Self Portrait by Charles Baudelaire

Charles Baudelaire's
Fleurs du mal / Flowers of Evil

Une Martyre

Dessin d'un Maître inconnu

Au milieu des flacons, des étoffes lamées
Et des meubles voluptueux,
Des marbres, des tableaux, des robes parfumées
Qui traînent à plis somptueux,

Dans une chambre tiède où, comme en une serre,
L'air est dangereux et fatal,
Où des bouquets mourants dans leurs cercueils de verre
Exhalent leur soupir final,

Un cadavre sans tête épanche, comme un fleuve,
Sur l'oreiller désaltéré
Un sang rouge et vivant, dont la toile s'abreuve
Avec l'avidité d'un pré.

Semblable aux visions pâles qu'enfante l'ombre
Et qui nous enchaînent les yeux,
La tête, avec l'amas de sa crinière sombre
Et de ses bijoux précieux,

Sur la table de nuit, comme une renoncule,
Repose; et, vide de pensers,
Un regard vague et blanc comme le crépuscule
S'échappe des yeux révulsés.

Sur le lit, le tronc nu sans scrupules étale
Dans le plus complet abandon
La secrète splendeur et la beauté fatale
Dont la nature lui fit don;

Un bas rosâtre, orné de coins d'or, à la jambe,
Comme un souvenir est resté;
La jarretière, ainsi qu'un oeil secret qui flambe,
Darde un regard diamanté.

Le singulier aspect de cette solitude
Et d'un grand portrait langoureux,
Aux yeux provocateurs comme son attitude,
Révèle un amour ténébreux,

Une coupable joie et des fêtes étranges
Pleines de baisers infernaux,
Dont se réjouissait l'essaim des mauvais anges
Nageant dans les plis des rideaux;

Et cependant, à voir la maigreur élégante
De l'épaule au contour heurté,
La hanche un peu pointue et la taille fringante
Ainsi qu'un reptile irrité,

Elle est bien jeune encor! — Son âme exaspérée
Et ses sens par l'ennui mordus
S'étaient-ils entr'ouverts à la meute altérée
Des désirs errants et perdus?

L'homme vindicatif que tu n'as pu, vivante,
Malgré tant d'amour, assouvir,
Combla-t-il sur ta chair inerte et complaisante
L'immensité de son désir?

Réponds, cadavre impur! et par tes tresses roides
Te soulevant d'un bras fiévreux,
Dis-moi, tête effrayante, a-t-il sur tes dents froides
Collé les suprêmes adieux?

— Loin du monde railleur, loin de la foule impure,
Loin des magistrats curieux,
Dors en paix, dors en paix, étrange créature,
Dans ton tombeau mystérieux;

Ton époux court le monde, et ta forme immortelle
Veille près de lui quand il dort;
Autant que toi sans doute il te sera fidèle,
Et constant jusques à la mort.

Charles Baudelaire

A Martyr

Drawing by an unknown master

In the midst of perfume flasks, of sequined fabrics
And voluptuous furniture,
Of marble statues, pictures, and perfumed dresses
That trail in sumptuous folds,

In a warm room where, as in a hothouse,
The air is dangerous, fatal,
Where bouquets dying in their glass coffins
Exhale their final breath,

A headless cadaver pours out, like a river,
On the saturated pillow
Red, living blood, that the linen drinks up
As greedily as a meadow.

Like the pale visions engendered by shadows
And which hold our eyes riveted,
The head, its mane of hair piled up in a dark mass
And wearing precious jewels,

On the bedside table, like a ranunculus,
Reposes; and, empty of thoughts,
A stare, blank and pallid as the dawn,
Escapes from the upturned eyeballs.

On the bed, the nude torso shamelessly displays
With the most complete abandon
The secret splendor and fatal beauty
That nature had bestowed on her;

A rose stocking embroidered with gold clocks remains
On her leg like a souvenir;
The garter, like a hidden flashing eye,
Darts its glance of diamond brilliance.

The bizarre aspect of that solitude
And of a large, languid portrait
With eyes as provocative as the pose,
Reveals an unwholesome love,

Guilty joys and exotic revelries,
With infernal kisses
That delighted the swarm of bad angels
Hovering in the curtains' folds;

And yet one sees from the graceful slimness
Of the angular shoulders.
The haunches slightly sharp, and the waist sinuous
As a snake poised to strike,

That she's still quite young! — Had her exasperated soul
And her senses gnawed by ennui
Thrown open their gates to the thirsty pack
Of lost and wandering desires?

The vengeful man whom you could not with all your love
Satisfy when you were alive,
Did he use your inert, complacent flesh to fill
The immensity of his lust?

Reply, impure cadaver! and by your stiffened tresses
Raising you with a fevered arm,
Tell me, ghastly head, did he glue on your cold teeth
The kisses of the last farewell?

