Self Portrait by Charles Baudelaire

Charles Baudelaire's
Fleurs du mal / Flowers of Evil

Le Vin de l'assassin

Ma femme est morte, je suis libre!
Je puis donc boire tout mon soûl.
Lorsque je rentrais sans un sou,
Ses cris me déchiraient la fibre.

Autant qu'un roi je suis heureux;
L'air est pur, le ciel admirable...
Nous avions un été semblable
Lorsque j'en devins amoureux!

L'horrible soif qui me déchire
Aurait besoin pour s'assouvir
D'autant de vin qu'en peut tenir
Son tombeau; — ce n'est pas peu dire:

Je l'ai jetée au fond d'un puits,
Et j'ai même poussé sur elle
Tous les pavés de la margelle.
— Je l'oublierai si je le puis!

Au nom des serments de tendresse,
Dont rien ne peut nous délier,
Et pour nous réconcilier
Comme au beau temps de notre ivresse,

J'implorai d'elle un rendez-vous,
Le soir, sur une route obscure.
Elle y vint — folle créature!
Nous sommes tous plus ou moins fous!

Elle était encore jolie,
Quoique bien fatiguée! et moi,
Je l'aimais trop! voilà pourquoi
Je lui dis: Sors de cette vie!

Nul ne peut me comprendre. Un seul
Parmi ces ivrognes stupides
Songea-t-il dans ses nuits morbides
À faire du vin un linceul?

Cette crapule invulnérable
Comme les machines de fer
Jamais, ni l'été ni l'hiver,
N'a connu l'amour véritable,

Avec ses noirs enchantements,
Son cortège infernal d'alarmes,
Ses fioles de poison, ses larmes,
Ses bruits de chaîne et d'ossements!

— Me voilà libre et solitaire!
Je serai ce soir ivre mort;
Alors, sans peur et sans remords,
Je me coucherai sur la terre,

Et je dormirai comme un chien!
Le chariot aux lourdes roues
Chargé de pierres et de boues,
Le wagon enragé peut bien

Ecraser ma tête coupable
Ou me couper par le milieu,
Je m'en moque comme de Dieu,
Du Diable ou de la Sainte Table!

Charles Baudelaire

The Murderer's Wine

My wife is dead and I am free!
Now I can drink my fill;
When I'd come home without a sou,
Her screaming would drive me crazy.

I am as happy as a king;
The air is pure, the sky superb...
We had a summer like this
When I fell in love with her!

To satisfy the awful thirst
That tortures me, I'd have to drink
All the wine it would take to fill
Her grave — that is not a little:

I threw her down a well,
And what is more, I dropped on her
All the stones of the well's rim.
I will forget her if I can!

In the name of love's vows,
From which nothing can release us,
And to become the friends we were
When we first knew passion's rapture,

I begged of her a rendezvous
At night, on a deserted road.
She came there! — mad creature!
We're all more or less mad!

She was still attractive,
Although very tired! and I,
I loved her too much! that is why
I said to her: Depart this life!

None can understand me. Did one
Among all those stupid drunkards
Ever dream in his morbid nights
Of making a shroud of wine?

That dissolute crowd, unfeeling
As an iron machine,
Never, nor summer, nor winter,
Has known what true love is,

With its black enchantments,
Its hellish cortege of alarms,
Its phials of poison, and its tears,
Its noise of chains and dead men's bones!

— Here I am free and all alone!
I'll get blind drunk tonight;
Then without fear, without remorse,
I'll lie down on the ground

And I'll sleep like a dog!
The dump-cart with its heavy wheels
Loaded with mud and rocks,
The careening wagon may well

Crush in my guilty head
Or cut my body in two;
I laugh at God, at the Devil,
And at the Holy Table as well!

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

The Wine of the Murderer

My wife is dead. I'm free. From hence
I'll drink my fill, and that's the truth!
Each time I came back with no pence,
Her screechings drilled me like a tooth.

Now I'm as happy as a king...
Air pure, a cloudless sky above.
I can remember such a thing
The summer that we fell in love.

To quench the thirst that tears my throat
It would require the vats to flow
Enough to set her tomb afloat —
And that's no thimbleful, oh no!

I threw her in a well to drown,
With the walled rocks that round it stood,
To keep her there, and hold her down —
I would forget her if I could!

