Self Portrait by Charles Baudelaire

Charles Baudelaire's
Fleurs du mal / Flowers of Evil

La Chevelure

Ô toison, moutonnant jusque sur l'encolure!
Ô boucles! Ô parfum chargé de nonchaloir!
Extase! Pour peupler ce soir l'alcôve obscure
Des souvenirs dormant dans cette chevelure,
Je la veux agiter dans l'air comme un mouchoir!

La langoureuse Asie et la brûlante Afrique,
Tout un monde lointain, absent, presque défunt,
Vit dans tes profondeurs, forêt aromatique!
Comme d'autres esprits voguent sur la musique,
Le mien, ô mon amour! nage sur ton parfum.

J'irai là-bas où l'arbre et l'homme, pleins de sève,
Se pâment longuement sous l'ardeur des climats;
Fortes tresses, soyez la houle qui m'enlève!
Tu contiens, mer d'ébène, un éblouissant rêve
De voiles, de rameurs, de flammes et de mâts:

Un port retentissant où mon âme peut boire
À grands flots le parfum, le son et la couleur
Où les vaisseaux, glissant dans l'or et dans la moire
Ouvrent leurs vastes bras pour embrasser la gloire
D'un ciel pur où frémit l'éternelle chaleur.

Je plongerai ma tête amoureuse d'ivresse
Dans ce noir océan où l'autre est enfermé;
Et mon esprit subtil que le roulis caresse
Saura vous retrouver, ô féconde paresse,
Infinis bercements du loisir embaumé!

Cheveux bleus, pavillon de ténèbres tendues
Vous me rendez l'azur du ciel immense et rond;
Sur les bords duvetés de vos mèches tordues
Je m'enivre ardemment des senteurs confondues
De l'huile de coco, du musc et du goudron.

Longtemps! toujours! ma main dans ta crinière lourde
Sèmera le rubis, la perle et le saphir,
Afin qu'à mon désir tu ne sois jamais sourde!
N'es-tu pas l'oasis où je rêve, et la gourde
Où je hume à longs traits le vin du souvenir?

Charles Baudelaire

Head of Hair

O fleecy hair, falling in curls to the shoulders!
O black locks! O perfume laden with nonchalance!
Ecstasy! To people the dark alcove tonight
With memories sleeping in that thick head of hair.
I would like to shake it in the air like a scarf!

Sweltering Africa and languorous Asia,
A whole far-away world, absent, almost defunct,
Dwells in your depths, aromatic forest!
While other spirits glide on the wings of music,
Mine, O my love! floats upon your perfume.

I shall go there, where trees and men, full of vigor,
Are plunged in a deep swoon by the heat of the land;
Heady tresses be the billows that carry me away!
Ebony sea, you hold a dazzling dream
Of rigging, of rowers, of pennons and of masts:

A clamorous harbor where my spirit can drink
In great draughts the perfume, the sound and the color;
Where the vessels gliding through the gold and the moire
Open wide their vast arms to embrace the glory
Of a clear sky shimmering with everlasting heat.

I shall bury my head enamored with rapture
In this black sea where the other is imprisoned;
And my subtle spirit caressed by the rolling
Will find you once again, O fruitful indolence,
Endless lulling of sweet-scented leisure!

Blue-black hair, pavilion hung with shadows,
You give back to me the blue of the vast round sky;
In the downy edges of your curling tresses
I ardently get drunk with the mingled odors
Of oil of coconut, of musk and tar.

A long time! Forever! my hand in your thick mane
Will scatter sapphires, rubies and pearls,
So that you will never be deaf to my desire!
Aren't you the oasis of which I dream, the gourd
From which I drink deeply, the wine of memory?

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

Her Hair

O fleece that down her nape rolls, plume on plume!
O curls! O scent of nonchalance and ease!
What ecstasy! To populate this room
With memories it harbours in its gloom,
I'd shake it like a banner on the breeze.

Hot Africa and languid Asia play
(An absent world, defunct, and far away)
Within that scented forest, dark and dim.
As other souls on waves of music swim,
Mine on its perfume sails, as on the spray.

I'll journey there, where man and sap-filled tree
Swoon in hot light for hours. Be you my sea,
Strong tresses! Be the breakers and gales
That waft me. Your black river holds, for me,
A dream of masts and rowers, flames and sails.

A port, resounding there, my soul delivers
With long deep draughts of perfumes, scent, and clamour,
Where ships, that glide through gold and purple rivers,
Fling wide their vast arms to embrace the glamour
Of skies wherein the heat forever quivers.

