Self Portrait by Charles Baudelaire

Charles Baudelaire's
Fleurs du mal / Flowers of Evil

Un Fantôme

I Les Ténèbres

Dans les caveaux d'insondable tristesse
Où le Destin m'a déjà relégué;
Où jamais n'entre un rayon rose et gai;
Où, seul avec la Nuit, maussade hôtesse,

Je suis comme un peintre qu'un Dieu moqueur
Condamne à peindre, hélas! sur les ténèbres;
Où, cuisinier aux appétits funèbres,
Je fais bouillir et je mange mon coeur,

Par instants brille, et s'allonge, et s'étale
Un spectre fait de grâce et de splendeur.
À sa rêveuse allure orientale,
Quand il atteint sa totale grandeur,
Je reconnais ma belle visiteuse:

C'est Elle! noire et pourtant lumineuse.

II Le Parfum

Lecteur, as-tu quelquefois respiré
Avec ivresse et lente gourmandise
Ce grain d'encens qui remplit une église,
Ou d'un sachet le musc invétéré?

Charme profond, magique, dont nous grise
Dans le présent le passé restauré!
Ainsi l'amant sur un corps adoré
Du souvenir cueille la fleur exquise.

De ses cheveux élastiques et lourds,
Vivant sachet, encensoir de l'alcôve,
Une senteur montait, sauvage et fauve,

Et des habits, mousseline ou velours,
Tout imprégnés de sa jeunesse pure,
Se dégageait un parfum de fourrure.

III Le Cadre

Comme un beau cadre ajoute à la peinture,
Bien qu'elle soit d'un pinceau très-vanté,
Je ne sais quoi d'étrange et d'enchanté
En l'isolant de l'immense nature,

Ainsi bijoux, meubles, métaux, dorure,
S'adaptaient juste à sa rare beauté;
Rien n'offusquait sa parfaite clarté,
Et tout semblait lui servir de bordure.

Même on eût dit parfois qu'elle croyait
Que tout voulait l'aimer; elle noyait
Sa nudité voluptueusement

Dans les baisers du satin et du linge,
Et, lente ou brusque, à chaque mouvement
Montrait la grâce enfantine du singe.

IV Le Portrait

La Maladie et la Mort font des cendres
De tout le feu qui pour nous flamboya.
De ces grands yeux si fervents et si tendres,
De cette bouche où mon coeur se noya,

De ces baisers puissants comme un dictame,
De ces transports plus vifs que des rayons,
Que reste-t-il? C'est affreux, ô mon âme!
Rien qu'un dessin fort pâle, aux trois crayons,

Qui, comme moi, meurt dans la solitude,
Et que le Temps, injurieux vieillard,
Chaque jour frotte avec son aile rude...

Noir assassin de la Vie et de l'Art,
Tu ne tueras jamais dans ma mémoire
Celle qui fut mon plaisir et ma gloire!

Charles Baudelaire

A Phantom

I The Darkness

In the mournful vaults of fathomless gloom
To which Fate has already banished me,
Where a bright, rosy beam never enters;
Where, alone with Night, that sullen hostess,

I'm like a painter whom a mocking God
Condemns to paint, alas! upon darkness;
Where, a cook with a woeful appetite,
I boil and I eat my own heart;

At times there shines, and lengthens, and broadens
A specter made of grace and of splendor;
By its dreamy, oriental manner,

When it attains its full stature,
I recognize my lovely visitor;
It's She! dark and yet luminous.

II The Perfume

Reader, have you at times inhaled
With rapture and slow greediness
That grain of incense which pervades a church,
Or the inveterate musk of a sachet?

Profound, magical charm, with which the past,
Restored to life, makes us inebriate!
Thus the lover from an adored body
Plucks memory's exquisite flower.

From her tresses, heavy and elastic,
Living sachet, censer for the bedroom,
A wild and savage odor rose,

And from her clothes, of muslin or velvet,
All redolent of her youth's purity,
There emanated the odor of furs.

III The Frame

As a lovely frame adds to a painting,
Even though it's from a master's brush,
An indefinable strangeness and charm
By isolating it from vast nature,

Thus jewels, metals, gilding, furniture,
Suited her rare beauty to perfection;
Nothing dimmed its flawless splendor;
All seemed to form for her a frame.

One would even have said that she believed
That everything wished to love her; she drowned
Her nudity voluptuously

In the kisses of the satin and linen,
And, with each movement, slow or brusque,
She showed the child-like grace of a monkey.

IV The Portrait

Disease and Death make ashes
Of all the fire that flamed for us.
Of those wide eyes, so fervent and tender,
Of that mouth in which my heart was drowned,

Of those kisses potent as dittany,
Of those transports more vivid than sunbeams,
What remains? It is frightful, O my soul!
Nothing but a faint sketch, in three colors,

Which, like me, is dying in solitude,
And which Time, that contemptuous old man,
Grazes each day with his rough wing...

Black murderer of Life and Art,
You will never kill in my memory
The one who was my glory and my joy!

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

A Phantom

I The Shades

My fate confines me, dark and shady,
In vaults of lone unfathomed grief.
No rosy sunbeams bring relief.
Alone with Night, my grim landlady,

I'm like a painter whom God spites
To paint on shades, and cook and eat
My own poor heart, the only meat
Of my funereal appetites.

Sometimes a spectre dim, reclining
In grace and glory, can be seen.
With dreamy oriental mien.

When fully its own form defining,
I recognise who it must be,
Sombre yet luminous, it's She!

II The Perfume

Reader, say, have you ever breathed,
With lazy greed and joy, the dusk
Of an old church with incense wreathed,
Or smelt an ancient bag of musk?

It's by such charms the Nevermore
Intoxicates us in the Now —
As lovers to Remembrance bow
Over the bodies they adore.