— Far from the sneering world, far from the impure crowd,
Far from curious magistrates,
Sleep in peace, sleep in peace, bizarre creature,
In your mysterious tomb;

Your mate roams o'er the world, and your immortal form
Watches over him when he sleeps;
Even as you, he will doubtless be faithful
And constant until death.

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

The Martyr

(Drawing by an Unknown Master)

Amongst gilt fabrics, flasks of scent and wine,
Rich furniture, white marble, precious moulds.
Fine paintings, and rich, perfumed robes that shine
Swirled into sumptuous folds,

In a warm room, that like a hot-house stifles
With dangerous and fatal breath, where lie
Pale flowers in crystal tombs, exquisite trifles,
Exhaling their last sigh —

A headless corpse, cascading in a flood
Hot, living blood, that soaks, with crimson stain
A pillow slaked and sated with blood
As any field with rain.

Like those pale visions which the gloom aborts
Which fix us in a still, hypnotic stare,
The bead, tricked out with gems of sorts,
In its huge mass of hair,

Like a ranunculous beside the bed,
Rests on the table, empty of all thought.
From eyes revulsed, like twilight, seems to spread
A gaze that looks at naught.

Upon the bed the carcase, unabashed,
Shows, in complete abandon, without shift,
The secret splendour that, in life, it flashed
Superbly, Nature's gift.

A rosy stocking, freaked with clocks of gold,
Clings to one leg: a souvenir, it seems:
The garter, from twin diamonds, with the cold
Stare of a viper gleams.

The singular effect of solitude
And of a languorous portrait, with its eyes
Provocative as is its attitude,
Dark loves would advertise —

And guilty joys, with feasts of strange delight,
Full of infernal kisses, omens certain
To please the gloating angels of the Night
Who swim behind each curtain.

And yet to see her nimble strength, the risky
Swerve of the rounded shoulder, and its rake,
The tented haunch, the figure lithe and frisky,
Flexed like an angry snake,

You'd know that she was young.
Her soul affronted, Her senses stung with boredom — were they bayed
By packs of wandering, lost desires, and hunted,
And finally betrayed?

The vengeful man, whose lust you could not sate,
(In spite of much love) nor quench his fire —
Did he on your dead flesh then consummate
His monstrous, last desire?

Answer me, corpse impure! With fevered fist,
Grim visage, did he raise you up on high,
And, as your silver frosty teeth he kissed,
Bid you his last goodbye?

Far from inquiring magistrates that sneer,
Far from this world of raillery and riot,
Sleep peacefully, strange creature, on your bier,
Of mystery and quiet.

Your lover roams the world. Your deathless shape
Watches his sleep and hears each indrawn breath.
No more than you can he ever escape
From constancy till death!

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

Still Life

From a Drawing by an Unknown master

Flasks of perfume, fabrics lamé and spangled, rich
Furnishings of brocade and gold,
Statues of marble, paintings, scented dresses which
Trail, fold on sumptuous soft fold,

A warm room, sultry as a hothouse, where one fears
The air is poisonous with death,
Faded bouquets which, drooping in their crystal biers,
Exhale their ultimate faint breath.

A headless corpse pours forth a stream of vivid red
Blood on damp pillows, and the white
Linens absorb the bubbling flow into the bed
Avidly as a meadow might.

Pale as a specter born of a black dream's despair,
To strike our eyes and rivet them,
The head, with its dense curly mane of somber hair,
And its detail of gold and gem,
Rests on a small commode, like a ranunculus,
Comfortably; void of surmise,
A glint, leaden and blank as dawn, soars, vacuous,
From the stone orbs of upturned eyes.

The naked torso on the bed in graceful ease
Exhibits without scruple or shame
Her secret parts and all the fatal splendencies
Nature bestowed upon this frame.
On her leg, a pink stocking with gold clocks remains,
As it were, like a souvenir,
The jeweled garter, like a secret eye, retains
A glance sharp as a diamond spear.

That curious air of solitude and, with it, those
Eyes gazing from a portrait near,
As languid and provoking as the sitter's pose,
Reveal what gloomy loves reigned here.
Wraiths of strange feasts, of guilty joys, of recondite
Demonic kisses passion moulds
To fill the swarm of evil angels with delight,
Still hover in the curtain's folds.

She was still young! Did ennui gnaw her heart, exhaust
Her senses, quench love's normal fires?
Did she grant welcome to the thirsty pack of lost
Pleasures and devious desires?

That vengeful lover whom your wealth of love could still
Not sate, you living and robust,
Did he use your inert complacent flesh to fill
The extreme limits of his lust?
O corpse defiled, with fevered hand in his crazed drouth
Did he grasp your stiff tresses? Tell,
Tell me, grim head, did he glue on your icy mouth
The kisses of his last farewell?

