Self Portrait by Charles Baudelaire

Charles Baudelaire's
Fleurs du mal / Flowers of Evil

Hymne à la Beauté

Viens-tu du ciel profond ou sors-tu de l'abîme,
O Beauté? ton regard, infernal et divin,
Verse confusément le bienfait et le crime,
Et l'on peut pour cela te comparer au vin.

Tu contiens dans ton oeil le couchant et l'aurore;
Tu répands des parfums comme un soir orageux;
Tes baisers sont un philtre et ta bouche une amphore
Qui font le héros lâche et l'enfant courageux.

Sors-tu du gouffre noir ou descends-tu des astres?
Le Destin charmé suit tes jupons comme un chien;
Tu sèmes au hasard la joie et les désastres,
Et tu gouvernes tout et ne réponds de rien.

Tu marches sur des morts, Beauté, dont tu te moques;
De tes bijoux l'Horreur n'est pas le moins charmant,
Et le Meurtre, parmi tes plus chères breloques,
Sur ton ventre orgueilleux danse amoureusement.

L'éphémère ébloui vole vers toi, chandelle,
Crépite, flambe et dit: Bénissons ce flambeau!
L'amoureux pantelant incliné sur sa belle
A l'air d'un moribond caressant son tombeau.

Que tu viennes du ciel ou de l'enfer, qu'importe,
Ô Beauté! monstre énorme, effrayant, ingénu!
Si ton oeil, ton souris, ton pied, m'ouvrent la porte
D'un Infini que j'aime et n'ai jamais connu?

De Satan ou de Dieu, qu'importe? Ange ou Sirène,
Qu'importe, si tu rends, — fée aux yeux de velours,
Rythme, parfum, lueur, ô mon unique reine! —
L'univers moins hideux et les instants moins lourds?

Charles Baudelaire

Hymn to Beauty

Do you come from Heaven or rise from the abyss,
Beauty? Your gaze, divine and infernal,
Pours out confusedly benevolence and crime,
And one may for that, compare you to wine.

You contain in your eyes the sunset and the dawn;
You scatter perfumes like a stormy night;
Your kisses are a philtre, your mouth an amphora,
Which make the hero weak and the child courageous.

Do you come from the stars or rise from the black pit?
Destiny, bewitched, follows your skirts like a dog;
You sow at random joy and disaster,
And you govern all things but answer for nothing.

You walk upon corpses which you mock, O Beauty!
Of your jewels Horror is not the least charming,
And Murder, among your dearest trinkets,
Dances amorously upon your proud belly.

The dazzled moth flies toward you, O candle!
Crepitates, flames and says: "Blessed be this flambeau!"
The panting lover bending o'er his fair one
Looks like a dying man caressing his own tomb,

Whether you come from heaven or from hell, who cares,
O Beauty! Huge, fearful, ingenuous monster!
If your regard, your smile, your foot, open for me
An Infinite I love but have not ever known?

From God or Satan, who cares? Angel or Siren,
Who cares, if you make, — fay with the velvet eyes,
Rhythm, perfume, glimmer; my one and only queen!
The world less hideous, the minutes less leaden?

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

Hymn to Beauty

Did you spring out of heaven or the abyss,
Beauty? Your gaze infernal, yet divine,
Spreads infamy and glory, grief and bliss,
And therefore you can be compared to wine.

Your eyes contain both sunset and aurora:
You give off scents, like evenings storm-deflowered:
Your kisses are a philtre: an amphora
Your mouth, that cows the brave, and spurs the coward.

Climb you from gulfs, or from the stars descend?
Fate, like a fawning hound, to heel you've brought;
You scatter joy and ruin without end,
Ruling all things, yet answering for naught.

You trample men to death, and mock their clamour.
Amongst your gauds pale Horror gleams and glances,
And Murder, not the least of them in glamour,
On your proud belly amorously dances.

The dazzled insect seeks your candle-rays,
Crackles, and burns, and seems to bless his doom.
The groom bent o'er his bride as in a daze,
Seems, like a dying man, to stroke his tomb.

What matter if from hell or heaven born,
Tremendous monster, terrible to view?
Your eyes and smile reveal to me, like morn,
The Infinite I love but never knew.

