Self Portrait by Charles Baudelaire

Charles Baudelaire's
Fleurs du mal / Flowers of Evil

À une Mendiante rousse

Blanche fille aux cheveux roux,
Dont la robe par ses trous
Laisse voir la pauvreté
Et la beauté,

Pour moi, poète chétif,
Ton jeune corps maladif,
Plein de taches de rousseur,
A sa douceur.

Tu portes plus galamment
Qu'une reine de roman
Ses cothurnes de velours
Tes sabots lourds.

Au lieu d'un haillon trop court,
Qu'un superbe habit de cour
Traîne à plis bruyants et longs
Sur tes talons;

En place de bas troués
Que pour les yeux des roués
Sur ta jambe un poignard d'or
Reluise encor;

Que des noeuds mal attachés
Dévoilent pour nos péchés
Tes deux beaux seins, radieux
Comme des yeux;

Que pour te déshabiller
Tes bras se fassent prier
Et chassent à coups mutins
Les doigts lutins,

Perles de la plus belle eau,
Sonnets de maître Belleau
Par tes galants mis aux fers
Sans cesse offerts,

Valetaille de rimeurs
Te dédiant leurs primeurs
Et contemplant ton soulier
Sous l'escalier,

Maint page épris du hasard,
Maint seigneur et maint Ronsard
Epieraient pour le déduit
Ton frais réduit!

Tu compterais dans tes lits
Plus de baisers que de lis
Et rangerais sous tes lois
Plus d'un Valois!

— Cependant tu vas gueusant
Quelque vieux débris gisant
Au seuil de quelque Véfour
De carrefour;

Tu vas lorgnant en dessous
Des bijoux de vingt-neuf sous
Dont je ne puis, oh! Pardon!
Te faire don.

Va donc, sans autre ornement,
Parfum, perles, diamant,
Que ta maigre nudité,
Ô ma beauté!

Charles Baudelaire

To an Auburn-Haired Beggar-Maid

Pale girl with the auburn hair,
Whose dress through its tears and holes
Reveals your poverty
And your beauty,

For me, an ailing poet,
Your body, young and sickly,
Spotted with countless freckles,
Has its sweetness.

You wear with more elegance
Your wooden clogs than the queen
In a romance her sandals
Trimmed with velvet.

Instead of a scanty rag,
Let a glittering court dress
Trail with its long, rustling folds
Over your heels;

In place of stockings with holes,
Let, for the eyes of roués,
A golden poniard glisten
In your garter;

Let ill-tied ribbons give way
And unveil, so we may sin,
Your two lovely breasts, radiant
As shining eyes;

Let your arms demand entreating
To uncover your body
And repel with saucy blows
Roguish fingers,

Pearls of the finest water,
Sonnets by Master Belleau
Constantly offered by swains
Held in love's chains,

Plebeian versifiers
Offering first books to you
And ogling your slippered foot
From under the stair;

Many a page fond of love's chance,
Many a Ronsard and lord
For amusement would spy on
Your chilly hut!

You could count in your beds
More kisses than fleurs-de-lis
And subject to your power
Many Valois!

— However, you go begging
Some moldy refuse lying
On the steps of some Véfour
At the crossroads;

You go furtively eyeing
Baubles at twenty-nine sous,
Of which I can't, oh! pardon!
Make you a gift.

Go, with no more adornment,
Perfume or pearl or diamond,
Than your slender nudity,
O my beauty!

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

The Red-Haired Beggar Girl

White girl with flame-red hair,
Whose garments, here and there,
Give poverty to view,
And beauty too.

To me, poor puny poet,
Your body, as you show it,
With freckles on your arms,
Has yet its charms.

You wear with prouder mien
Than in Romance a queen
Her velvet buskins could —
Your clogs of wood.

In place of tatters short
Let some rich robe of court
Swirl with its silken wheels
After your heels:

In place of stockings holed
A dagger made of gold,
To light the lecher's eye,
Flash on your thigh:

Let ribbons slip their bows
And for our sins disclose
A breast whose radiance vies
Even with your eyes.

