Self Portrait by Charles Baudelaire

Charles Baudelaire's
Fleurs du mal / Flowers of Evil


Chant d'automne

I

Bientôt nous plongerons dans les froides ténèbres;
Adieu, vive clarté de nos étés trop courts!
J'entends déjà tomber avec des chocs funèbres
Le bois retentissant sur le pavé des cours.

Tout l'hiver va rentrer dans mon être: colère,
Haine, frissons, horreur, labeur dur et forcé,
Et, comme le soleil dans son enfer polaire,
Mon coeur ne sera plus qu'un bloc rouge et glacé.

J'écoute en frémissant chaque bûche qui tombe
L'échafaud qu'on bâtit n'a pas d'écho plus sourd.
Mon esprit est pareil à la tour qui succombe
Sous les coups du bélier infatigable et lourd.

II me semble, bercé par ce choc monotone,
Qu'on cloue en grande hâte un cercueil quelque part.
Pour qui? — C'était hier l'été; voici l'automne!
Ce bruit mystérieux sonne comme un départ.

II

J'aime de vos longs yeux la lumière verdâtre,
Douce beauté, mais tout aujourd'hui m'est amer,
Et rien, ni votre amour, ni le boudoir, ni l'âtre,
Ne me vaut le soleil rayonnant sur la mer.

Et pourtant aimez-moi, tendre coeur! soyez mère,
Même pour un ingrat, même pour un méchant;
Amante ou soeur, soyez la douceur éphémère
D'un glorieux automne ou d'un soleil couchant.

Courte tâche! La tombe attend; elle est avide!
Ah! laissez-moi, mon front posé sur vos genoux,
Goûter, en regrettant l'été blanc et torride,
De l'arrière-saison le rayon jaune et doux!

Charles Baudelaire


Song of Autumn

I

Soon we shall plunge into the cold darkness;
Farewell, vivid brightness of our short-lived summers!
Already I hear the dismal sound of firewood
Falling with a clatter on the courtyard pavements.

All winter will possess my being: wrath,
Hate, horror, shivering, hard, forced labor,
And, like the sun in his polar Hades,
My heart will be no more than a frozen red block.

All atremble I listen to each falling log;
The building of a scaffold has no duller sound.
My spirit resembles the tower which crumbles
Under the tireless blows of the battering ram.

It seems to me, lulled by these monotonous shocks,
That somewhere they're nailing a coffin, in great haste.
For whom? — Yesterday was summer; here is autumn
That mysterious noise sounds like a departure.

II

I love the greenish light of your long eyes,
Sweet beauty, but today all to me is bitter;
Nothing, neither your love, your boudoir, nor your hearth
Is worth as much as the sunlight on the sea.

Yet, love me, tender heart! be a mother,
Even to an ingrate, even to a scapegrace;
Mistress or sister, be the fleeting sweetness
Of a gorgeous autumn or of a setting sun.

Short task! The tomb awaits; it is avid!
Ah! let me, with my head bowed on your knees,
Taste the sweet, yellow rays of the end of autumn,
While I mourn for the white, torrid summer!

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


Song of Autumn

I

Soon into frozen shades, like leaves, we'll tumble.
Adieu, short summer's blaze, that shone to mock.
I hear already the funereal rumble
Of logs, as on the paving-stones they shock.

Winter will enter in my soul to dwell —
Rage, hate, fear, horror, labour forced and dire!
My heart will seem, to sun that polar hell,
A dim, red, frozen block, devoid of fire.

Shuddering I hear the heavy thud of fuel.
The building of a gallows sounds as good!
My spirit, like a tower, reels to the cruel
Battering-ram in every crash of wood.

The ceaseless echoes rock me and appal.
They're nailing up a coffin, I'll be bound,
For whom? — Last night was Summer. Here's the Fall.
There booms a farewell volley in the sound.

II

I like die greenish light in your long eyes,
Dear: but today all things are sour to me.
And naught, your hearth, your boudoir, nor your sighs
Are worth the sun that glitters on the sea.

Yet love me, tender heart, as mothers cherish
A thankless wretch, Lover or sister, be
Ephemeral sweetness of the suns that perish
Or glory of the autumn swift to flee.

Brief task! The charnel yawns in hunger horrid,
Yet let me with my head upon your knees,
Although I mourn the summer, white and torrid
Taste these last yellow rays before they freeze.

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


Chant d'automne

I

soon shall we plunge 'neath winter's icy pall;
farewell, bright fires of too-brief July!
even now I hear the knell funereal
of falling fire-logs in the court close by.

once more on me shall winter all unroll:
wrath, hatred, shivering dread, Toil's cursèd vise,
and like the sun in his far hell, the pole,
my heart shall be a block of crimson ice.

I wait aghast each loud impending log;
thus, criminals 'neath rising gibbets cower.
o dreadful battering-ram! my soul, agog,
quivers and totters like a crumbling tower,

till to my dream the cradling echoes drum
like hammers madly finishing a bier.
— for whom? — June yesterday; now fall is come!
mysterious dirge, who has departed here?

II

I love your long green eyes of slumberous fire,
my sweet, but now all things are gall to me,
and naught, your room, your hearth nor your desire
is worth the sunlight shimmering on the sea.

yet love me, tender heart! a mother be
even to an ingrate, or a wicked one;
mistress or sister, be as sweet to me
as some brief autumn or a setting sun.

'twill not be long! the hungering tomb awaits!
ah! let me — brow at peace upon your knees —
savour, regretful of June's parching heats,
this balmy soft October, ere it flees!

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


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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.