Self Portrait by Charles Baudelaire

Charles Baudelaire's
Fleurs du mal / Flowers of Evil

La Cloche fêlée

II est amer et doux, pendant les nuits d'hiver,
D'écouter, près du feu qui palpite et qui fume,
Les souvenirs lointains lentement s'élever
Au bruit des carillons qui chantent dans la brume.

Bienheureuse la cloche au gosier vigoureux
Qui, malgré sa vieillesse, alerte et bien portante,
Jette fidèlement son cri religieux,
Ainsi qu'un vieux soldat qui veille sous la tente!

Moi, mon âme est fêlée, et lorsqu'en ses ennuis
Elle veut de ses chants peupler l'air froid des nuits,
II arrive souvent que sa voix affaiblie

Semble le râle épais d'un blessé qu'on oublie
Au bord d'un lac de sang, sous un grand tas de morts
Et qui meurt, sans bouger, dans d'immenses efforts.

Charles Baudelaire

The Flawed Bell

It is bitter and sweet on winter nights
To listen by the fire that smokes and palpitates,
To distant souvenirs that rise up slowly
At the sound of the chimes that sing in the fog.

Happy is the bell which in spite of age
Is vigilant and healthy, and with lusty throat
Faithfully sounds its religious call,
Like an old soldier watching from his tent!

I, my soul is flawed, and when, a prey to ennui,
She wishes to fill the cold night air with her songs,
It often happens that her weakened voice

Resembles the death rattle of a wounded man,
Forgotten beneath a heap of dead, by a lake of blood,
Who dies without moving, striving desperately.

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

The Cracked Bell

It's sweet and bitter, of a winter night,
To hear, beside the crackling, smoking log,
Far memories prepare themselves for flight
To carillons that sound amid the fog.

Happy's the bell whose vigorous throat on high,
in spite of time, is sound and still unspent,
To hurl his faithful and religious cry
Like an old soldier watching in his tent.

My soul is cracked, and when amidst its care
It tries with song to fill the frosty air,
Sometimes, its voice seems like the feeble croak

A wounded soldier makes, lost in the smoke,
Beneath a pile of dead, in bloody mire,
Trying, with fearful efforts, to expire.

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

The Cracked Bell

Bitter and sweet it is on these long winter nights
To sit before the fire and watch the smoking log
Beat like a heart; and hear our lost, our mute delights
Call with the carillons that ring out in the fog.

What certitude, what health, sounds from that brazen throat,
In spite of age and rust, alert! O happy bell,
Sending into the dark your clear religious note,
Like an old soldier crying through the night, "All's well!"

I am not thus; my soul is cracked across by care;
Its voice, that once could clang upon this icy air,
Has lost the power, it seems, — comes faintly forth, instead,

As from the rattling throat of a hurt man who lies
Beside a lake of blood, under a heap of dead,
And cannot stir, and in prodigious struggling dies.

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

The Flawed Bell

Bitter and sweet it is, in winter night,
Hard by the flickering fire that smokes, to list
While far-off memories rise in sad slow flight,
With chimes that echo singing through the mist.

O bless√ęd be the bell whose vigorous throat,
In spite of age alert, with strength unspent,
Utters religiously his faithful note,
Like an old warrior watching near the tent!

My soul, alas! is flawed, and when despair
Would people with her songs the chill night-air
Too oft they faint in hoarse enfeebled tones,

As when a wounded man forgotten moans
By the red pool, beneath a heap of dead,
And dying writhes in frenzy on his bed.

— W. J. Robertson, from Baudelaire: His Prose and Poetry, edited by Thomas Robert Smith (New York: Boni and Liveright, 1919)

The Broken Bell

How sweet and bitter, on a winter night,
Beside the palpitating fire to list,
As, slowly, distant memories alight,
To sounds of chimes that sing across the mist.

Oh, happy is that bell with hearty throat,
Which neither age nor time can e'er defeat,
Which faithfully uplifts its pious note,
Like an agèd soldier on his beat.

For me, my soul is cracked, and 'mid her cares,
Would often fill with her songs the midnight airs;
And oft it chances that her feeble moan

Is like the wounded warrior's fainting groan,
Who by a lake of blood, 'neath bodies slain,
In anguish falls, and never moves again.

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

La Cloche fêlée

'tis bitter joy, as winter evenings wear
before a smoking hearth which flames aghast,
to hear slow memories mounting from the past,
while church-bells pierce the pall of misty air.

blessèd the flawless bell, of metal rare,
the full-toned bourdon, void of rift and rust,
which like a guardsman faithful to his trust
hurls forth unfailingly its call to prayer!

my soul's a riven bell, that timidly
would fill the frozen night with melody,
but oft it falters, whisperingly weak

as, echoing over lakes of blood, a shriek
muffled by mounds of dead, from one who lies
moveless as they, though struggling till he dies.

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

The Cracked Bell

'Tis bitter-sweet, when winter nights are long,
To watch, beside the flames which smoke and twist,
The distant memories which slowly throng,
Brought by the chime soft-singing through the mist.

Happy the sturdy, vigorous-throated bell
Who, spite of age alert and confident,
Cries hourly, like some strong old sentinel
Flinging the ready challenge from his tent.

For me, my soul is cracked; when, sick with care,
She strives with songs to people the cold air
It happens often that her feeble cries

Mock the harsh rattle of a man who lies
Wounded, forgotten, 'neath a mound of slain
And dies, pinned fast, writhing his limbs in vain.

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

The Cracked Bell

It is bitter and sweet, during winter nights,
To listen, beside the throbbing, smoking fire,
To distant memories slowly ascending
In the sound of the chimes chanting through the fog.

Blessed the bell with the vigorous gullet
Which, despite old age, watchful and healthy,
Throws out faithfully its pious tones,
Like an old soldier in vigil under his tent!

Ah, my soul is cracked, and when in sorrows
It wishes to people the cold air of the night with its songs,
Often it happens that its feeble voice

Seems like the thick death-rattle of one wounded, forgotten
By the side of a lake of blood, under a great weight of dead,
Who dies, without moving, amongst enormous efforts.

— 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.