From God or Fiend? Siren or Sylph ? Invidious
The answer — Fay with eyes of velvet, ray,
Rhythm, and perfume! — if you make less hideous
Our universe, less tedious leave our day.

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

Hymn to Beauty

Do you come from deep heaven or do you come from hell,
O Beauty? Your eyes, infernal and divine,
Pour out both goodness and crime,
And for that you can be compared to wine.

You contain in your eyes the sunset and dawn;
You scatter perfumes like a stormy night;
Your kisses are a philtre and your mouth an amphora
Which make the hero a coward and the child courageous.

Do you come from a black abyss or do you come down from the stars?
Charmed Destiny follows your skirts like a dog;
At random you sow joy and disasters,
And you govern all and answer for nothing.

You walk over the dead, O Beauty, and mock them.
Among your jewels, Horror is not the least charming,
And Murder, among your dearest baubles,
Dances amorously on your proud body.

The dazzled moth flies to you, a candle,
Crackles, flames and says: Let us bless this torch!
The panting lover bending over his mistress
Resembles a dying man caressing his tomb.

It is of little consequence whether you come from heaven or hell,
O Beauty! huge, terrifying, artless monster!
If your eyes, your smile, your feet open for me the gate
Of an Infinity I love and have never known

From Satan or God, what difference? Angel or Siren,
What difference, if you make — O fairy with soft eyes,
Rhythm, perfume, light, O my one queen —
The universe less hideous and time less heavy?

— Wallace Fowlie, Flowers of Evil (New York: Dover Publications, 1964)

Hymn to Beauty

Did you fall from high heaven or surge from the abyss,
O Beauty? Your bright gaze, infernal and divine,
Confusedly pours out courage and cowardice,
Or love and crime. Therefore men liken you to wine.

Your eyes hold all the sunset and the dawn, you are
As rich in fragrances as a tempestuous night,
Your kisses are a philtre and your mouth a jar
Filling the child with valor and the man with fright.

Did the stars mould you or the pit's obscurity?
You bring at random Paradise or Juggernaut.
Fate sniffs your skirts with a charmed dog's servility,
You govern all and yet are answerable for naught.

Beauty, you walk on corpses of dead men you mock.
Among your store of gems, Horror is not the least;
Murder, amid the dearest trinkets of your stock,
Dances on your proud belly like a ruttish beast.

Candle, the transient moth flies dazzled to your light,
Crackles and flames and says: "Blessèd this fiery doom!"
The panting lover with his mistress in the night
Looks like a dying man caressing his own tomb.

Are you from heaven or hell, Beauty that we adore?
Who cares? A dreadful, huge, ingenuous monster, you!
So but your glance, your smile, your foot open a door
Upon an Infinite I love but never knew.

From Satan or from God? Who cares? Fierce or serene,
Who cares? Sister to sirens or to seraphim?
So but, dark fey, you shed your perfume, rhythm and sheen
To make the world less hideous and Time less grim.

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

Hymn to Beauty

From heaven or hell, O Beauty, come you hence?
Out from your gaze, infernal and divine,
Pours blended evil and beneficence,
And therefore men have likened you to wine.

Sunset and dawn within your eyes are fair;
Stormlike you scatter perfume into space;
Your kiss, a philtre from an amphora rare,
Charms boys to courage and makes heroes base.

Whence come you, from what spheres, or inky deeps,
With careless hand joy and distress to strew?
Fate, like a dog at heel, behind you creeps;
You govern all things here, and naught you rue.

You walk upon the dead with scornful glances,
Among your gems Horror is not least fair;
Murder, the dearest of your baubles, dances
Upon your haughty breast with amorous air.

Mothlike around your flame the transient, turning,
Crackles and flames and cries, "Ah, heavenly doom!"
The quivering lover o'er his mistress yearning
Is but a dying man who woos his tomb.

From heaven or the abyss? Let questioning be,
O artless monster wreaking endless pain,
So that your smile and glance throw wide to me
An infinite that I have loved in vain.

From Satan or from God? Holy or vile?
Let questioning rest. O soft-eyed sprite, my queen,
O rhythm, perfume, light — so you beguile
Time from his slothfulness, the world from spleen.

— Dorothy Martin, Flowers of Evil (NY: New Directions, 1955)

Hymn to Beauty

Be thou from Hell upsprung or Heaven descended,
Beauty! thy look demoniac and divine
Pours good and evil things confusedly blended,
And therefore art thou likened unto wine.

