Self Portrait by Charles Baudelaire

Charles Baudelaire's
Fleurs du mal / Flowers of Evil


Vous êtes un beau ciel d'automne, clair et rose!
Mais la tristesse en moi monte comme la mer,
Et laisse, en refluant, sur ma lèvre morose
Le souvenir cuisant de son limon amer.

— Ta main se glisse en vain sur mon sein qui se pâme;
Ce qu'elle cherche, amie, est un lieu saccagé
Par la griffe et la dent féroce de la femme.
Ne cherchez plus mon coeur; les bêtes l'ont mangé.

Mon coeur est un palais flétri par la cohue;
On s'y soûle, on s'y tue, on s'y prend aux cheveux!
— Un parfum nage autour de votre gorge nue!...

Ô Beauté, dur fléau des âmes, tu le veux!
Avec tes yeux de feu, brillants comme des fêtes,
Calcine ces lambeaux qu'ont épargnés les bêtes!

Charles Baudelaire


You are a lovely autumn sky, clear and rosy!
But sadness rises in me like the sea,
And as it ebbs, leaves on my sullen lips
The burning memory of its bitter slime.

— In vain does your hand slip over my swooning breast;
What it seeks, darling, is a place plundered
By the claws and the ferocious teeth of woman.
Seek my heart no longer; the beasts have eaten it.

My heart is a palace polluted by the mob;
They get drunk there, kill, tear each other's hair!
— A perfume floats about your naked breast!...

O Beauty, ruthless scourge of souls, you desire it!
With the fire of your eyes, brilliant as festivals,
Bum these tatters which the beasts spared!

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


You're like an autumn sky, rose, clear, and placid.
But sorrow whelms me, like the tide's assault,
And ebbing, leaves upon my lips the acid
And muddy-bitter memory of its salt.

Your hand may stroke my breast, but not console.
What it seeks there is but a hole, deep caverned
By women's claws and fangs, and ransacked whole.
Seek not my heart, on which the beasts have ravened.

My heart's a palace plundered by the rabble:
They tope, they kill, in blood and guts they scrabble:
— A perfume swims around your naked breast!

O Beauty, flail of spirits, you know best!
With your eyes' fire, lit up as for a spree,
Char the poor rags those beasts have left of me!

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


You are a lovely, rosy, lucid autumn sky!
But sadness mounts upon me like a flooding sea,
And ebbs, and ebbing, leaves my lips morose and dry,
Smarting with salty ooze, bitter with memory.

— Useless to slide your hand like that along my breast;
That which it seeks, my dear, is plundered; it is slit
By the soft paw of woman, that clawed while it caressed.
Useless to hunt my heart; the beasts have eaten it.

My heart is like a palace where the mob has spat;
There they carouse, they seize each other's hair, they kill.
— Your breast is naked... what exotic scent is that?...

O Beauty, iron flail of souls, it is your will!
So be it! Eyes of fire, bright in the darkness there,
Bum up these strips of flesh the beasts saw fit to spare.

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


You are an autumn sky, suffused with rose...
Yet sadness rises in me like the sea,
And on my sombre lip, when it outflows.
Leaves its salt burning slime for memory.

Over my swooning breast your fingers stray;
In vain, alas! My breast is a void pit
Sacked by the tooth and claw of woman. Nay,
Seek not my heart; the beasts have eaten it!

My heart is as a palace plundered
By the wolves, wherein they gorge and rend and kill,
A perfume round thy naked throat is shed...

Beauty, strong scourge of souls, O work thy will!
Scorch with thy fiery eyes which shine like feasts
These shreds of flesh rejected by the beasts!

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

The Eyes of Beauty

You are a sky of autumn, pale and rose;
But all the sea of sadness in my blood
Surges, and ebbing, leaves my lips morose,
Salt with the memory of the bitter flood.

In vain your hand glides my faint bosom o'er,
That which you seek, beloved, is desecrate
By woman's tooth and talon; ah, no more
Seek in me for a heart which those dogs ate.

It is a ruin where the jackals rest,
And rend and tear and glut themselves and slay —
A perfume swims about your naked breast!

Beauty, hard scourge of spirits, have your way!
With flame-like eyes that at bright feasts have flared
Burn up these tatters that the beasts have spared!

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


You are the loveliness, the clearness, the red of autumn skies!
But sadness climbs like a sea in me,
Leaving, in reflux, upon my bitter lip
The sharp memory of its biting slime.

— In vain your hand slips on my fainting chest;
What it seeks, my darling, is but a place pillaged
By the fang and the fierce tooth of woman.
Do not search for my heart anymore; the wild beasts have eaten it.

My heart is a palace soiled by the mob;
There they swill, and they brawl, and they kill!
— A fragrance swims around your naked breasts.

O Beauty, cruel scourge of souls, you long for it!
With your eyes that flame, brilliant as festivals,
Bum these tatters that the beasts have spared me!

— 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.