Self Portrait by Charles Baudelaire

Charles Baudelaire's
Fleurs du mal / Flowers of Evil

Le Crépuscule du soir

Voici le soir charmant, ami du criminel;
II vient comme un complice, à pas de loup; le ciel
Se ferme lentement comme une grande alcôve,
Et l'homme impatient se change en bête fauve.

Ô soir, aimable soir, désiré par celui
Dont les bras, sans mentir, peuvent dire: Aujourd'hui
Nous avons travaillé! — C'est le soir qui soulage
Les esprits que dévore une douleur sauvage,
Le savant obstiné dont le front s'alourdit,
Et l'ouvrier courbé qui regagne son lit.
Cependant des démons malsains dans l'atmosphère
S'éveillent lourdement, comme des gens d'affaire,
Et cognent en volant les volets et l'auvent.
À travers les lueurs que tourmente le vent
La Prostitution s'allume dans les rues;
Comme une fourmilière elle ouvre ses issues;
Partout elle se fraye un occulte chemin,
Ainsi que l'ennemi qui tente un coup de main;
Elle remue au sein de la cité de fange
Comme un ver qui dérobe à l'Homme ce qu'il mange.
On entend çà et là les cuisines siffler,
Les théâtres glapir, les orchestres ronfler;
Les tables d'hôte, dont le jeu fait les délices,
S'emplissent de catins et d'escrocs, leurs complices,
Et les voleurs, qui n'ont ni trêve ni merci,
Vont bientôt commencer leur travail, eux aussi,
Et forcer doucement les portes et les caisses
Pour vivre quelques jours et vêtir leurs maîtresses.

Recueille-toi, mon âme, en ce grave moment,
Et ferme ton oreille à ce rugissement.
C'est l'heure où les douleurs des malades s'aigrissent!
La sombre Nuit les prend à la gorge; ils finissent
Leur destinée et vont vers le gouffre commun;
L'hôpital se remplit de leurs soupirs. — Plus d'un
Ne viendra plus chercher la soupe parfumée,
Au coin du feu, le soir, auprès d'une âme aimée.

Encore la plupart n'ont-ils jamais connu
La douceur du foyer et n'ont jamais vécu!

Charles Baudelaire


Behold the sweet evening, friend of the criminal;
It comes like an accomplice, stealthily; the sky
Closes slowly like an immense alcove,
And impatient man turns into a beast of prey.
O evening, kind evening, desired by him
Whose arms can say, without lying: "Today
We labored!" — It is the evening that comforts
Those minds that are consumed by a savage sorrow,
The obstinate scholar whose head bends with fatigue
And the bowed laborer who returns to his bed.

Meanwhile in the atmosphere malefic demons
Awaken sluggishly, like businessmen,
And take flight, bumping against porch roofs and shutters.
Among the gas flames worried by the wind
Prostitution catches alight in the streets;
Like an ant-hill she lets her workers out;
Everywhere she blazes a secret path,
Like an enemy who plans a surprise attack;
She moves in the heart of the city of mire
Like a worm that steals from Man what he eats.
Here and there one hears food sizzle in the kitchens,
The theaters yell, the orchestras moan;

The gambling dens, where games of chance delight,
Fill up with whores and cardsharps, their accomplices;
The burglars, who know neither respite nor mercy,
Are soon going to begin their work, they also,
And quietly force open cash-boxes and doors
To enjoy life awhile and dress their mistresses.

Meditate, O my soul, in this solemn moment,
And close your ears to this uproar;
It is now that the pains of the sick grow sharper!
Somber Night grabs them by the throat; they reach the end
Of their destinies and go to the common pit;
The hospitals are filled with their sighs. — More than one
Will come no more to get his fragrant soup
By the fireside, in the evening, with a loved one.

However, most of them have never known
The sweetness of a home, have never lived!

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

Evening Twilight

Delightful evening, partner of the crook,
Steals in, wolf-padded, like a complice: look:
Heaven, like a garret, closes to the day,
And Man, impatient, turns a beast of prey.

Sweet evening, loved by those whose arms can tell,
Without a lie, "Today we've laboured well:"
Sweet evening, it is she who brings relief
To men with souls devoured by one fierce grief,
Obstinate thinkers drowsy in the head,
And toil-bent workmen groping to their bed.

But insalubrious demons of the airs,
Like business people, wake to their affairs
And, flying, knock, like bats, on walls and shutters.
Now Prostitution lights up in the gutters
Across the glimmering jets the wind torments.
Like a huge ant-hive it unseals its vents.
On every side it weaves its hidden tracks
Like enemies preparing night-attacks.
It squirms within the City's breast of mire,
A worm that steals the food that men desire.

One hears the kitchens hissing here and there,
Operas squealing, orchestras ablare.
Cheap tables d'hôte, where gaming lights the eyes,
Fill up with whores, and sharpers, their allies:
And thieves, whose office knows no truce nor rest,
Will shortly now start working, too, with zest,
Gently unhinging doors and forcing tills,
To live some days and buy their sweethearts frills.

Collect yourself, my soul, in this grave hour
And shut your ears against the din and stour.
It is the hour when sick men's pains increase.
Death grips them by the throat, and soon they cease
Their destined task, to find the common pit.
The ward is filled with sighings. Out of it
Not all return the scented soup to taste,
Warm at the hearthside, by some loved-one placed.