Thine eye with dawn is filled, with twilight dwindles,
Like winds of night thou sprinklest perfumes mild;
Thy kiss, that is a spell, the child's heart kindles,
Thy mouth, a chalice, makes the man a child.

Fallen from the stars or risen from gulfs of error,
Fate dogs thy glamoured garments like a slave;
With wanton hands thou scatterest joy and terror,
And rulest over all, cold as the grave.

Thou tramplest on the dead, scornful and cruel,
Horror coils like an amulet round thine arms,
Crime on thy superb bosom is a jewel
That dances amorously among its charms.

The dazzled moth that flies to thee, the candle,
Shrivels and burns, blessing thy fatal flame;
The lover that dies fawning o'er thy sandal
Fondles his tomb and breathes the adored name.

What if from Heaven or Hell thou com'st, immortal
Beauty? O sphinx-like monster, since alone
Thine eye, thy smile, thy hand opens the portal
Of the Infinite I love and have not known.

What if from God or Satan be the evangel?
Thou my sole Queen! Witch of the velvet eyes!
Since with thy fragrance, rhythm and light, O Angel!
In a less hideous world time swiftlier flies.

— W. J. Robertson, from Baudelaire: His Prose and Poetry, edited by Thomas Robert Smith (New York: Boni and Liveright, 1919)

Hymn to Beauty

O Beauty! dost thou generate from Heaven or from Hell?
Within thy glance, so diabolic and divine,
Confusedly both wickedness and goodness dwell,
And hence one might compare thee unto sparkling wine.

Thy look containeth both the dawn and sunset stars,
Thy perfumes, as upon a sultry night exhale,
Thy kiss a philter, and thy mouth a Grecian vase,
That renders heroes cowardly and infants hale.

Yea, art thou from the planets, or the fiery womb?
The demon follows in thy train, with magic fraught,
Thou scatter'st seeds haphazardly of joy and doom,
Thou govern'st everything, but answer'st unto nought.

O Loveliness! thou spurnest corpses with delight,
Among thy jewels, Horror hath such charms for thee,
And Murder 'mid thy mostly cherished trinklets bright,
Upon thy massive bosom dances amorously.

The blinded, fluttering moth towards the candle flies,
Then frizzles, falls, and falters — "Blessings unto thee"—
The panting swain that o'er his beauteous mistress sighs,
Seems like the Sick, that stroke their gravestones lovingly.

What matter, if thou comest from the Heavens or Hell,
O Beauty, frightful ghoul, ingenuous and obscure!
So long thine eyes, thy smile, to me the way can tell
Towards that Infinite I love, but never saw.

From God or Satan? Angel, Mermaid, Proserpine?
What matter if thou makest — blithe, voluptuous sprite —
With rhythms, perfumes, visions — O mine only queen! —
The universe less hideous and the hours less trite.

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

Hymn to Beauty

Comest thou from high heaven or from the abyss,
O Beauty? For thy look, hellish, divine,
Is fraught with mingled misery and bliss
(Wherefore thy soul is as the soul of wine).

Within thine eye red dawn and sunset burn;
Odours thou spread'st as stormy evenings;
Thy kisses are a draught, thy mouth an urn
To make men quail and babes do mighty things.

From the dark gulf, or from the immortal stars?
The charmed Demon follows like a hound;
Thou rul'st with hand that careless makes or mars,
Nor to our prayers vouchsafest any sound.

Thou walkest over dead men, mocking them,
Beauty! and horror decks the throat of thee.
And glittering murder, thy most precious gem,
On thy proud belly dances amorously.

Toward thee, flame, the dazzled insect flies.
Shrivels and cries, "Blest conqueror of gloom!"
Upon his fair one's breast the lover lies,
As 'twere a dying man who hugs his tomb.

Naive, terrible form! what boots it sky or pit,
O beauty! if thine eye, smile, foot, alone
Can open me the gate of an infinite
My soul's athirst for, and has never known?

What boots it, seraph or siren, from God's height
Or Satan's hell, O queen! if thou dost come
Soft-eyed, to make, with rhythm, scent, and light,
The world less dull and time less burdensome?

— 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.