Self Portrait by Charles Baudelaire

Charles Baudelaire's
Fleurs du mal / Flowers of Evil

Le Masque

Statue allégorique dans le goût de la Renaissance

À Ernest Christophe, statuaire.

Contemplons ce trésor de grâces florentines;
Dans l'ondulation de ce corps musculeux
L'Elégance et la Force abondent, soeurs divines.
Cette femme, morceau vraiment miraculeux,
Divinement robuste, adorablement mince,
Est faite pour trôner sur des lits somptueux
Et charmer les loisirs d'un pontife ou d'un prince.

— Aussi, vois ce souris fin et voluptueux
Où la Fatuité promène son extase;
Ce long regard sournois, langoureux et moqueur;
Ce visage mignard, tout encadré de gaze,
Dont chaque trait nous dit avec un air vainqueur:
«La Volupté m'appelle et l'Amour me couronne!»
À cet être doué de tant de majesté
Vois quel charme excitant la gentillesse donne!
Approchons, et tournons autour de sa beauté.

Ô blasphème de l'art! ô surprise fatale!
La femme au corps divin, promettant le bonheur,
Par le haut se termine en monstre bicéphale!

— Mais non! ce n'est qu'un masque, un décor suborneur,
Ce visage éclairé d'une exquise grimace,
Et, regarde, voici, crispée atrocement,
La véritable tête, et la sincère face
Renversée à l'abri de la face qui ment
Pauvre grande beauté! le magnifique fleuve
De tes pleurs aboutit dans mon coeur soucieux
Ton mensonge m'enivre, et mon âme s'abreuve
Aux flots que la Douleur fait jaillir de tes yeux!

— Mais pourquoi pleure-t-elle? Elle, beauté parfaite,
Qui mettrait à ses pieds le genre humain vaincu,
Quel mal mystérieux ronge son flanc d'athlète?

— Elle pleure insensé, parce qu'elle a vécu!
Et parce qu'elle vit! Mais ce qu'elle déplore
Surtout, ce qui la fait frémir jusqu'aux genoux,
C'est que demain, hélas! il faudra vivre encore!
Demain, après-demain et toujours! — comme nous!

Charles Baudelaire

The Mask

Allegorical Statue in the Style of the Renaissance
To Ernest Christophe, Sculptor

Let us gaze at this gem of Florentine beauty;
In the undulation of this brawny body
Those divine sisters, Gracefulness and Strength, abound.
This woman, a truly miraculous marble,
Adorably slender, divinely robust,
Is made to be enthroned upon sumptuous beds
And to charm the leisure of a Pope or a Prince.

— And see that smile, voluptuous and delicate,
Where self-conceit displays its ecstasy;
That sly, lingering look, mocking and languorous;
That dainty face, framed in a veil of gauze,
Whose every feature says, with a triumphant air:
"Pleasure calls me and Love gives me a crown!"
To that being endowed with so much majesty
See what exciting charm is lent by prettiness!
Let us draw near, and walk around its loveliness.

O blasphemy of art! Fatal surprise!
That exquisite body, that promise of delight,
At the top turns into a two-headed monster!

Why no! it's but a mask, a lying ornament,
That visage enlivened by a dainty grimace,
And look, here is, atrociously shriveled,
The real, true head, the sincere countenance
Reversed and hidden by the lying face.
Poor glamorous beauty! the magnificent stream
Of your tears flows into my anguished heart;
Your falsehood makes me drunk and my soul slakes its thirst
At the flood from your eyes, which Suffering causes!

— But why is she weeping? She, the perfect beauty,
Who could put at her feet the conquered human race,
What secret malady gnaws at those sturdy flanks?

— She is weeping, fool, because she has lived!
And because she lives! But what she deplores
Most, what makes her shudder down to her knees,
Is that tomorrow, alas! she will still have to live!
Tomorrow, after tomorrow, always! — like us!

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

The Mask

(An allegoric statue in Renaissance style)

To Ernest Christophe, sculptor

Study with me this Florentinian treasure,
Whose undulous and muscular design
Welds Grace with Strength in sisterhood divine;
A marvel only wonderment can measure,
Divinely strong, superbly slim and fine,
She's formed to reign upon a bed of pleasure
And charm some prince or pontiff in his leisure.

See, too, her smile voluptuously shine,
Where sheer frivolity displays its sign:
That lingering look of languor, guile, and cheek,
The dainty face, which veils of gauze enshrine,
That seems in conquering accents thus to speak:

"Pleasure commands me. Love my brow has crowned!'
Enamouring our thoughts in humble duty,
True majesty with merriment is found.
Approach, let's take a turn about her beauty.
O blasphemy! Dread shock! Our hopes to pique,
This lovely body, promising delight,
Ends at the top in a two-headed freak.

But no! it's just a mask that tricked our sight,
Fooling us with that exquisite grimace:
On the reverse you see her proper face,
Fiercely convulsed, in its true self revealed,
Which from our sight that lying mask concealed.
— O sad great beauty! The grand river, fed
By your rich tears, debouches in my heart.
Though I am rapt with your deceptive art,
My soul is slaked upon the tears you shed.

And yet why does she weep? Such peerless grace
Could trample down the conquered human race.
What evil gnaws her flank so strong and sleek?

