Self Portrait by Charles Baudelaire

Charles Baudelaire's
Fleurs du mal / Flowers of Evil

La Musique

La musique souvent me prend comme une mer!
Vers ma pâle étoile,
Sous un plafond de brume ou dans un vaste éther,
Je mets à la voile;

La poitrine en avant et les poumons gonflés
Comme de la toile
J'escalade le dos des flots amoncelés
Que la nuit me voile;

Je sens vibrer en moi toutes les passions
D'un vaisseau qui souffre;
Le bon vent, la tempête et ses convulsions

Sur l'immense gouffre
Me bercent. D'autres fois, calme plat, grand miroir
De mon désespoir!

Charles Baudelaire


Music often transports me like a sea!
Toward my pale star,
Under a ceiling of fog or a vast ether,
I get under sail;

My chest thrust out and my lungs filled
Like the canvas,
I scale the slopes of wave on wave
That the night obscures;

I feel vibrating within me all the passions
Of ships in distress;
The good wind and the tempest with its convulsions

Over the vast gulf
Cradle me. At other times, dead calm, great mirror
Of my despair!

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


Music uplifts me like the sea and races
Me to my distant star,
Through veils of mist or through ethereal spaces,
I sail on it afar.

With chest flung out and lungs like sails inflated
Into the depth of night
I escalade the backs of waves serrated,
That darkness veils from sight.

I feel vibrating in me the emotions
That storm-tossed ships must feel.
The fair winds and the tempests and the oceans

Sway my exultant keel.
Sometimes a vast, dead calm with glassy stare
Mirrors my dumb despair.

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


Music often takes me like the sea’s surge:
Cresting towards my destined star,
Wrapped in cloud-gray or blue, as sky and ocean merge,
I voyage, oh, so far.

My lungs inflated, chest breasting like a sail
the flowing, onward thrust,
I overscale the hunched-high waves, borne through the veil
of the night’s persistent gust.

Within me, passions vibrate, hardship, pain, in rough
ship-jouncing shapes;
fair winds or storms’ convulsions swirl, exalted stuff,

where deep nothing gapes,
and lift me. But other times, in mirror calm . . . futility . . .
my soul . . . the endless sea . . . .

— Edward Eriksson


Music oft seizes me and sweeps me like a sea toward where my star shines pale,
With mists for ceiling, or through an immensity of ether I set sail.
My breast flung forward and my lungs swollen like white canvas, windswept I scale
The backs of heaping waves over which gentle night has wound a darkling veil.

So all the passions of a vessel suffering rise in me; the brave blast
Of winds, and storms in their convulsive movements, swing me, cradled on the vast
Abyss. At other times, dead calms, like mirrors there, reflecting my despair.

— Jacques LeClercq, Flowers of Evil (Mt Vernon, NY: Peter Pauper Press, 1958)


Launch me, O music, whither on the soundless
Sea my star gleams pale!
I beneath cloudy cope or rapt in boundless
Æther set my sail;

With breast outblown, swollen by the wind that urges
Swelling sheets, I scale
The summit of the wave whose vexed surges
Night from me doth veil;

A labouring vessel's passions in my pulses
Thrill the shuddering sense;
The wind that wafts, the tempest that convulses,
O'er the gulf immense
Swing me. — Anon flat calm and clearer air
Glass my soul's despair!

— W. J. Robertson, from Baudelaire: His Prose and Poetry, edited by Thomas Robert Smith (New York: Boni and Liveright, 1919)


Oft Music possesses me like the seas!
To my planet pale,
'Neath a ceiling of mist, in the lofty breeze,
I set my sail.

With inflated lungs and expanded chest,
Like to a sail,
On the backs of the heaped-up billows I rest —
Which the shadows veil —

I feel all the anguish within me arise
Of a ship in distress;
The tempest, the rain, 'neath the lowering skies,

My body caress:
At times, the calm pool or the mirror clear
Of my despair!

— Cyril Scott, Baudelaire: The Flowers of Evil (London: Elkin Mathews, 1909)


Oft Music, as it were some moving mighty sea,
Bears me toward my pale
Star: in clear space, or 'neath a vaporous canopy
On-floating, I set sail.

With heaving chest which strains forward, and lungs outblown,
I climb the ridged steeps
Of those high-piled clouds which 'thwart the night are thrown,
Veiling its starry deeps.

I suffer all the throes, within my quivering form.
Of a great ship in pain,
Now a soft wind, and now the writhings of a storm

Upon the vasty main
Rock me: at other times a death-like calm, the bare
Mirror of my despair.

— Jack Collings Squire, Poems and Baudelaire Flowers (London: The New Age Press, Ltd, 1909)


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.