Self Portrait by Charles Baudelaire

Charles Baudelaire's
Fleurs du mal / Flowers of Evil

L'Amour et le Crâne

Vieux cul-de-lampe

L'Amour est assis sur le crâne
De l'Humanité,
Et sur ce trône le profane,
Au rire effronté,

Souffle gaiement des bulles rondes
Qui montent dans l'air,
Comme pour rejoindre les mondes
Au fond de l'éther.

Le globe lumineux et frêle
Prend un grand essor,
Crève et crache son âme grêle
Comme un songe d'or.

J'entends le crâne à chaque bulle
Prier et gémir:
— «Ce jeu féroce et ridicule,
Quand doit-il finir?

Car ce que ta bouche cruelle
Eparpille en l'air,
Monstre assassin, c'est ma cervelle,
Mon sang et ma chair!»

Charles Baudelaire

Cupid and the Skull

An Old Lamp Base

Cupid is seated on the skull
Of Humanity;
On this throne the impious one
With the shameless laugh

Is gaily blowing round bubbles
That rise in the air
As if they would rejoin the globes
At the ether's end.

The sphere, fragile and luminous,
Takes flight rapidly,
Bursts and spits out its flimsy soul
Like a golden dream.

I hear the skull groan and entreat
At every bubble:
"When is this fierce, ludicrous game
To come to an end?

Because what your pitiless mouth
Scatters in the air,
Monstrous murderer — is my brain,
My flesh and my blood!"

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

Love and the Skull

(Old Tail-piece)

With bold and insolent grimace,
Love laughingly bestrides
The bare skull of the Human Race,
And, as enthroned he rides,
Blows bubbles from his rosy cheek
Which soar into the sky
As if, beyond the blue, to seek
The other worlds on high.
They ride with wondrous verve at first,
Reflect the sunny beams,
Then spit their flimsy souls, to burst
And fade like golden dreams.
I hear the skull at each renewal
Expostulate aghast —
"This game, ridiculous and cruel —
When will it end at last?
For what your cruel mouthpiece drains
And scatters, sud by sud,
Monstrous Assassin! is my brains,
My substance, and my blood."

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


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.