She weeps because she's lived, and that she lives.
Madly she weeps for that. But more she grieves
(And at the knees she trembles and goes weak)
Because tomorrow she must live, and then
The next day, and forever — like us men.

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

The Mask

An allegorical statue in Renaissance style
to Ernest Christophe, sculptor

This beauty, she, this Renaissance of art,
This ripe Italian elegance, where strength
And loveliness entwine, divinely joined,
Coiling through her lithe and sinuous length,
She, full and muscular and marble-fleshed,
Shaped to lounge in silk-and-satin guile,
To throne a scarlet boudoir for a prince
Or pope —

See the smooth voluptuous smile
That tells of ecstasy in idleness;
The witty glance, languorous and sly,
That dainty twist of head, that says to us
As if in consummating triumph: “Lie
With me in lust and after call me Love!”
The thrill of her intangible caress,
Majestic, breathing paradise!
Come, walk around her gay seductiveness . . . .

O blasphemy of art! O weird surprise!
The goddess’ torso, rising in its grace,
Curves into a double-headed freak!

But no! the one’s a mask, an unreal face,
Alas, so tempting in its piquancy,
But now you see a sorrowful revealing,
The true, substantial head, the face in grief,
Reversed behind in artful double-dealing.
Pathetic, lovely lady: sumptuous flow
Your tears: they burst upon my soul; they start
My thoughts all reeling; I stagger, drowning here
As miseries overflow your troubled heart.

Yet why does she weep? She, invincible,
Where at her feet a race of men must bow,
What frailty gnaws at her Olympian thigh?

She suffers, fool, for living then and now.
And even more, the tear falls from her eye,
Emotion shakes her tremulous knees,
Because tomorrow she will live the lie,
And then tomorrow too, like you and I.

— Edward Eriksson

The Mask

An Allegorical Statue in Renaissance Style

Behold this prize of beauties wholly Florentine,
See in this muscled body, lithe and sinuous,
Divine concinnity married to strength divine.
This woman sculpted by hands that wrought, miraculous.
So strangely strong, and so strangely slim in scope,
She was born to throne on beds made rich and sumptuous
To charm the happy leisure of a Prince or Pope.

Behold these smiling lips, suave and voluptuous,
Whose ecstasies of arrant self-love give us pause;
The mocking pawkishness of that long languid stare,
Those dainty features framed in luminous light gauze,
Whose every facet says with an all-conquering air:
"Lo, Pleasure calls and Love crowns my triumphant head!"
On this proud creature vested with such stateliness,
See what exciting charms her daintiness has shed.
Let us draw close and walk around her. O excess,
O blasphemy of Art! O treachery unique!
That body filled with promise, rapturous and rare,
Turns at the top into a double-headed freak!

No, this is but a mask, a decorative snare,
Poor visage lighted by a delicate grimace!
And look! contracted here, in raw and hideous troubles,
The genuine head and the authentic, candid face
Are overturned and darkened by their lying doubles.
Poor noble beauty, the magnificent broad river
Of your sad tears flows through my heart; your lie of lies
Intoxicates me, and my thirsty soul aquiver
Is slaked by the salt flood Pain dredges from your eyes.

But why is it she weeps, whose loveliness outranks
All others, and who binds all humans by her laws?
What hushed mysterious ill gnaws at her athlete flanks?
She weeps because, O madman, she has lived, because
She must live on. But her most pitiful misgiving —
What chills her very knees and turns her tremulous —
Is that alas! tomorrow she must go on living —
Tomorrow and tomorrow — evermore — like us!

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

The Mask

An Allegorical Statue in the Style of the Renaissance

To Ernest Christophe, sculptor

Observe the Florentine grand style, and trace
How in this body's sinuous soft curves
Twin goddesses are present, Force and Grace;
Truly she is miraculous, deserves
In her delicious strength and suppleness
To be enthroned on some most sumptuous bed
And charm a king's or pontiff's idleness.

Observe again where self-conceit is led
To steal enjoyment from this tempting smile;
This languid, sinister and mocking air;
This coy regard, concealed beneath a veil,
In which victorious lineaments declare
"I am called Pleasure, and am crowned by Love."
What thrilling charm informs her majesty
This moving gentleness goes far to prove.
Let us go near and walk around her beauty.

Oh ! blasphemy of art! Oh ! fatal shock!
The divine body, which appeared to ask
Us to our pleasure, has two heads that mock!

No ! these exquisite features are a mask,
Mere debased ornament with fine grimace;
Behind, atrociously contorted, is
The veritable head, the sincere face
Turned to the shadow of this face which lies.
Poor perfect beauty, a grand river breaks
As your tears fall into my anxious soul,
I am drunk with your lie, my spirit slakes
Its torture in the stream your eyes unroll.

Why is she weeping ? In her lovely pride
She could have conquered the whole race of man;
What unknown evil harrows her lithe side?

She weeps, mad girl, because her life began;
Because she lives. One thing she does deplore
So much that she kneels trembling in the dust —
That she must live tomorrow, evermore,
Tomorrow and tomorrow — as we must!

— Graham Reynolds, Flowers of Evil (NY: New Directions, 1955)


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.