Self Portrait by Charles Baudelaire

Charles Baudelaire's
Fleurs du mal / Flowers of Evil

Femmes damnées

Comme un bétail pensif sur le sable couchées,
Elles tournent leurs yeux vers l'horizon des mers,
Et leurs pieds se cherchant et leurs mains rapprochées
Ont de douces langueurs et des frissons amers.

Les unes, coeurs épris des longues confidences,
Dans le fond des bosquets où jasent les ruisseaux,
Vont épelant l'amour des craintives enfances
Et creusent le bois vert des jeunes arbrisseaux;

D'autres, comme des soeurs, marchent lentes et graves
À travers les rochers pleins d'apparitions,
Où saint Antoine a vu surgir comme des laves
Les seins nus et pourprés de ses tentations;

II en est, aux lueurs des résines croulantes,
Qui dans le creux muet des vieux antres païens
T'appellent au secours de leurs fièvres hurlantes,
Ô Bacchus, endormeur des remords anciens!

Et d'autres, dont la gorge aime les scapulaires,
Qui, recélant un fouet sous leurs longs vêtements,
Mêlent, dans le bois sombre et les nuits solitaires,
L'écume du plaisir aux larmes des tourments.

Ô vierges, ô démons, ô monstres, ô martyres,
De la réalité grands esprits contempteurs,
Chercheuses d'infini, dévotes et satyres,
Tantôt pleines de cris, tantôt pleines de pleurs,

Vous que dans votre enfer mon âme a poursuivies,
Pauvres soeurs, je vous aime autant que je vous plains,
Pour vos mornes douleurs, vos soifs inassouvies,
Et les urnes d'amour dont vos grands coeurs sont pleins

Charles Baudelaire

Damned Women

Lying on the sand like ruminating cattle,
They turn their eyes toward the horizon of the sea,
And their clasped hands and their feet which seek the other's
Know both sweet languor and shudders of pain.

Some, whose hearts grew amorous from long confessions,
In the depth of the woods, among the babbling brooks,
Spell out the love of their timid adolescence
By carving the green wood of young saplings;

Others, like sisters, walk gravely and with slow steps
Among the high rocks peopled with apparitions,
Where Saint Anthony saw the naked, purple breasts
Of his temptations rise up like lava;

There are some who by the light of crumbling resin
In the silent void of the old pagan caverns
Call out for help from their screaming fevers to you
O Bacchus, who lull to sleep the ancient remorse!

And others, whose breasts love the feel of scapulars,
Who, concealing a whip under their long habits,
Mingle, in the dark woods and solitary nights,
The froth of pleasure with tears of torment.

O virgins, O demons, O monsters, O martyrs,
Great spirits, contemptuous of reality,
Seekers of the infinite, pious and satyric,
Sometimes full of cries, sometimes full of tears,

You whom my spirit has followed into your hell,
Poor sisters, I love you as much as I pity you,
For your gloomy sorrows, your unsatisfied thirsts,
And the urns of love with which your great hearts are filled!

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

Damned Women

Like pensive cattle lying on the sand
They scan the far horizon of the ocean,
Foot seeking foot, hand magnetising hand,
With sweet or bitter tremors of emotion.

Some with their hearts absorbed in confidences,
Deep in the woods, where streamlets chatter free,
Spell the loved names of childish, timid fancies,
And carve the green wood of the fresh, young tree.

Others, like sisters wander, slow and grave,
Through craggy haunts of ghostly emanations,
Where once Saint Anthony was wont to brave
The purple-breasted pride of his temptations.

Some by the light of resin-scented torches
In the dumb hush of caverns seek their shrine,
Invoking Bacchus, killer of remorses,
To liven their delirium with wine.

Others who deal with scapulars and hoods
Hiding the whiplash under their long train,
Mingle, on lonely nights in sombre woods,
The foam of pleasure with the tears of pain.

O demons, monsters, virgins, martyrs, you
Who trample base reality in scorn,
Whether as nuns or satyrs you pursue
The infinite, with cries or tears forlorn,

You, whom my soul has tracked to lairs infernal,
Poor sisterhood, I pity and adore,
For your despairing griefs, your thirst eternal,
And love that floods your hearts for evermore!

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

Condemned Women

Like thoughtful cattle on the yellow sands reclined,
They turn their eyes towards the horizon of the sea,
Their feet towards each other stretched, their hands entwined,
They tell of gentle yearning, frigid misery.

A few, with heart-confiding faith of old, imbued
Amid the darkling grove, where silver streamlets flow,
Unfold to each their loves of tender infanthood,
And carve the verdant stems of the vine-kissed portico.

