Self Portrait by Charles Baudelaire

Charles Baudelaire's
Fleurs du mal / Flowers of Evil


Grands bois, vous m'effrayez comme des cathédrales;
Vous hurlez comme l'orgue; et dans nos coeurs maudits,
Chambres d'éternel deuil où vibrent de vieux râles,
Répondent les échos de vos De profundis.

Je te hais, Océan! tes bonds et tes tumultes,
Mon esprit les retrouve en lui; ce rire amer
De l'homme vaincu, plein de sanglots et d'insultes,
Je l'entends dans le rire énorme de la mer

Comme tu me plairais, ô nuit! sans ces étoiles
Dont la lumière parle un langage connu!
Car je cherche le vide, et le noir, et le nu!

Mais les ténèbres sont elles-mêmes des toiles
Où vivent, jaillissant de mon oeil par milliers,
Des êtres disparus aux regards familiers.

Charles Baudelaire


Great woods, you frighten me like cathedrals;
You roar like the organ; and in our cursed hearts,
Rooms of endless mourning where old death-rattles sound,
Respond the echoes of your De profundis.

I hate you, Ocean! your bounding and your tumult,
My mind finds them within itself; that bitter laugh
Of the vanquished man, full of sobs and insults,
I hear it in the immense laughter of the sea.

How I would like you, Night! without those stars
Whose light speaks a language I know!
For I seek emptiness, darkness, and nudity!

But the darkness is itself a canvas
Upon which live, springing from my eyes by thousands,
Beings with understanding looks, who have vanished.

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


You forests, like cathedrals, are my dread:
You roar like organs. Our curst hearts, like cells
Where death forever rattles on the bed,
Echo your de Profundis as it swells.

My spirit hates you, Ocean! sees, and loathes
Its tumults in your own. Of men defeated
The bitter laugh, that's full of sobs and oaths,
Is in your own tremendously repeated.

How you would please me, Night! without your stars
Which speak a foreign dialect, that jars
On one who seeks the void, the black, the bare.

Yet even your darkest shade a canvas forms
Whereon my eye must multiply in swarms
Familiar looks of shapes no longer there.

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


Great forests, you alarm me like a mighty fane;
Like organ-tones you roar, and in our hearts of stone,
Where ancient sobs vibrate, O halls of endless pain!
The answering echoes of your "De Profundis" moan.

I hate thee, Ocean! hate thy tumults and thy throbs,
My spirit finds them in himself. This bitter glee
Of vanquished mortals, full of insults and of sobs,
I hear it in the mighteous laughter of the sea.

O starless night! thy loveliness my soul inhales,
Without those starry rays which speak a language known,
For I desire the dark, the naked and the lone.

But e'en those darknesses themselves to me are veils,
Where live and, by the millions 'neath my eyelids prance,
Long, long departed Beings with familiar glance.

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


Great woods! like mighty fanes you frighten me,
You howl like the organ; in our cursed souls,
Grey grief-chambers where old death-rattles be,
Your many-echoing "De profundis" rolls.

I hate thee, Ocean! for my spirit is torn
With tumults like thine own; a laugh has birth,
Like a beaten man's, full of all tears and scorn
And bitterness, within the sea's vast mirth.

Ah! how I love thee, Night, when not a star
Speaks with known tongue of light through the dark air;
For lo! I seek the void, the black, the bare;

Yet even darkest depths but curtains are
Where live, shot from my eye, innumerable
Lost forms and faces that I know too well.

— 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.