Self Portrait by Charles Baudelaire

Charles Baudelaire's
Fleurs du mal / Flowers of Evil

La servante au grand coeur dont vous étiez jalouse

La servante au grand coeur dont vous étiez jalouse,
Et qui dort son sommeil sous une humble pelouse,
Nous devrions pourtant lui porter quelques fleurs.
Les morts, les pauvres morts, ont de grandes douleurs,
Et quand Octobre souffle, émondeur des vieux arbres,
Son vent mélancolique à l'entour de leurs marbres,
Certe, ils doivent trouver les vivants bien ingrats,
À dormir, comme ils font, chaudement dans leurs draps,
Tandis que, dévorés de noires songeries,
Sans compagnon de lit, sans bonnes causeries,
Vieux squelettes gelés travaillés par le ver,
Ils sentent s'égoutter les neiges de l'hiver
Et le siècle couler, sans qu'amis ni famille
Remplacent les lambeaux qui pendent à leur grille.
Lorsque la bûche siffle et chante, si le soir
Calme, dans le fauteuil je la voyais s'asseoir,
Si, par une nuit bleue et froide de décembre,
Je la trouvais tapie en un coin de ma chambre,
Grave, et venant du fond de son lit éternel
Couver l'enfant grandi de son oeil maternel,
Que pourrais-je répondre à cette âme pieuse,
Voyant tomber des pleurs de sa paupière creuse?

Charles Baudelaire

The Kind-Hearted Servant of Whom You Were Jealous

The kind-hearted servant of whom you were jealous,
Who sleeps her sleep beneath a humble plot of grass,
We must by all means take her some flowers.
The dead, ah! the poor dead suffer great pains,
And when October, the pruner of old trees, blows
His melancholy breath about their marble tombs,
Surely they must think the living most ungrateful,
To sleep, as they do, between warm, white sheets,
While, devoured by gloomy reveries,
Without bedfellows, without pleasant causeries,
Old, frozen skeletons, belabored by the worm,
They feel the drip of winter's snow,
The passing of the years; nor friends, nor family
Replace the dead flowers that hang on their tombs.

If, some evening, when the fire-log whistles and sings
I saw her sit down calmly in the great armchair,
If, on a cold, blue night in December,
I found her ensconced in a corner of my room,
Grave, having come from her eternal bed
Maternally to watch over her grown-up child,
What could I reply to that pious soul,
Seeing tears fall from her hollow eyelids?

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

Now the Great-Hearted Servant, Who Aroused

Now the great-hearted servant, who aroused
Your jealousy, in humble earth is housed,
Let's take, at least, some flowers for her relief.
The dead, the piteous dead, know piercing grief,
And when October blows, to prune old trees,
And whistles round the marble where they freeze,
How thankless then we living must appear
Between warm sheets to sleep in comfort here,
While, eaten by black dreams, they lie in woe
Warm bedmates and their gossip to forego,
Frostbitten skeletons, tunneled by vermin,
To bear the moulting drip of Winter's ermine,
For ages, with no friends nor kindred there
The tatters on their railings to repair.

On evenings when the hearthlogs hiss and flare
Were I to see her calmly take her chair:
Or, in the calm and blue December gloom,
Huddle within the corner of my room,
Gravely returning from her bed eternal
To tend this grown-up child with the maternal
Care of old times — how could I then reply
To see the tears roll from each hollow eye?

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

The Servant

My old nurse and servant, whose great heart
made you jealous, is dead and sleeps apart
from us. Shouldn't we bring her a few flowers?
The dead, the poor dead, they have their bad hours,
and when October stripper of old trees,
poisons the turf and makes their marble freeze,
surely they find us worse than wolves or curs
for sleeping under mountainous warm furs...
These, eaten by the earth's black dream, lie dead,
without a wife or friend to warm their bed,
old skeletons sunk like shrubs in burlap bags —
and feel the ages trickle through their rags.
They have no heirs or relatives to chase
with children round their crosses and replace
the potted refuse, where they lie beneath
their final flower, the interment wreath.

The oak log sings and sputters in my chamber
and in the cold blue half-light of December,
I see her tiptoe through my room, and halt
humbly, as if she'd hurried from her vault
with blankets for the child her sleepless eye
had coaxed and mothered to maturity.
What can I say to her to calm her fears?
My nurse's hollow sockets fill with tears.

— Robert Lowell, from Marthiel & Jackson Matthews, eds., The Flowers of Evil (NY: New Directions, 1963)

The Old Servant

The servant that we had, you were so jealous of,
I think we might at least lay flowers on her grave.
Good creature, she's beneath the sod... and we're above;
The dead, poor things, what valid grievances they have!
And, when October comes, stripping the wood of leaves,
And round their marble slabs the wind of autumn grieves,
Surely, a living man must seem to the cold dead
Somewhat unfeeling, sound asleep in his warm bed,
While, gnawed by blacker dreams than any we have known —
Lovers, good conversation, every pleasure gone —
Old bones concerning which the worm has had his say,
They feel the heavy snows of winter drip away,
And years go by, and no one from the sagging vase
Lifts the dried flowers to put fresh flowers in their place.

Some evening, when the whistling log begins to purr,
Supposing, in that chair, appeared the ghost of her;
Supposing, on some cold and blue December night,
I found her in my room, humble, half out of sight,
And thoughtful, having come from her eternal bed
To shield her grown-up child, to soothe his troubled head,
What could I find to say to the poor faithful soul, —
Seeing the tears beneath those sunken eyelids roll?

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


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.