And others like unto nuns with footsteps slow and grave,
Ascend the hallowed rocks of ancient mystic lore,
Where long ago — St. Anthony, like a surging wave,
The naked purpled breasts of his temptation saw.

And still some more, that 'neath the shimmering masses stroll,
Among the silent chasm of some pagan caves,
To soothe their burning fevers unto thee they call
O Bacchus! who all ancient wounds and sorrow laves.

And others again, whose necks in scapulars delight,
Who hide a whip beneath their garments secretly,
Commingling, in the sombre wood and lonesome night,
The foam of torments and of tears with ecstasy.

O virgins, demons, monsters, and O martyred brood!
Great souls that mock Reality with remorseless sneers,
O saints and satyrs, searchers for infinitude!
At times so full of shouts, at times so full of tears!

You, to whom within your hell my spirit flies,
Poor sisters — yea, I love you as I pity you,
For your unsatiated thirsts and anguished sighs,
And for the vials of love within your hearts so true.

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

Damned Women

They lie like pensive cattle on the sands,
And as their gaze to the far sea's edge clings,
Their feet which twine, and their enclasped hands
Suffer sweet swoons and bitter shudderings.

But some, enamoured of long converse, stray
Where the streams wander through the coppices,
Spell out the loves of timid childhood's day,
And carve the green wood of the little trees.

Others like sisters wander slow and grave
Across the rocks where phantom shapes flit dim,
Where Anthony saw, surging wave on wave.
The naked purple breasts which tempted him.

Some there are who, by crumbling torches' light
In the dumb gulfs of pagan caverns deep.
Pray thee to put their fever-throes to flight,
Bacchus! who drownest old remorse in sleep.

And others, fain of scapularies, roam
With a long whip beneath their garments' fold,
And in lone woods at midnight mingle foam
Of joy with cries of anguish manifold.

O virgins, demons, monsters, martyrs! ye
Who scorn reality through all the years;
Soiled holy ones who seek infinity
So full of cries and, ah! so full of tears!

Poor sisters whom my soul has tracked in hell,
I love you and I weep for all your woe:
Your burning thirst, your pains unspeakable.
The wells of love with which your hearts o'erflow.

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

The Accursed

Like pensive herds at rest upon the sands,
These to the sea-horizons turn their eyes;
Out of their folded feet and clinging hands
Bitter sharp tremblings and soft languors rise.

Some tread the thicket by the babbling stream,
Their hearts with untold secrets ill at ease;
Calling the lover of their childhood's dream,
They wound the green bark of the shooting trees.

Others like sisters wander, grave and slow,
Among the rocks haunted by spectres thin,
Where Antony saw as larvæ surge and flow
The veined bare breasts that tempted him to sin.

Some, when the resinous torch of burning wood
Flares in lost pagan caverns dark and deep,
Call thee to quench the fever in their blood,
Bacchus, who singest old remorse to sleep!

Then there are those the scapular bedights,
Whose long white vestments hide the whip's red stain,
Who mix, in sombre woods on lonely nights,
The foam of pleasure with the tears of pain.

O virgins, demons, monsters, martyrs! ye
Who scorn whatever actual appears;
Saints, satyrs, seekers of Infinity,
So full of cries, so full of bitter tears;

Ye whom my soul has followed into hell,
I love and pity, O sad sisters mine,
Your thirsts unquenched, your pains no tongue can tell,
And your great hearts, those urns of love divine!

— F.P. Sturm, from Baudelaire: His Prose and Poetry, edited by Thomas Robert Smith (New York: Boni and Liveright, 1919)

The Damned Women

Lounging like pensive cattle on the sand,
They turn their eyes to the horizon of seas,
And their feet seek each other and their close hands
Now languish with softness, now quiver with gall.

Some, their hearts captivated by slow secrets
In the depths of bushes chattering with streams,
Go gathering the first loves of timid childhoods
Exploring the green wood of tender trees;

Others, like nuns, slow and grave, move
Over rocks swarming with visions,
Where St. Anthony saw rise up the lava
Of the purple naked breasts of his temptations;

There are some who, to the resin's shaking glimmer,
Call, from the silent hollows of old pagan caverns,
To you, O Bacchus, who soothe remorse,
For help out of their shouting fevers.

And others, whose bosoms crave the scapular,
Who hide a whip under their long clothes
And mingle, in the dismal wood and lonely night,
The foam of pleasure with the twists of pain.

To you, virgins, demons, monsters, martyrs,
To your great spirits spurning reality,
Searchers of the infinite, devotees and satyrs,
Now full of cries, now full of tears,

To you whom to your hell my soul has followed
My poor sisters, I give you my love and pity,
For your dark sorrows, your unslakeable thirsts,
And the caskets of your love of which your hearts are full!

— 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.