Self Portrait by Charles Baudelaire

Charles Baudelaire's
Fleurs du mal / Flowers of Evil


À J.G.F.

Je te frapperai sans colère
Et sans haine, comme un boucher,
Comme Moïse le rocher!
Et je ferai de ta paupière,

Pour abreuver mon Saharah,
Jaillir les eaux de la souffrance.
Mon désir gonflé d'espérance
Sur tes pleurs salés nagera

Comme un vaisseau qui prend le large,
Et dans mon coeur qu'ils soûleront
Tes chers sanglots retentiront
Comme un tambour qui bat la charge!

Ne suis-je pas un faux accord
Dans la divine symphonie,
Grâce à la vorace Ironie
Qui me secoue et qui me mord?

Elle est dans ma voix, la criarde!
C'est tout mon sang ce poison noir!
Je suis le sinistre miroir
Où la mégère se regarde.

Je suis la plaie et le couteau!
Je suis le soufflet et la joue!
Je suis les membres et la roue,
Et la victime et le bourreau!

Je suis de mon coeur le vampire,
— Un de ces grands abandonnés
Au rire éternel condamnés
Et qui ne peuvent plus sourire!

Charles Baudelaire

The Man Who Tortures Himself

To J. G. F.

I shall strike you without anger
And without hate, like a butcher,
As Moses struck the rock!
And from your eyelids I shall make

The waters of suffering gush forth
To inundate my Sahara.
My desire swollen with hope
Will float upon your salty tears

Like a vessel which puts to sea,
And in my heart that they'll make drunk
Your beloved sobs will resound
Like a drum beating the charge!

Am I not a discord
In the heavenly symphony,
Thanks to voracious Irony
Who shakes me and who bites me?

She's in my voice, the termagant!
All my blood is her black poison!
I am the sinister mirror
In which the vixen looks.

I am the wound and the dagger!
I am the blow and the cheek!
I am the members and the wheel,
Victim and executioner!

I'm the vampire of my own heart
— One of those utter derelicts
Condemned to eternal laughter,
But who can no longer smile!

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


To J. G. F.

I'll strike you, but without the least
Anger — as butchers poll an ox,
Or Moses, when he struck the rocks —
That from your eyelid thus released,

The lymph of suffering may brim
To slake my desert of its drought.
So my desire, by hope made stout,
Upon your salty tears may swim,

Like a proud ship, far out from shore.
Within my heart, which they'll confound
With drunken joy, your sobs will sound
Like drums that beat a charge in war.

Am I not a faulty chord
In all this symphony divine,
Thanks to the irony malign
That shakes and cuts me like a sword?

It's in my voice, the raucous jade!
It's in my blood's black venom too!
I am the looking-glass, wherethrough
Megera sees herself portrayed!

I am the wound, and yet the blade!
The smack, and yet the cheek that takes it!
The limb, and yet the wheel that breaks it,
The torturer, and he who's flayed!

One of the sort whom all revile,
A Vampire, my own blood I quaff,
Condemned to an eternal laugh
Because I know not how to smile.

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

Heauton Timoroumenos

I mean to strike you without hate,
As butchers do; as Moses did
The rock. From under either lid
Your tears will flow to inundate

This huge Sahara which is I.
My heart, insensible with pain,
Caught in that flood will live again:
Will care whether it live or die —

Will strive as in the salty sea,
Drunken with brine and all but drowned,
Yet driven onward by the sound
Of your wild sobbing endlessly!

For look — I am at war, my dear,
With the whole universe. I know
There is no medicine for my woe.
Believe me, it is called Despair.

It runs in all my veins. I pray:
It cries in all my words. I am
The very glass where what I damn
Leers and admires itself all day.

I am the wound — I am the knife
The deep wound scabbards; the outdrawn
Rack, and the writhing thereupon;
The lifeless, and the taker of life.

I murder what I most adore,
Laughing: I am indeed of those
Condemned for ever without repose
To laugh — but who can smile no more.

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


Like a butcher I will strike you
Without anger and without hate
As Moses struck the rock!
And from your eyelid I will cause,

In order to irrigate my Sahara,
The waters of suffering to gush forth.
My desire swollen with hope
Will float on your salty tears

Like a vessel moving out from shore,
And in my heart which they will intoxicate
Your dear sobs will resound
Like a drum beating the charge!

Am I not a false chord
In the divine symphony,
Thanks to the voracious Irony
Which shakes and bites me?

The raucous girl is in my voice!
This black poison is my blood!
I am the sinister mirror
In which the megara looks at herself!

I am the wound and the blade!
I am the slap and the cheek!
I am the limbs and the wheel,
The victim and the executioner!

I am the vampire of my own heart
— One of the deserted men
Condemned to eternal laughter,
And who can no longer smile!

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

The Man Who Tortures Himself

I shall cleave without scrape or shock,
And, like a butcher, without hate,
Like Moses, when he struck the rock.
From your eyes I shall generate
Waters of woe throughout the years
To quench my fierce Sahara fires,
Swollen with vast hope, my desires
Shall float upon your bitter tears
Like a proud vessel, sailing large;
And in my heart, drunk at the sound,
Your cherished sobbing shall resound
Like drums beating the long lost charge.

Am I not a discordant note
In the celestial symphony,
Thanks to voracious Irony
Who shakes and bites me at the throat?
She's in my voice, the scold; her black
Poison is all my blood, alas!
I am the direful looking glass
Which flashes her reflection back.
I am the wound, the knives that strike,
The blows that crush, the head that reels,
I am wrenched limbs and grinding wheels,
Victim and hangman, as you like!

Vampire of my own heart, meanwhile,
A derelict, I am of those
Doomed to eternal laughter's throes,
Yet powerless to frame a smile!

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


I'd slip it to you
Without the least qualm or queasiness
Like a butcher slitting the throat of a chimp
Or Bunuel turning the bourgeois into a limp gallery
Of frustrated meat.

What, the waters of suffering to
Slake the Saharas of my desire?
Your few tears won't ever sell
In the dead and tedious ocean
That swims through my heart
Of war.

I was born into this dissonant symphony
To be a puncturing chord among the factions,
Spite has been my spirit's
Unadministerable poison
And I am locked in the show
That wants most of all
To have itself.

There is an inconsolable ache
In this member's voice, a lust for unhappeningness
In Borges' library or endlessly branching plot trees
Excited testaments of paper.

I can be the wound
And simultaneously the knife
Be the active thought
And a catacomb piled with unidentifiable bones
The Latin American Terrorist incarcerated
And the sadistic attaching
Electrodes to his balls.

I am the Judas who plays both parts
And whom all try to revile
A vampire of my own blood
Condemned to a hysterical laugh
And ferocious smile.

— Will Schmitz


I'll strike thee without enmity
nor wrath, like butchers at the block,
like Moses when he smote the rock!
I'll make those eyelids gush for me

with springs of suffering, whose flow
shall slake the desert of my thirst;
— a salt flood, where my lust accurst,
with Hope to plump her sail, shall go

as from the port a pitching barge,
and in my heart they satiate
thy sobs I love shall fulminate
loud as a drum that beats a charge!

for am I not a clashing chord
in all Thy heavenly symphony,
thanks to this vulture Irony
that shakes and bites me always, Lord?

she's in my voice, the screaming elf!
my poisoned blood came all from her!
I am the mirror sinister
in which the vixen sees herself!

I am the wound and I the knife!
I am the blow I give, and feel!
I am the broken limbs, the wheel,
the hangman and the strangled life!

I am my heart's own vampire, for
God has forsaken me, and men,
these lips can never smile again,
but laugh they must, and evermore!

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


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.