To show them further charms
Let them implore your arms,
And these, rebuking, humble
Fingers that fumble

With proferred pearls aglow
And sonnets of Belleau,
Which, fettered by your beauty,
They yield in duty.

Riffraff of scullion-rhymers
Would dedicate their primers
Under the stairs to view
Only your shoe.

Each page-boy lucky-starred,
Each marquis, each Ronsard
Would hang about your bower
To while an hour.

You'd count, among your blisses,
Than lilies far more kisses,
And boast, among your flames,
Some royal names.

Yet now your beauty begs
For scraps on floors, and dregs
Else destined to the gutter,
As bread and butter.

You eye, with longing tense,
Cheap gauds for thirty cents,
Which, pardon me, these days
I cannot raise.

No scent, or pearl, or stone,
But nothing save your own
Thin nudity for dower,
Pass on, my flower!

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

To a Brown Beggar-Maid

White maiden with the russet hair,
Whose garments, through their holes, declare
That poverty is part of you,
And beauty too.

To me, a sorry bard and mean,
Your youthful beauty, frail and lean,
With summer freckles here and there,
Is sweet and fair.

Your sabots tread the roads of chance,
And not one queen of old romance
Carried her velvet shoes and lace
With half your grace.

In place of tatters far too short
Let the proud garments worn at Court
Fall down with rustling fold and pleat
About your feet;

In place of stockings, worn and old,
Let a keen dagger all of gold
Gleam in your garter for the eyes
Of rou├ęs wise;

Let ribbons carelessly untied
Reveal to us the radiant pride
Of your white bosom purer far
Than any star;

Let your white arms uncovered shine,
Polished and smooth and half divine;
And let your elfish fingers chase
With riotous grace

The purest pearls that softly glow,
The sweetest sonnets of Belleau,
Offered by gallants ere they fight
For your delight;

And many fawning rhymers who
Inscribe their first thin book to you
Will contemplate upon the stair
Your slipper fair;

And many a page who plays at cards,
And many lords and many bards,
Will watch your going forth, and burn
For your return;

And you will count before your glass
More kisses than the lily has;
And more than one Valois will sigh
When you pass by.

But meanwhile you are on the tramp,
Begging your living in the damp,
Wandering mean streets and alleys o'er,
From door to door;

And shilling bangles in a shop
Cause you with eager eyes to stop,
And I, alas, have not a sou
To give to you.

Then go, with no more ornament,
Pearl, diamond, or subtle scent,
Than your own fragile naked grace
And lovely face.

— F.P. Sturm, from Baudelaire: His Prose and Poetry, edited by Thomas Robert Smith (New York: Boni and Liveright, 1919)

To a Red-Haired Beggar Girl

Little white girl with red hair,
The holes in your frock
Show poverty
And beauty,

For me, a poor poet,
Your young and ailing body,
Spotted with, freckles,
Has its sweetness.

You carry more gallantly,
Than can a queen of fiction
Her high-boots of velvet,
Your heavy clogs.

In place of rags too short for you,
May a fine court costume
Be drawn in blustering, long folds
At your heels;

In place of stockings in holes,
May a dagger of gold
Glitter for the eyes of rakes
On your leg;

May barely fastened knots
Reveal for our sinning
Your lovely breasts, radiant
As two eyes;

May, to undress yourself,
Your arms require coaxing
And may they archly repel
Mischievous fingers,

May pearls of finest water,
Sonnets by Belleau,
Be ceaselessly proffered
By your enslaved lovers,

Trains of servant rhymers,
Dedicating first lines to you
And watching your slipper
Under the staircase,

Many a flunkey struck at random,
Many a lord and many a Ronsard
Would spy to seduce it
Your tender retreat!

You would count more kisses
Than lilies in your beds
And you would hold in sway
More than one Valois!

— Meanwhile you go begging
Some old rubbish lying
On the threshold of some
Vulgar Véfour;

You go gaping past your shoulder
At twenty-nine sou jewels
Of which, I cannot, I am sorry,
Make a gift to you.

Go then, without other ornament,
Perfume, pearls or diamonds,
Than your emaciated nudity,
O my beauty!

— 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.