But then how few among them can recall
Joys of the hearth, or ever lived at all!

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

Comes The Charming Evening

Comes the charming evening, the criminal's friend,
Comes conspirator-like on soft wolf tread.
Like a large alcove the sky slowly closes,
And man approaches his bestial metamorphosis.

To arms that have laboured, evening is kind enough,
Easing the strain of sinews that have borne their rough
Share of the burden; it is evening that relents
To those whom an angry obsession daily haunts.
The solitary student now raises a burdened head
And the back that bent daylong sinks into its bed.
Meanwhile darkness dawns, filled with demon familiars

Who rouse, reluctant as business-men, to their affairs,
Their ponderous flight rattling the shutters and blinds.
Against the lamplight, whose shivering is the wind's,
Prostitution spreads its light and life in the streetsĀ :
Like an anthill opening its issues it penetrates
Mysteriously everywhere by its own occult route;
Like an enemy mining the foundations of a fort,
Or a worm in an apple, eating what all should eat,
It circulates securely in the city's clogged heart.
The heat and hiss of kitchens can be felt here and there,
The panting of heavy bands, the theatres' clamour.
Cheap hotels, the haunts of dubious solaces,
Are filling with tarts, and crooks, their sleek accomplices,
And thieves, who have never heard of restraint or remorse,
Return now to their work as a matter of course,
Forcing safes behind carefully re-locked doors,
To get a few days' living and put clothes on their whores.

Collect yourself, my soul, this is a serious moment,
Pay no further attention to the noise and movement.
This is the hour when the pains of the sick sharpen,
Night touches them like a torturer, pushes them to the open
Trapdoor over the gulf that is all too common.
Their groans overflow the hospital. More than one
Will not come back to taste the soup's familiar flavour
In the evening, with some friendly soul, by his own fire.

Indeed, many a one has never even known
The hearth's warm charm. Pity such a one.

— David Paul, Flowers of Evil (NY: New Directions, 1955)

Le Crépuscule du soir

'tis witching night, the criminal's ally;
it comes accomplice-like, wolf-soft; the sky
slowly is closing every giant door,
and man the rebel turns a beast once more.

o Night, delicious Night, they sigh for thee
— all those whose arms complain, and truly: we
have toiled today! her solace and her peace
Night brings to souls where cankering woes increase
— the self-willed scholar, nodding drowsily,
the workman bowed and hurrying bedward, free.
but now the evil demons of the air
wake heavily, like folk with many a care,
and, soaring, dash their heads on wall or blind.
among the gas-jets flickering in the wind
from every door, a hive that swarms a new,
pale Prostitution lights each avenue;
clearing her secret ways where lechers crawl
as might a foe who undermines a wall;
gorging on what we need, she nightly squirms
across the mire and darkness, like the worms.
the kitchens rattle 'round us everywhere,
playhouses roar and bands of music blare,
swindlers and bawds ally themselves to fleece
in wine shops, those who seek the cards' caprice,
while thieves, who truce nor mercy never knew,
will very soon resume their struggles too,
and gently force the door where treasure is
to feed themselves and dress their mistresses.

awake, my soul, in this grave hour of sin
and close thin ear to all its clamorous din.
now is the time when sick men's woes increase!
the murky night is throttling them; — they cease
to breathe, and sink into the Gulf, undone.
their groanings fill the poor house. — more than one
will seek no more at dusk his savoury bowl
beside the hearth, near some belovèd soul.

and most of these have never known the call
of home, nor had a hearth, nor lived at all!

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

Evening Twilight

Now is the graceful evening, friend of the criminal;
Now it comes like an accomplice, stealthily; the sky
Closes slowly like a gigantic bedroom,
And Man, impatient, changes to wild beast.

O evening, lovable eveningtime, longed for by him
Whose arms can truthfully say: Today
We have worked! — It is evening that lightens
Spirits consumed by a fierce sorrow,
The stubborn savant whose forehead grows heavy,
And the bent laborer gaining again his bed.

Meanwhile unhealthy demons heavily awake,
Like business men, in the atmosphere,
And fly and strike the shutters and the awning.
Across those lights the wind tortures
Prostitution is ignited in the streets;
Like an ant-hill she opens her escapes,
Spawning all over a secret path,
Like an enemy's sudden attack;
She stirs on the breast of the city of dung
Like a worm that steals his meals from Man.
Here and there one hears kitchens hissing,
The screaming of theatres and orchestras roaring;
The plain tables, where gambling throws its pleasures,
Fill up with bawds and cheats, accomplices,
And thieves, who know no truce nor grace,
Soon go to get to work, they also,
Depart to force gently safes and doors
For a few days' living and to clothe their mistresses.

Reflect, O my soul, in this most solemn time,
And close your ears to this roar.
It is the hour when the sorrows of the ill are sharpened.
Dark Night grips them by the throat; they fulfill

Their fate and move into the common whirlpool;
The hospitals are full of their sighing. — More than one
Will no more come back to seek the perfumed soup,
Beside the fire, at night, by a beloved soul.

Still most, most of them have never known
Home's sweetness nor have they really lived.

— 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.