Self Portrait by Charles Baudelaire

Charles Baudelaire's
Fleurs du mal / Flowers of Evil


J'ai plus de souvenirs que si j'avais mille ans.

Un gros meuble à tiroirs encombré de bilans,
De vers, de billets doux, de procès, de romances,
Avec de lourds cheveux roulés dans des quittances,
Cache moins de secrets que mon triste cerveau.
C'est une pyramide, un immense caveau,
Qui contient plus de morts que la fosse commune.
— Je suis un cimetière abhorré de la lune,
Où comme des remords se traînent de longs vers
Qui s'acharnent toujours sur mes morts les plus chers.
Je suis un vieux boudoir plein de roses fanées,
Où gît tout un fouillis de modes surannées,
Où les pastels plaintifs et les pâles Boucher
Seuls, respirent l'odeur d'un flacon débouché.

Rien n'égale en longueur les boiteuses journées,
Quand sous les lourds flocons des neigeuses années
L'ennui, fruit de la morne incuriosité,
Prend les proportions de l'immortalité.
— Désormais tu n'es plus, ô matière vivante!
Qu'un granit entouré d'une vague épouvante,
Assoupi dans le fond d'un Sahara brumeux;
Un vieux sphinx ignoré du monde insoucieux,
Oublié sur la carte, et dont l'humeur farouche
Ne chante qu'aux rayons du soleil qui se couche.

Charles Baudelaire


I have more memories than if I'd lived a thousand years.

A heavy chest of drawers cluttered with balance-sheets,
Processes, love-letters, verses, ballads,
And heavy locks of hair enveloped in receipts,
Hides fewer secrets than my gloomy brain.
It is a pyramid, a vast burial vault
Which contains more corpses than potter's field.
— I am a cemetery abhorred by the moon,
In which long worms crawl like remorse
And constantly harass my dearest dead.
I am an old boudoir full of withered roses,
Where lies a whole litter of old-fashioned dresses,
Where the plaintive pastels and the pale Bouchers,
Alone, breathe in the fragrance from an opened phial.

Nothing is so long as those limping days,
When under the heavy flakes of snowy years
Ennui, the fruit of dismal apathy,
Becomes as large as immortality.
— Henceforth you are no more, O living matter!
Than a block of granite surrounded by vague terrors,
Dozing in the depths of a hazy Sahara
An old sphinx ignored by a heedless world,
Omitted from the map, whose savage nature
Sings only in the rays of a setting sun.

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


I have more memories than had I seen
Ten centuries. A huge chest that has been
Stuffed full of writs, bills, verses, balance-sheets
With golden curls wrapt up in old receipts
And love-letters — hides less than my sad brain,
A pyramid, a vault that must contain
More corpses than the public charnel stores.

I am a cemetery the moon abhors,
Where, like remorses, the long worms that trail
Always the dearest of my dead assail.
I am a boudoir full of faded roses
Where many an old outmoded dress reposes
And faded pastels and pale Bouchers only
Breathe a scent-flask, long-opened and left lonely...

Nothing can match those limping days for length
Where under snows of years, grown vast in strength,
Boredom (of listlessness the pale abortion)
Of immortality takes the proportion!
— From henceforth, living matter, you are nought
But stone surrounded by a dreadful thought:
Lost in some dim Sahara, an old Sphinx,
Of whom the world we live in never thinks.
Lost on the map, it is its surly way
Only to sing in sunset's fading ray.

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


Were I ten centuries old, could I remember more?

A weighty chest of drawers, crammed with a random store
Of poems, billets-doux, writs, songs, balance sheets,
And heavy skeins of hair rolled up in old receipts,
Hides fewer secrets, surely, than my sorry brain,
A pyramid and vault, whose corridors contain
More corpses than the potter's field, or late or soon.
A graveyard, I, abominated by the moon,
Where, like a viscous worm, remorse thrusts out his head
To strike forever at my most beloved dead.
I am an ancient boudoir filled with faded roses
In which a ruck of long-outmoded gowns reposes,
Where pastels all too sad and Bouchers all too pale
Alone breathe in the scents that uncorked flasks exhale.

Nothing can be so long as days, limping and drear,
Under the heavy flakes of year on snowy year,
When ennui, fruit of dismal incuriosity,
Assumes the fearful scope of immortality.
— Henceforth you are no more, O mind, O living matter!
Than a cold granite block which unknown terrors spatter,
Dozing deep in the wastes of a Saharan daze,
An ancient Sphinx unknown of our indifferent days,
Omitted from all maps, a lonely savage one
Who can sing only at the setting of the sun.

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

The Sphinx

I swear to you that if I lived a thousand years
I could not be more crammed with dubious souvenirs.

There's no old chest of drawers bulging with deeds and bills,
Love-letters, locks of hair, novels, bad verses, wills,
That hides so many secrets as my wretched head; —
It's like a mausoleum, like a pyramid,
Holding more heaped unpleasant bones than Potter's Field;
I am a graveyard hated by the moon; revealed
Never by her blue light are those long worms that force
Into my dearest dead their blunt snouts of remorse.
— am an old boudoir, where roses dried and brown
Have given their dusty odor to the faded gown,
To the ridiculous hat, doubtless in other days
So fine, among the wan pastels and pale Bouchers.

Time has gone lame, and limps; and under a thick pall
Of snow the endless years efface and muffle all;
Till boredom, fruit of the mind's inert, incurious tree,
Assumes the shape and size of immortality.

Henceforth, O living matter, you are nothing more
Than the fixed heart of chaos, soft horror's granite core,
Than a forgotten Sphinx that in some desert stands,
Drowsing beneath the heat, half-hidden by the sands,
Unmarked on any map, — whose rude and sullen frown
Lights up a moment only when the sun goes down.

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


I hold more memories than a thousand years.

a chest of drawers crammed full of souvenirs,
accounts and love-notes, warrants, verses — where
from bills of sale fall coiling locks of hair —
guards not more secrets than my heart of woe,
a burial-vault whose coffins lie arow,
a potters' field that death has filled too soon.
— I am a graveyard hated by the moon,
where creeping worms trail slowly as remorse,
fiercely destroyed each belovèd corpse.

I am a room where faded roses lie
and gowns of perished fashions multiply,
with none but ladies in pastel to share
the musk from some old jar forgotten there.

no days so lame as all the days I know
while, crushed by years of ever-falling snow,
boredom, dull fruitage of my apathy,
waxes as vast as immortality.

henceforth, o living cells, ye sleep, a womb
faint shudders pierce, a cold grey cliff of doom
lost in a misty desert far away,
— a drowsy sphynx, forgot by all today,
uncharted avatar, whose tameless heart
sounds only when the day's last fires depart.

— 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.