I'll plunge my head in it, half drunk with pleasure —
In this black ocean that engulfs her form.
My soul, caressed with wavelets there may measure
Infinite rocking in embalmed leisure,
Creative idleness that fears no storm!

Blue tresses, like a shadow-stretching tent,
You shed the blue of heavens round and far.
Along its downy fringes as I went
I reeled half-drunken to confuse the scent
Of oil of coconuts, with musk and tar.

My hand forever in your mane so dense,
Rubies and pearls and sapphires there will sow,
That you to my desire be never slow —
Oasis of my dreams, and gourd from whence
Deep-draughted wines of memory will flow.

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

The Fleece

O shadowy fleece that falls and curls upon those bare
Lithe shoulders! O rich perfume of forgetfulness!
O ecstasy! To loose upon the midnight air
The memories asleep in this tumultuous hair,
I long to rake it in my fingers, tress by tress!

Asia the languorous, the burning solitude
Of Africa — a whole world, distant, all but dead —
Survives in thy profundities, O odorous wood!
My soul, as other souls put forth on the deep flood
Of music, sails away upon thy scent instead.

There where the sap of life mounts hot in man and tree,
And lush desire untamed swoons in the torrid zone,
Undulant tresses, wild strong waves, oh, carry me!
Dream, like a dazzling sun, from out this ebony sea
Rises; and sails and banks of rowers propel me on.

All the confusion, all the mingled colors, cries,
Smells of a busy port, upon my senses beat;
Where smoothly on the golden streakèd ripples flies
The barque, its arms outspread to gather in the skies,
Against whose glory trembles the unabating heat.

In this black ocean where the primal ocean roars,
Drunken, in love with drunkenness, I plunge and drown;
Over my dubious spirit the rolling tide outpours
Its peace — oh, fruitful indolence, upon thy shores,
Cradled in languor, let me drift and lay me down!

Blue hair, darkness made palpable, like the big tent
Of desert sky all glittering with many a star
Thou coverest me — oh, I am drugged as with the blent
Effluvia of a sleeping caravan, the scent
Of coco oil impregnated with musk and tar.

Fear not! Upon this savage mane for ever thy lord
Will sow pearls, sapphires, rubies, every stone that gleams,
To keep thee faithful! Art not thou the sycamored
Oasis whither my thoughts journey, and the dark gourd
Whereof I drink in long slow draughts the wine of dreams?

— George Dillon & Edna St. Vincent Millay, Flowers of Evil (NY: Harper and Brothers, 1936)

Of Her Hair

O fleece, billowing on her neck! O ecstasy!
O curls, O perfume rich with nonchalance, O rare!.
Tonight to fill the alcove's warm obscurity,
To make that hair evoke each dormant memory,
I long to wave it like a kerchief in the air.

Africa smoldering and Asia languorous,
A whole far distant world, absent and almost spent,
Dwells in your forest depths, mystic and odorous!
As others lose themselves in the harmonious,
So, love, my heart floats lost upon your haunting scent.

I shall go where both man and tree, albeit strong,
Swoon deep beneath the rays of sunlight's blazing fires.
Thick tresses, be the waves to bear my dreams along!
Ebony sea, your dazzling dream contains a throng
Of sails, of wafts, of oarsmen, and of masts like spires.

A noisy harbor where my thirsty soul may drain
Hues, sounds and fragrances, in draughts heavy and sweet,
Where vessels gliding down a moiré-and-gold sea lane
Open their vast arms wide to clutch at the domain
Of a pure sky ashimmer with eternal beat.

Deep shall I plunge my head, avid of drunkenness,
In this black sea wherein the other sea lies captured,
And my soul buoyant at its undulant caress
Shall find you once again, O fruitful idleness,
O long lullings of ease, soft, honeyed and enraptured.

O blue-black hair, pennon with sheen and shadow fraught,
You give me back the vast blue skies of dawn and dusk,
As on the downy edges of your tresses, caught
In your soft curls, I grow drunken and hot, distraught
By mingled scents of cocoanut and tar and musk.

Sapphires, rubies, pearls — my hand shall never tire
Of strewing these through your thick mane — how lavishly! —
Lest Life should ever turn you deaf to my desire!
You are the last oasis where I dream, afire,
The gourd whence deep I quaff the wine of memory.

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

La Chevelure

O fleece, that foams down unto the shoulders bare!
O curls, O scents which lovely languidness exhale!
Delight! to fill this alcove's sombre atmosphere
With memories, sleeping deep within this tress of hair,
I'll wave it in the evening breezes like a veil!

