Self Portrait by Charles Baudelaire

Charles Baudelaire's
Fleurs du mal / Flowers of Evil


C'est une femme belle et de riche encolure,
Qui laisse dans son vin traîner sa chevelure.
Les griffes de l'amour, les poisons du tripot,
Tout glisse et tout s'émousse au granit de sa peau.
Elle rit à la Mort et nargue la Débauche,
Ces monstres dont la main, qui toujours gratte et fauche,
Dans ses jeux destructeurs a pourtant respecté
De ce corps ferme et droit la rude majesté.
Elle marche en déesse et repose en sultane;
Elle a dans le plaisir la foi mahométane,
Et dans ses bras ouverts, que remplissent ses seins,
Elle appelle des yeux la race des humains.
Elle croit, elle sait, cette vierge inféconde
Et pourtant nécessaire à la marche du monde,
Que la beauté du corps est un sublime don
Qui de toute infamie arrache le pardon.
Elle ignore l'Enfer comme le Purgatoire,
Et quand l'heure viendra d'entrer dans la Nuit noire
Elle regardera la face de la Mort,
Ainsi qu'un nouveau-né, — sans haine et sans remords.

Charles Baudelaire


She's a beautiful woman with opulent shoulders
Who lets her long hair trail in her goblet of wine.
The claws of love, the poisons of brothels,
All slips and all is blunted on her granite skin.
She laughs at Death and snaps her fingers at Debauch.
The hands of those monsters, ever cutting and scraping,
Have respected nonetheless the pristine majesty
Of her firm, straight body at its destructive games.
She walks like a goddess, rests like a sultana;
She has a Mohammedan's faith in pleasure
And to her open arms which are filled by her breasts,
She lures all mortals with her eyes.
She believes, she knows, this virgin, sterile
And yet essential to the march of the world,
That a beautiful body is a sublime gift
That wrings a pardon for any foul crime.
She is unaware of Hell and Purgatory
And when the time comes for her to enter
The black Night, she will look into the face of Death
As a new-born child, — without hatred or remorse.

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


She is a woman of appearance fine
Who lets her tresses trail into her wine.
Love's claws and poisons, brewed in sinks of sin,
Fall blunted from the granite of her skin.
She mocks Debauchery, Death leaves her blithe,
Two monsters always handy with the scythe.
In their grim games, where so much beauty's wrecked,
They treat her majesty with due respect.
Half goddess, half sultana, without scathe,
In pleasure she's a Moslem's steady faith.
Between her open arms, filled by her breasts,
For all mankind with burning eyes she quests,
And she believes, this fruitless virgin-wife,
Who's yet so necessary to this life,
That beauty of the body is a gift
Sublime enough all infamy to shift,
And win forgiveness. She knows naught of Hell.
When the Night comes, in which she is to dwell,
Straight in the face she'll look her deadly Fate,
Like one new-born — without remorse or hate.

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

An Allegory

Here is a woman, richly clad and fair,
Who in her wine dips her long, heavy hair;
Love's claws, and that sharp poison which is sin,
Are dulled against the granite of her skin.
Death she defies, Debauch she smiles upon,
For their sharp scythe-like talons every one
Pass by her in their all-destructive play;
Leaving her beauty till a later day.
Goddess she walks; sultana in her leisure;
She has Mohammed's faith that heaven is pleasure,
And bids all men forget the world's alarms
Upon her breast, between her open arms.
She knows, and she believes, this sterile maid,
Without whom the world's onward dream would fade,
That bodily beauty is the supreme gift
Which may from every sin the terror lift.
Hell she ignores, and Purgatory defies;
And when black Night shall roll before her eyes,
She will look straight in Death's grim face forlorn,
Without remorse or hate — as one new-born.

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


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.