— Edward Eriksson

À Celle Qui Est Trop Gaie

Your head, your stance, your airy grace
Are as a landscape in July,
Blithe laughter plays upon your face
Like a cool wind in a clear sky.

The sorry passerby you sight
Is dazzled by the glowing charms
That issue in a radiant light
Over your shoulders and your arms.

Over your blaring frocks we find
Wild colors strewn with elegance
That rouse within the poet's mind
The image of a flower dance.

Your crazy gowns are emblems of
Your own variegated state,
Madwoman, whom I madly love
And whom I quite as madly hate.

At times in gardens where, oppressed,
I dragged my stubborn atony,
I felt gold sunlight rend my breast
As if in bitter raillery.

Both springtime and its verdant bowers
So mortified my heart and sense
That I chastised the budding flowers
Because of Nature's insolence.

Thus I should like some night, when deep
The hour tolls out for hidden pleasures,
Softly and cravenly to creep
Close to your body's lavish treasures.

(Last two stanzas cut off — censored? — in original publication.)

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

To Her Who Is Too Gay

Your head, your gesture, your air
Are beautiful as a beautiful landscape;
The smile plays in your face
Like a fresh wind in a clear sky.

The fleeting care that you brush against
Is dazzled by the health
Which leaps like clarity
From your arms and your shoulders.

The re-echoing colors
Which you scatter in your toilet
Cast in the hearts of poets
The image of a ballet of flowers.

These silly clothes are the emblem
Of your many-colored spirit;
Silly woman of my infatuation,
I hate as much as love you!

Sometimes in a pretty garden
Where I dragged my weakness,
I have felt the sun like irony
Tear my chest;

And the spring and the green of things
Have so humbled my heart,
That I have punished a flower
For the insolence of Nature.

Thus I would wish, one night,
When the voluptuary's hour sounds,
To crawl like a coward, noiselessly,
Towards the treasures of your body,

In order to correct your gay flesh
And beat your unbegrudging breast,
To make upon your starting thigh
A long and biting weal,

And, sweet giddiness,
Along those newly-gaping lips
More vivid and more beautiful,
Inject my venom, O my sister!

— 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.