Pleading our early tender vows,
Which naught could break for evermore,
To reconcile us, spouse to spouse,
In the same raptures as before —

I begged of her a rendezvous
One evening in a gloomy lane.
She came — a crazy thing to do!
We all are more-or-less insane!

She still was quite attractive, though
A little tired and ill: and I
Still loved her more than ever: so
I said, "Get out of life, and die!"

None understand me. Could a single
"Drunk" of the stupid sort design,
On morbid nights, by his own ingle,
To make a winding sheet of wine?

Of dense invulnerable stuff,
Like engines built to shunt or shove,
They've never known, through smooth or rough,
The veritable power of love,

its black enchantments, fiery trials,
Processions of infernal pains,
Its burning tears, its poison phials,
Its rattling bones, and jingling chains.

Now I am free and all alone.
Tonight I'll get dead-drunk, of course.
My head I'll pillow on a stone
Without repentance or remorse.

And there I'll sleep like any dog.
The lumbering cart with massive wheels
Piled up with stones, or peat, or bog,
Or hurtling wagon, as it reels

May crush my skull in, like a clod,
Or halve me at the crossing-level.
I'd care as little as for God,
The Ten Commandments, or the Devil.

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

The Drunkard

My wife is dead, and I am free!
Now I can drink both night and day.
When I came home without my pay
Her crying upset me horribly.

I am as happy as a king.
The air is soft. The sky is clear.
Ah, what a lovely spring, this year!
I courted her in such a spring.

Now I can drink to drown my care
As much wine as her tomb would hold —
The tomb where she lies pale and cold.
And that will be no small affair,

For I have thrown her, body and limb,
In an old well; I even threw
All the loose stones around the brim
On top of her. Good riddance, too!

I asked her in the name of Christ,
To whom our marriage vows were told,
To be my sweetheart as of old —
To come to a forsaken tryst

We had when we were young and gay,
That everything might be the same:
And she, the foolish creature, came!
We all have our weak moments, eh?

She was attractive still, all right,
Though faded. I still loved her — more
Than there was rhyme or reason for.
I had to end it, come what might!

Nobody understands me. What's
The use of wasting my good breath
Explaining to these stupid sots
The mysteries of love and death?

They take their women by routine,
These louts — the way they eat and drink.
Which one has ever stopped to think
What the word love might really mean?

Love, with its softness in your reins,
With all its nightmares, all its fears,
Its cups of poison mixed with tears,
Its rattling skeletons and chains.

— Well, here I am, alone and free!
Tonight I will be drunk for fair,
And I will lay me down, I swear,
Upon the highroad happily,

And sleep like an old dog, be sure,
Right where the heavy trucks go by,
Loaded with gravel and manure.
The wheel can smear my brains out — ay,

Or it can break me like a clod
In two, or it can mash me flat.
I care about as much for that
As for the long white beard of God!

— George Dillon, Flowers of Evil (NY: Harper and Brothers, 1936)

The Murderer's Wine

My wife is dead and I am free,
Now I may drink to my content;
When I came back without a cent
Her piteous outcries tortured me.

Now I am happy as a king,
The air is pure, the sky is clear;
Just such a summer as that year,
When first I went a-sweethearting.

A horrible thirst is tearing me,
To quench it I should have to swill
Just as much cool wine as would fill
Her tomb — that's no small quantity.

I threw her down and then began
To pile upon her where she fell
All the great stones around the well —
I shall forget it if I can.

By all the soft vows of our prime,
By those eternal oaths we swore,
And that our love might be once more
As 'twas in our old passionate time,

I begged her in a lonely spot
To come and meet me at nightfall;
She came, mad creature — we are all
More or less crazy, are we not?

She was quite pretty still, my wife,
Though she was very tired, and I,
I loved her too much, that is why
I said to her, "Come, quit this life."

No one can grasp my thought aright;
Did any of these sodden swine
Ever conceive a shroud of wine
On his most strangely morbid night?

Dull and insensible above
Iron machines, that stupid crew,
Summer or winter, never knew
The agonies of real love.

So now I am without a care!
Dead-drunk this evening I shall be,
Then fearlessly, remorselessly
Shall lie out in the open air.

And sleep there like a homeless cur;
Some cart may rumble with a load
Of stones or mud along the road
And crush my head — I shall not stir.

Some heavy dray incontinent
May come and cut me clean in two:
I laugh at thought o't as I do
At Devil, God, and Sacrament.

— 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.