Self Portrait by Charles Baudelaire

Charles Baudelaire's
Fleurs du mal / Flowers of Evil

Les Hiboux

Sous les ifs noirs qui les abritent
Les hiboux se tiennent rangés
Ainsi que des dieux étrangers
Dardant leur oeil rouge. Ils méditent.

Sans remuer ils se tiendront
Jusqu'à l'heure mélancolique
Où, poussant le soleil oblique,
Les ténèbres s'établiront.

Leur attitude au sage enseigne
Qu'il faut en ce monde qu'il craigne
Le tumulte et le mouvement;

L'homme ivre d'une ombre qui passe
Porte toujours le châtiment
D'avoir voulu changer de place.

Charles Baudelaire


Under the dark yews which shade them,
The owls are perched in rows,
Like so many strange gods,
Darting their red eyes. They meditate.

Without budging they will remain
Till that melancholy hour
When, pushing back the slanting sun,
Darkness will take up its abode.

Their attitude teaches the wise
That in this world one must fear
Movement and commotion;

Man, enraptured by a passing shadow,
Forever bears the punishment
Of having tried to change his place.

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

The Owls

Within the shelter of black yews
The owls in ranks are ranged apart
Like foreign gods, whose eyeballs dart
Red fire. They meditate and muse.

Without a stir they will remain
Till, in its melancholy hour,
Thrusting the level sun from power,
The shade establishes its reign.

Their attitude instructs the sage,
Content with what is near at hand,
To shun all motion, strife, and rage.

Men, crazed with shadows that they chase,
Bear, as a punishment, the brand
Of having wished to change their place.

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

The Owls

Upon black yew tree branches perch
The owls, mute and self-possessed;
They meditate like temple gods
With ruby eyes and stony breast.

No twitch or turn until the time,
The fateful hour, when night shades fall
And lean against the light, and dark
Soon spreads dominion over all.

Their poise will teach the wise how slight
A rush and restlessness excite
Our fears — a shadow glances by

A drunk, who gasps a startled sigh,
Regretting that he'd bid goodbye,
To stagger homeward through the night.

— Edward Eriksson

The Owls

Protected under black yew trees,
The owls are perched in neat arrays.
They meditate with scarlet gaze,
Resembling foreign deities.

Unmoving, they will stay until
That melancholic moment when,
Pursuing close the slanting sun,
Arrives the covering darkness chill.

Their poise imparts to the astute
That any motion not minute
Should be abhorred. And those

Whom passing shadows captivate
Will never find a true repose
For their desire to relocate.

— Charles Martyn (charmar at gmail dot com)

The Owls

The owls that roost in the black yew
Along one limb in solemn state,
And with a red eye look you through,
Are eastern gods; they meditate.

No feather stirs on them, not one,
Until that melancholy hour
When night, supplanting the weak sun,
Resumes her interrupted power.

Their attitude instructs the wise
To shun all action, all surprise.
Suppose there passed a lovely face, —

Who even longs to follow it,
Must feel for ever the disgrace
Of having all but moved a bit.

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


Beneath the shades of sombre yews,
The silent owls sit ranged in rows,
Like ancient idols, strangely pose,
And darting fiery eyes, they muse.

Immovable, they sit and gaze,
Until the melancholy hour,
At which the darknesses devour
The faded sunset's slanting rays.

Their attitude, instructs the wise,
That he — within this world — who flies
From tumult and from merriment;

The man allured by a passing face,
For ever bears the chastisement
Of having wished to change his place.

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

The Owls

'Neath their black yews in solemn state
The owls are sitting in a row
Like foreign gods; and even so
Blink their red eyes; they meditate.

Quite motionless they hold them thus
Until at last the day is done,
And, driving down the slanting sun,
The sad night is victorious.

They teach the wise who gives them ear
That in this world he most should fear
All things which loud or restless be.

Who, dazzled by a passing shade,
Follows it, never will be free
Till the dread penalty be paid.

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

The Owls

Under the overhanging yews,
The dark owls sit in solemn state,
Like stranger gods; by twos and twos
Their red eyes gleam. They meditate.

Motionless thus they sit and dream
Until that melancholy hour
When, with the sun's last fading gleam,
The nightly shades assume their power.

From their still attitude the wise
Will learn with terror to despise
All tumult, movement, and unrest;

For he who follows every shade,
Carries the memory in his breast,
Of each unhappy journey made.

— 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.