Self Portrait by Charles Baudelaire

Charles Baudelaire's
Fleurs du mal / Flowers of Evil



Une Idée, une Forme, un Etre
Parti de l'azur et tombé
Dans un Styx bourbeux et plombé
Où nul oeil du Ciel ne pénètre;

Un Ange, imprudent voyageur
Qu'a tenté l'amour du difforme,
Au fond d'un cauchemar énorme
Se débattant comme un nageur,

Et luttant, angoisses funèbres!
Contre un gigantesque remous
Qui va chantant comme les fous
Et pirouettant dans les ténèbres;

Un malheureux ensorcelé
Dans ses tâtonnements futiles
Pour fuir d'un lieu plein de reptiles,
Cherchant la lumière et la clé;

Un damné descendant sans lampe
Au bord d'un gouffre dont l'odeur
Trahit l'humide profondeur
D'éternels escaliers sans rampe,

Où veillent des monstres visqueux
Dont les larges yeux de phosphore
Font une nuit plus noire encore
Et ne rendent visibles qu'eux;

Un navire pris dans le pôle
Comme en un piège de cristal,
Cherchant par quel détroit fatal
Il est tombé dans cette geôle;

— Emblèmes nets, tableau parfait
D'une fortune irrémédiable
Qui donne à penser que le Diable
Fait toujours bien tout ce qu'il fait!


Tête-à-tête sombre et limpide
Qu'un coeur devenu son miroir!
Puits de Vérité, clair et noir
Où tremble une étoile livide,

Un phare ironique, infernal
Flambeau des grâces sataniques,
Soulagement et gloire uniques,
— La conscience dans le Mal!

Charles Baudelaire

Beyond Redemption


An Idea, a Form, a Being
Which left the azure sky and fell
Into a leaden, miry Styx
That no eye in Heaven can pierce;

An Angel, imprudent voyager
Tempted by love of the deformed,
In the depths of a vast nightmare
Flailing his arms like a swimmer,

And struggling, mortal agony!
Against a gigantic whirlpool
That sings constantly like madmen
And pirouettes in the darkness;

An unfortunate, enchanted,
Outstretched hands groping futilely,
Looking for the light and the key,
To flee a place filled with reptiles;

A damned soul descending endless stairs
Without banisters, without light,
On the edge of a gulf of which
The odor reveals the humid depth,

Where slimy monsters are watching,
Whose eyes, wide and phosphorescent,
Make the darkness darker still
And make visible naught but themselves;

A ship caught in the polar sea
As though in a snare of crystal,
Seeking the fatal strait through which
It came into that prison;

— Patent symbols, perfect picture
Of an irremediable fate
Which makes one think that the Devil
Always does well whatever he does!


Somber and limpid tête-à-tête —
A heart become its own mirror!
Well of Truth, clear and black,
Where a pale star flickers,

A hellish, ironic beacon,
Torch of satanical blessings,
Sole glory and only solace
— The consciousness of doing evil.

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

The Irremediable


A Form, Idea, or Essence, chased
Out of the azure sky, and shot
Into a leaden Styx where not
A star can pierce the muddy waste:

An angel, rash explorer, who,
Tempted by love of strange deformity,
Caught in a nightmare of enormity,
Fights like a swimmer, wrestling through

A monstrous whorl of eddying spume,
In deathly anguish, from him flinging
The wave that, like an idiot singing,
Goes pirouetting through the gloom:

A wretch enchanted, who, to flee
A den of serpents, gropes about
In desperation vain, without
Discovering a match or key:

A damned soul, who, with no lamp,
Stands by a gulf, whose humid scent
Betrays the depth of the descent
Of endless stairs without a ramp,

Where slimy monsters watch the track
Whose eyeballs phosphoresce and glow
Only to make the night more black
And nought except themselves to show:

A vessel that the pole betrays,
Caught in a crystal trap all round,
And seeking by what fatal sound
It ever entered such a maze: —

Clear emblems! measuring the level
Of irremediable dooms,
Which make us see bow well the Devil
Performs whatever he presumes!


Strange tête-à-tête! the heart, its own
Mirror, its own confession hears!
Deep well where Truth is trembling shown
And like a livid star appears,

Ironic beacon and infernal
Torch of satanic grace, but still
Sole glory and relief eternal,
— Conscience that operates in Ill!

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

The Irremediable


A Dream, a Form, a Creature, late
Fallen from azure realms, and sped
Into some Styx of mud and lead
No eye from heaven can penetrate;

An angel, rash wanderer, who craves
To look upon deformity,
The vast nightmare's gulf to try
As swimmer struggling with the waves,

And battling (anguish fierce and stark!)
Against gigantic whirlpools
That, singing, go like mad fools
Pirouetting in the dark;

One spellbound in sorcery,
Groping vainly as he makes
To flee a place alive with snakes,
Seeking the candle and the key;

A lost and lampless soul descending,
Within a gulf whose foetid scent
Betrays its damp and deep extent,
A railless staircase never ending,

Where clammy monsters guard the way,
Whose great eyes' phosphoric light
Makes even blacker still the night,
And nothing but themselves betray;

A vessel icebound at the pole,
As in a crystal trap secure,
Seeking the fatal aperture
By which it reached that prison goal:

— Perfect emblems, clear and true,
Of irremediable Fate,
They make us think the Devil's hate
Does well whatever he will do!


The dialogue is dark and clear
When a heart becomes its mirror!
Black well of Truth, but none is clearer,
Where that livid star appears,

That ironic and primaeval
Beacon, torch of Satan's grace,
Our sole glory and our solace —
Consciousness in doing EvilĀ !

— Henry Curwen, Flowers of Evil (NY: New Directions, 1955)

The Irremediable


An Idea, a Form, a Being
Leaving the blue and falling
Into a murky leaden Styx
Where no eye of Heaven penetrates;

An Angel, impudent traveler
Tempted by love of the deformed,
At the bottom of a huge nightmare
Floundering like a swimmer,

And struggling, O funereal anguish!
Against a gigantic whirlpool
Which sings like madmen
And pirouettes in the darkness;

A spellbound wretch
In his futile gropings,
In order to flee a serpent-filled place,
Looking for light and a key;

One damned descending without lamp,
On the edge of an abyss whose stench
Betrays the wet depths
Of endless stairways with no rail,

Where clammy monsters watch
Whose large phosphorous eyes
Create a night still blacker
And leave only themselves visible;

A ship caught at the pole,
As in a crystal trap,
Looking for the fatal aperture
Through which it fell into this jail

— Clear emblems, perfect picture
Of an irremediable fortune,
Which makes one think that the Devil
Always does well everything he does!


Somber clear dialogue
Of a heart which has become its own mirror!
Well of Truth, clear and black,
Where a pale star trembles,

An ironic, infernal beacon,
Torch of satanic grace,
A unique solace and glory,
— Consciousness in doing Evil!

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


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.