Self Portrait by Charles Baudelaire

Charles Baudelaire's
Fleurs du mal / Flowers of Evil

Le Jeu

Dans des fauteuils fanés des courtisanes vieilles,
Pâles, le sourcil peint, l'oeil câlin et fatal,
Minaudant, et faisant de leurs maigres oreilles
Tomber un cliquetis de pierre et de métal;

Autour des verts tapis des visages sans lèvre,
Des lèvres sans couleur, des mâchoires sans dent,
Et des doigts convulsés d'une infernale fièvre,
Fouillant la poche vide ou le sein palpitant;

Sous de sales plafonds un rang de pâles lustres
Et d'énormes quinquets projetant leurs lueurs
Sur des fronts ténébreux de poètes illustres
Qui viennent gaspiller leurs sanglantes sueurs;

Voilà le noir tableau qu'en un rêve nocturne
Je vis se dérouler sous mon oeil clairvoyant.
Moi-même, dans un coin de l'antre taciturne,
Je me vis accoudé, froid, muet, enviant,

Enviant de ces gens la passion tenace,
De ces vieilles putains la funèbre gaieté,
Et tous gaillardement trafiquant à ma face,
L'un de son vieil honneur, l'autre de sa beauté!

Et mon coeur s'effraya d'envier maint pauvre homme
Courant avec ferveur à l'abîme béant,
Et qui, soûl de son sang, préférerait en somme
La douleur à la mort et l'enfer au néant!

Charles Baudelaire


In faded armchairs aged courtesans,
Pale, eyebrows penciled, with alluring fatal eyes,
Smirking and sending forth from wizened ears
A jingling sound of metal and of gems;

Around the gaming tables faces without lips,
Lips without color and jaws without teeth,
Fingers convulsed with a hellborn fever
Searching empty pockets and fluttering bosoms;

Under dirty ceilings a row of bright lusters
And enormous oil-lamps casting their rays
On the tenebrous brows of distinguished poets
Who come there to squander the blood they have sweated;

That is the black picture that in a dream one night
I saw unfold before my penetrating eyes.
I saw myself at the back of that quiet den,
Leaning on my elbows, cold, silent, envying,

Envying the stubborn passion of those people,
The dismal merriment of those old prostitutes,
All blithely selling right before my eyes,
One his ancient honor, another her beauty!

My heart took fright at its envy of so many
Wretches running fiercely to the yawning chasm,
Who, drunk with their own blood, would prefer, in a word,
Suffering to death and hell to nothingness!

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

The Gamblers

In faded armchairs, harlots of past years
Pale, with false eyebrows, wheedling, fatal eyes,
And weird, affected airs, clink from thin ears
A feeble sound, where tin with crystal vies.

Round the green tables, faces without lips,
Lips without colour, jaws their teeth surviving,
And fingers which a hellish fever grips
Convulsively in breasts and pockets diving

Under the dirty ceiling, lustres flame
And chandeliers, that blaze without remittance
On shady brows of poets dear to fame,
Who come to waste their sorely-sweated pittance.

Such was the picture, in nocturnal dreaming,
I saw unfurled to my clairvoyant eye.
In that grim vault, one form on elbows leaning,
Unspeaking, cold, and envious — was I! —

Yes! envying, for their all-tenacious passion,
These raddled tarts in their funereal glee,
Who trafficked there, in such a merry fashion,
Dead virtue and lost beauty on the spree.

My heart was chilled with fear at envying
Wretches who, headlong, rush to be destroyed,
And, drunk with their own blood, seek anything —
Hell, death, or torture — rather than the Void!

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

The Gaming Room

The armchairs of worn satin; the aged courtesans,
Livid and rouged, their eyes relentless, their eyebrows blacked,
Jingling eternally from their withered ears, to attract
Attention, their huge earrings, and ogling behind their fans;

The long green table, the rows of lipless faces, the lips
Drained of all color; the gaping, toothless mouths; the unrest
Of hundreds of white nervous fingers, stacking the chips,
Or searching the empty pocket, the convulsive breast;

The dirty ceiling, the blaze of crystal chandeliers,
The low-hung lamps illumining with a crude glare
The ravaged brows of poets, the scars of grenadiers,
Who come to risk the earnings of their lifeblood there.

— Such is the lurid spectacle that with calm dread
I saw as in a melancholy dream unroll:
Myself, too, sitting in a deserted corner, my head
Propped in my hands, mute, weary, jealous to my soul,

Jealous of all that rabble, of the lust of it,
The terrible gaiety of those old whores, the smell
And noise of life, for which they frantically sell
Some remnant of their honor, their beauty, or their wit.

And suddenly I was affrighted at my own heart, to feel
Such envy of all men running wildly and out of breath
Nowhere, and who prefer, like those around that wheel,
Pain, horror, crime, insanity — anything — to death!

— George Dillon, Flowers of Evil (NY: Harper and Brothers, 1936)

The Gaming Table

The rich old ones quiver in their chairs
Eyes uniformly sly under their blue and purple eyelids.
They mince up and parcel out the conversation in
Little packets that taint the atmosphere.

Many fingers are already in their pockets of delirium
Around the green felt table. The dentures clatter, loud
Bets are placed from the lipless faces showing up somewhere
Where if your neighbor couldn't hear you he can see what was said.

So the chandeliers and the discolored wallpaper pick out
The colors the guests are wearing companionably.
I'm looking around the place quietly
Since this Is the first time I've been invited

Catch me in the corner where I'm watching enviously.
I envy these creatures their tenacious lust.
Skeletons that rattle mirthfully when they
Recall those friends already underground
After decades of pursuing pleasure.

Envy, despicable word.
Those here are drunk with
The passion of their slow destruction
Preferring agony to death
And hell to nothingness.

— Will Schmitz

The Gaming Table

On tarnished chairs the pale old harlots quiver,
Sly fatal eyes under the eyebrows painted
Dreadfully mincingĀ : as their lean ears shiver
With hateful jewelled peal the air is tainted.

Round the green tables a frieze of lipless faces,
Of blue-cold lips, if lips, of toothless gums,
And fingers, fevered with Hell's last disgraces,
Fumbling in pockets — or in deliriums.

Dull chandeliers in the soot-mottled ceiling
And swollen lamps pick out with violet
Shadow the brows of famous poets, reeling
To waste the guerdon of art's blood-stained sweat.

My eye, turned inward, darkly can discern
This Hellish picture self-distorted thus,
The while I see in yonder taciturn
Corner myself, cold, mute — and envious.

Envying these creatures their tenacious lust,
These rattling skeletons their deadly mirth,
Envying all of those who gaily thrust
Honour or beauty to rot beneath the earth.

Envious, my heart! O dark and dreadful word!
When these with passion their bright destruction bless,
Who, drunk with the pulse of their own blood, preferred
Deep pain to death and Hell to nothingness.

— Humbert Wolfe, Flowers of Evil (NY: New Directions, 1955)


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.