Self Portrait by Charles Baudelaire

Charles Baudelaire's
Fleurs du mal / Flowers of Evil

Le Chat


Dans ma cervelle se promène,
Ainsi qu'en son appartement,
Un beau chat, fort, doux et charmant.
Quand il miaule, on l'entend à peine,

Tant son timbre est tendre et discret;
Mais que sa voix s'apaise ou gronde,
Elle est toujours riche et profonde.
C'est là son charme et son secret.

Cette voix, qui perle et qui filtre
Dans mon fonds le plus ténébreux,
Me remplit comme un vers nombreux
Et me réjouit comme un philtre.

Elle endort les plus cruels maux
Et contient toutes les extases;
Pour dire les plus longues phrases,
Elle n'a pas besoin de mots.

Non, il n'est pas d'archet qui morde
Sur mon coeur, parfait instrument,
Et fasse plus royalement
Chanter sa plus vibrante corde,

Que ta voix, chat mystérieux,
Chat séraphique, chat étrange,
En qui tout est, comme en un ange,
Aussi subtil qu'harmonieux!


De sa fourrure blonde et brune
Sort un parfum si doux, qu'un soir
J'en fus embaumé, pour l'avoir
Caressée une fois, rien qu'une.

C'est l'esprit familier du lieu;
Il juge, il préside, il inspire
Toutes choses dans son empire;
Peut-être est-il fée, est-il dieu?

Quand mes yeux, vers ce chat que j'aime
Tirés comme par un aimant,
Se retournent docilement
Et que je regarde en moi-même,

Je vois avec étonnement
Le feu de ses prunelles pâles,
Clairs fanaux, vivantes opales
Qui me contemplent fixement.

Charles Baudelaire

The Cat


In my brain there walks about,
As though he were in his own home,
A lovely cat, strong, sweet, charming.
When he mews, one scarcely hears him,

His tone is so discreet and soft;
But purring or growling, his voice
Is always deep and rich;
That is his charm and secret.

That voice forms into drops, trickles
Into the depths of my being,
Fills me like harmonious verse
And gladdens me like a philtre.

It lulls to sleep the sharpest pains,
Contains all ecstasies;
To say the longest sentences,
It has no need of words,

No, there's no bow that plays upon
My heart, that perfect instrument,
And makes its most vibrant chord
Sing more gloriously

Than your voice, mysterious cat,
Seraphic cat, singular cat,
In whom, as in angels, all is
As subtle as harmonious!


From his brown and yellow fur
Comes such sweet fragrance that one night
I was perfumed with it because
I caressed him once, once only.

A familiar figure in the place,
He presides, judges, inspires
Everything within his province;
Perhaps he is a fay, a god?

When my gaze, drawn as by a magnet,
Turns in a docile way
Toward that cat whom I love,
And when I look within myself,

I see with amazement
The fire of his pale pupils,
Clear signal-lights, living opals,
That contemplate me fixedly.

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

The Cat


A fine strong gentle cat is prowling
As in his bedroom, in my brain;
So soft his voice, so smooth its strain,
That you can scarcely hear him miowling.

But should he venture to complain
Or scold, the voice is rich and deep:
And thus he manages to keep
The charm of his untroubled reign.

This voice, which seems to pearl and filter
Through my soul's inmost shady nook,
Fills me with poems, like a book,
And fortifies me, like a philtre.

His voice can cure the direst pain
And it contains the rarest raptures.
The deepest meanings, which it captures,
It needs no language to explain.

There is no bow that can so sweep
That perfect instrument, my heart:
Or make more sumptuous music start
From its most vibrant cord and deep,

Than can the voice of this strange elf,
This cat, bewitching and seraphic,
Subtly harmonious in his traffic
With all things else, and with himself.


So sweet a perfume seems to swim
Out of his fur both brown and bright,
I nearly was embalmed one night
From (only once) caressing him.

Familiar Lar of where I stay,
He rules, presides, inspires and teaches
All things to which his empire reaches.
Perhaps he is a god, or fay.

When to a cherished cat my gaze
Is magnet-drawn and then returns
Back to itself, it there discerns,
With strange excitement and amaze,

Deep down in my own self, the rays
Of living opals, torch-like gleams
And pallid fire of eyes, it seems,
That fixedly return my gaze.

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

Le Chat


she prowls around my shadowy brain
as though it were her dwelling-place
— a great soft beast of charming ways,
meowling in a mellow strain,

yet so discreetly all of her
angry or peaceful moods resound,
I scarcely hear their song profound
— her secret, rich, voluptuous purr.

o droning voice elegiac
creeping into my heart perverse
to drown it like a rippling verse
or potent aphrodisiac!

no torture that it cannot lull,
no ecstasy but it contains;
no phrase so long but its refrains
can voice it, wordless, wonderful.

nay, never master's bow divine,
rending my heart-strings like a sword,
rang, vibrant, in so rich a chord,
such royal harmony as thing,

as thine, mysterious puss, methinks,
feline seraphic, weird and strange,
spirit of subtlety and change,
melodious and lovely sphynx!


golden and brown, her tawny fur
secretes a scent of such delight
I breathe its fragrance till the night
when once my fingers fondle her.

she is the genius of the shrine;
no deed of mine and no desire
she does not judge, direct, inspire;
is she a fairy, or divine?

for when my amorous glances, fain
of her enchantment, slowly turn
and by their lode-stone drawn, discern
this prowling creature of my brain,

startled and marvelling I see
her glowing pupils cold and pale,
— clear harbour-lights no vapours veil —
like living opals, holding me.

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

The Cat


Along my brain there walks,
As though in its own home,
A lovely, strong and sweet and charming cat.
When it mews, one hardly hears,

So tender and discreet its tone;
Appeasing or complaining its voice
Is always rich and deep:
Therein is its charm and secret.

This voice, which glistens and strains
Through the darkest soils of my being,
Satiates me like an harmonious line,
Delights me like a philter.

It lulls to sleep most cruel ills
And holds all ecstasy;
To tell the longest phrase,
It has no need of words.

No, there is no bow that gnaws
On my heart, perfect instrument,
To make more regally sing
The most vibrant string,

Than your voice, mysterious,
Seraphic, strange cat,
In whom all is, like an angel,
As subtle as harmonious!


From its fair and dark fur
Comes a scent so gentle, that one night
I was caught in its balm, by having
Caressed it once, only once.

It is the familiar spirit of the place;
It judges, presides, inspires
Everything in its empire;
It is perhaps a fairy or a god?

When my eyes, drawn like a magnet
To this cat that I love,
Come meekly back again
And I look inside myself,

I see with amazement
The fire of its pale pupils,
Clear beacons, living opals,
Looking at me fixedly.

— 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.