Far from a jeering world and courts where without cease
Magistrates probe as lawyers rave,
O most bizarre of beings, sleep ever at peace, at peace
In your remote mysterious grave.
Whilst your mate roams the earth, your deathless form
Keeps royal vigil over his sleeping breath,
And surely, like yourself, he shall continue loyal
And constant to you unto death.

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

Murdered Woman

Drawing of an Unknown Master

Flasks of expensive scent, embroideries, rich brocades,
Taffeta sofas, satin chairs;
Statues in marble, paintings; fragrance that pervades
The empty, sumptuous gowns; warm airs

And sweet, — yet sultry, damp, unhealthful to inhale:
That sickening green-house atmosphere
Dying bouquets in their glass coffins give — a stale
Voluptuous chamber... Lying here

A corpse without a head, whence flows in a bright stream,
Making an ever broadening stain,
The red and living blood, which the white pillows seem
To lap up like a thirsty plain.

Pale as those awful shapes that out of shadow stare,
Chaining our helpless eyes to theirs,
The head, with its great mass of rich and somber hair —
The earrings still in the small ears —

Like a ranunculus on the night-table sits;
And, void of thought, blank as the light
Of dawn, a glinting vague regard escapes from its
Eyeballs, up-rolled and china-white.

The headless trunk, in shameless posture on the bed,
Naked, in loose abandon lies,
Its secret parts exposed, its treasures all outspread
As if to charm a lover's eyes.

One sequined stocking, pink against the milky thigh,
Remains, pathetic souvenir;
The jeweled garter, like a flashing, secret eye,
Darts and withdraws a diamond leer.

A languorous portrait on the wall contrives to give
Force to the singular effect
Of the deep solitude, — the eyes provocative,
The pose inviting, half-erect.

The ghost of something strange and guilty, of some feast
Involving most improper fare,
Demoniac kisses, all obscure desires released,
Swims in the silent curtains there.

And yet, that fragile shoulder, that fine hand and arm —
How delicate the curve they make! —
The pelvic bones so sweetly pointed, the whole form
Lithe as a teased and fighting snake! —

She must have been quite young... her senses, all her soul,
Avid for life and driven wild
By tedium, set ajar, it may be, to the whole
Pack of perversions... ah, poor child!

Did he at length, that man, his awful thirst too great
For living flesh to satisfy,
On this inert, obedient body consummate
His lust? — O ravished corpse, reply!

Answer me, impure thing! Speak, frightening head, and tell:
Lifting you up by your long hair,
Did he on your cold teeth imprint in last farewell
One kiss, before he set you there?

Far from the mocking world, the peering crowd, oh far
From inquest, coroner, magistrate,
Sleep; sleep in peace; I leave you lying as you are,
Mysterious unfortunate.

In vain your lover roves the world; the thought of you
Troubles each chamber where he lies:
Even as you are true to him, he will be true
To you, no doubt, until he dies.

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

A Martyred Woman

Sketch by an Unknown Master

In the middle of scent-bottles, braided material
And voluptuous furniture,
Amongst marbles, pictures, perfumed dresses
Trailing in expensive folds,

In a warm room, where like a hothouse
The air is dangerous, fatal,
Where dying flowers sigh out their last
In their glass coffins,

A headless corpse discharges, like a river,
Upon the slaked pillow,
Its red and living blood, which the linen laps up
With the greed of a meadow.

Like those ghastly visions engendered by shadows,
And riveting our eyes
The head, with the weight of its dark mane
And its precious jewels

Rests like a plant on the bedside table;
And, empty of thoughts,
A look, loose and white as twilight
Escapes its misplaced eyes.

On the bed the naked, shameless trunk spreads out
In utter unconstraint
Its secret splendor and its fatal beauty,
The gift of nature;

A pink stocking, embroidered with gold sequins, remains
On the leg like a memory;
The garter, like a flaming, hidden eye,
Darts a diamonded glance.

The strange look of this solitude
And of a great languorous tableau,
To eyes provocative as her posture
Reveals a dark love,

A guilty joy and strange feasts,
Full of the kisses of hell
That please the swarms of evil angels
Swimming in the folds of curtains;

And yet, seeing that elegant emaciation
Of shoulder with the blatant contour
The hip a little angular and the taut waistline
Like a furious reptile,

She is still quite young! — Did her inflamed soul
And her senses gnawn by boredom
Yawn for that thirsty pack of
Wandering, lost passions?

Did that vengeful man whom, living, you could not gratify,
In spite of so much love
Heap upon your indolent, accommodating flesh
The size of his desire?

Answer, O violated corpse! and raising yourself with feverish arm
By your stiff braids,
Tell me, terrifying head, did he press upon your cold teeth
His final farewells?

— Far from the bantering world, from the corrupted mob,
Far from inquisitive magistrates,
Sleep peacefully, sleep peacefully, strange creature,
In your mysterious tomb;

Your husband roves the world and your deathless figure
Watches by him when he sleeps;
Doubtless he will be faithful as you are,
And constant to death.

— 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.