The shores of Africa, and Asia's burning skies,
A world forgotten, distant, nearly dead and spent,
Within thy depths, O aromatic forest! lies.
And like to spirits floating unto melodies,
Mine own, Beloved! glides within thy sacred scent.

There I will hasten, where the trees and humankind
With languor lull beside the hot and silent sea;
Strong tresses bear me, be to me the waves and wind!
Within thy fragrance lies a dazzling dream confined
Of sails and masts and flames — O lake of ebony!

A loudly echoing harbour, where my soul may hold
To quaff, the silver cup of colours, scents and sounds,
Wherein the vessels glide upon a sea of gold,
And stretch their mighty arms, the glory to enfold
Of virgin skies, where never-ending heat abounds.

I'll plunge my brow, enamoured with voluptuousness
Within this darkling ocean of infinitude,
Until my subtle spirit, which thy waves caress,
Shall find you once again, O fertile weariness;
Unending lullabye of perfumed lassitude!

Ye tresses blue — recess of strange and sombre shades,
Ye make the azure of the starry Realm immense;
Upon the downy beeches, by your curls' cascades,
Among your mingling fragrances, my spirit wades
To cull the musk and cocoa-nut and lotus scents.

Long — foraye — my hand, within thy heavy mane,
Shall scatter rubies, pearls, sapphires eternally,
And thus my soul's desire for thee shall never wane;
For art not thou the oasis where I dream and drain
With draughts profound, the golden wine of memory?

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

La Chevelure

O billows flowing o'er the shoulders bare!
O curls! O perfume sweet beyond belief!
Here in this bower to people the night air
With all the memories sleeping in this hair
I long to shake it like a handkerchief!

Fierce Afric and the languorous Orient,
All a vast world, distant, nay, almost dead,
Within this aromatic wood is pent;
My soul beloved floats upon thy scent
As other souls have music for a bed.

I will go out where full-veined man and tree
Swoon daylong in the sultry summer's heat —
Strong tresses be the barque which carries me:
Thou boldest a bright dream, O ebon sea.
Of sails, flames, rowers, on a splendid fleet;

A harbour where through every sense are rolled
Vast sweeping waves of perfume, sound, and hue,
Where vessels gliding over moire and gold
Stretch up great arms to heaven to enfold
The glory of the everlasting blue.

There waits for me delicious drunkenness
In this dark sea which holds those other seas;
My spirit in the gentle main's caress
Shall know once more the old rich idleness,
Infinite rockings of embalmed ease.

Ah! dark-blue, streaming banner of the night,
You bring me back those azure skies afar,
Plunged in your silken folds my soul takes flight
And drinks once more with measureless delight
The scent of cocoa-oil and musk and tar.

For ever I will scatter in each strand,
That thou may'st never turn deaf ears to me,
Rubies, pearls, sapphires with a lavish hand. . . .
Thou art the well-spring in a desert land
Wherefrom I quaff deep draughts of memory.

— Jack Collings Squire, Poems and Baudelaire Flowers (London: The New Age Press, Ltd, 1909)

The Head of Hair

O Fleece, foaming to the neck!
O curls! O scent of laziness!
Ecstasy! This evening, to people the dark corners
Of memories that are sleeping in these locks,
I would wave them in the air like a handkerchief!

Languorous Asia and burning Africa,
A whole world, distant, absent, almost extinct,
Lives in the depths of your perfumed jungle;
As other souls sail along on music,
So mine, O my love, swims on your scent.

I shall go over there where trees and men, full of sap,
Faint away slowly in the passionate climate;
O strong locks, be the sea-swell that transports me!
You keep, O sea of ebony, a dazzling dream
Of sails and sailormen, flames and masts:

A resounding haven where in great waves
My soul can drink the scent, the sound and color;
Where ships, sliding in gold and watered silk,
Part their vast arms to embrace the glory
Of the pure sky shuddering with eternal heat

I shall plunge my head, adoring drunkenness,
Into this black ocean where the other is imprisoned;
And my subtle spirit caressed by the sway
Will know how to find you, O pregnant idleness!
In an infinite cradle of scented leisure!

Blue hair, house of taut darkness,
You make the blue of the sky seem huge and round for me;
On the downy edges of your twisted locks
I hungrily get drunk on the muddled fragrances
Of coconut oil, of musk and tar

For a long time! For ever! Amongst your heavy mane
My hand will strew the ruby, pearl and sapphire
To make you never deaf to my desire!
For are you not the oasis where I dream, the gourd
Where in great draughts I gulp the wine of memory?

— Geoffrey Wagner, Selected Poems of Charles Baudelaire (NY: Grove Press, 1974)


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.