From her thick tresses as they fume
(Scent-sack and censer of the room)
A feline, tawny perfume springs.

Her muslins and her velvets smooth
Give off, made pregnant with her youth,
Scents of the fur of prowling things.

III The Frame

As a fine frame improves a plate
Although the graver needs no vaunting —
I know not what of strange and haunting
(From nature vast to isolate

Her beauty) was conferred by gems,
Metals, and gear. She mingled with them,
And swirled them all into her rhythm
As in her skirts the flouncing herns.

They say she thought all things were stung
With love for her. Her naked flesh
She loved to drown in kisses fresh

Of flax or satin. To her clung,
In all the movements of her shape,
The childish graces of the ape.

IV The Portrait

Sickness and death will form the ash and dust
Of all the fire we blazed with in such splendour,
Of those great eyes so fervent and so tender,
The mouth wherein my heart would drown its lust,

The kisses strong as marum, the delightful,
Fierce transports livelier than the solar rays.
What can remain? My soul, the truth is frightful!
A fading sketch, a faint three-coloured haze,

Which (like myself unfriended) wanes away,
While Time, insulting dotard, every day,
Brushes it fainter with his heedless wing...

Killer of life and art! black, evil King!
You'll never kill, within my soul, the story
Of that which was my rapture and my glory.

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


Disease and Death make ashes out of all
The fires that flamed for us, out of the round
Wide eyes, so fervent and so kind withal,
Out of the mouth wherein my heart was drowned,
Out of our kisses, strong as pepperwort,
Out of throes bright as patterns sunbeams etch.
What is left now? What dreadful last resort,
O Soul? Only a faint three-colored sketch

Which is, like me, a lonely dying thing,
And which that oldster Time with scornful heart
Bruises each day beneath his jagged wing.
Slayer of Life and murderer of Art,
Mine, still, one treasure you shall not destroy:
She who was all my glory and my joy!

(The original publication only includes this last section of the poem.)

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

The Portrait

Disease and Death, these are the ashes of
All that was fire, and warmed us heretofore.
Of those big eyes, so full of faith and love,
That mouth which stopped my heart, that endless store

Of kisses strong as dittany — that whole
Transport, that passion hotter than the sun,
What now remains? A sorry thing, my soul!
A faded sketch, in three pale crayons done;

Which, like myself, in dusty solitude
Subsides, and which with his injurious wing
Time daily rubs against. O black and rude

Assassin of proud Life and powerful Art:
You cannot rob my memory of one thing, —
Her, that was all my triumph, all my heart.

(The original publication only includes this last section of the poem.)

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

Un Fantôme

I Les Tenebres

down in the unplumbed crypt of blight
where Fate abandoned me to die,
where falls no cheering ray; where I,
sole lodger of the sulky Night,

like artists blind God sets apart
in mockery — I paint the murk;
where, like a ghoulish cook at work,
I boil and munch upon my heart,

momently gleams, and grows apace,
a phantom languorously bright,
and by its dreamy Orient grace,

when it attains its radiant height,
at last I know the lovely thing:
'tis She! girl black yet glimmering.

II Le Parfum

how long, in silken favours, last
their prisoned scents! how greedily
we breathe the incense-grain, a sea
of fragrance, in cathedrals vast!

o deep enchanting sorcery!
in present joys to find the past!
'tis thus on cherished flesh amassed
Love culls the flower of memory.

her thick curled hair, like bags of musk
or living censers, left the dusk
with strange wild odours all astir,

and, from her lace and velvet busk,
— candid and girlish, over her,
hovered a heavy scent of fur.

III Le Cadre

as framing to a portrait gives
— though from a famous brush it be —
a magic full of mystery
secluding it from all that lives,

so gems, divans, gold, steel became
her beauty's border and attire;
no pomp obscured its perfect fire,
all seemed to serve her as a frame.

one even might have said she found
all sought to love her, for she drowned
in kisses of her silks and laces,

her fair nude body, all a-quiver,
and swift or slow, each pose would give her
a host of girlish simian graces.

IV Le Portrait

Death and Disease to ashes turn
all flames that wrapped our youth around.
of her soft eyes, so quick to burn,
her mouth, wherein my heart was drowned.

of her wild kisses' tyrannies,
her passion's blaze implacable —
drear heart! what now is left of these?
only a faded old pastel

dying, like me, in loneliness,
duller each day in every part,
stripped by Time's pinion merciless...

black murderer of life and art,
never shalt thou destroy in me
her, once my pride and ecstasy!

— Lewis Piaget Shanks, Flowers of Evil (New York: Ives Washburn, 1931)

A Ghost

I Perfume

Reader, have you ever breathed in
With intoxication and slow gluttony,
That grain of incense which fills a church,
Or that embedded musk of a scent-bag?

Deep, magical charm, the past recalled
By you now makes us drunk.
Thus a lover plucks from an adored body
The exquisite flower of memory.

From her buoyant, heavy hair,
A living sachet, censer of recesses,
There climbs a fragrance, savage, wild,

And from her muslin or velvet dresses,
Permeated with her pure youth,
Escapes a perfume of fur.

II The Frame

As a fine frame adds to its picture,
Though it may come from a well-known brush,
Thus jewels, furniture, metals or gilding
Adapted themselves quite to her unusual beauty;

it was some strange enchantment,
Parting her from enormous nature;
Nothing darkened her perfect pellucidity,
Everything seemed to serve her as frame.

At times one would even have said that she thought
That all things desired to love her; voluptuously
She drowned her nakedness

In kisses of satin and linen,
And, slow or sudden, in each movement
Showed the childlike grace of the monkey.

(The original publication only includes these two sections of the poem.)

— 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.