Self Portrait by Charles Baudelaire

Charles Baudelaire's
Fleurs du mal / Flowers of Evil

Le Cygne

À Victor Hugo


Andromaque, je pense à vous! Ce petit fleuve,
Pauvre et triste miroir où jadis resplendit
L'immense majesté de vos douleurs de veuve,
Ce Simoïs menteur qui par vos pleurs grandit,

A fécondé soudain ma mémoire fertile,
Comme je traversais le nouveau Carrousel.
Le vieux Paris n'est plus (la forme d'une ville
Change plus vite, hélas! que le coeur d'un mortel);

Je ne vois qu'en esprit tout ce camp de baraques,
Ces tas de chapiteaux ébauchés et de fûts,
Les herbes, les gros blocs verdis par l'eau des flaques,
Et, brillant aux carreaux, le bric-à-brac confus.

Là s'étalait jadis une ménagerie;
Là je vis, un matin, à l'heure où sous les cieux
Froids et clairs le Travail s'éveille, où la voirie
Pousse un sombre ouragan dans l'air silencieux,

Un cygne qui s'était évadé de sa cage,
Et, de ses pieds palmés frottant le pavé sec,
Sur le sol raboteux traînait son blanc plumage.
Près d'un ruisseau sans eau la bête ouvrant le bec

Baignait nerveusement ses ailes dans la poudre,
Et disait, le coeur plein de son beau lac natal:
«Eau, quand donc pleuvras-tu? quand tonneras-tu, foudre?»
Je vois ce malheureux, mythe étrange et fatal,

Vers le ciel quelquefois, comme l'homme d'Ovide,
Vers le ciel ironique et cruellement bleu,
Sur son cou convulsif tendant sa tête avide
Comme s'il adressait des reproches à Dieu!


Paris change! mais rien dans ma mélancolie
N'a bougé! palais neufs, échafaudages, blocs,
Vieux faubourgs, tout pour moi devient allégorie
Et mes chers souvenirs sont plus lourds que des rocs.

Aussi devant ce Louvre une image m'opprime:
Je pense à mon grand cygne, avec ses gestes fous,
Comme les exilés, ridicule et sublime
Et rongé d'un désir sans trêve! et puis à vous,

Andromaque, des bras d'un grand époux tombée,
Vil bétail, sous la main du superbe Pyrrhus,
Auprès d'un tombeau vide en extase courbée
Veuve d'Hector, hélas! et femme d'Hélénus!

Je pense à la négresse, amaigrie et phtisique
Piétinant dans la boue, et cherchant, l'oeil hagard,
Les cocotiers absents de la superbe Afrique
Derrière la muraille immense du brouillard;

À quiconque a perdu ce qui ne se retrouve
Jamais, jamais! à ceux qui s'abreuvent de pleurs
Et tètent la Douleur comme une bonne louve!
Aux maigres orphelins séchant comme des fleurs!

Ainsi dans la forêt où mon esprit s'exile
Un vieux Souvenir sonne à plein souffle du cor!
Je pense aux matelots oubliés dans une île,
Aux captifs, aux vaincus!... à bien d'autres encor!

Charles Baudelaire

The Swan

To Victor Hugo


Andromache, I think of you! — That little stream,
That mirror, poor and sad, which glittered long ago
With the vast majesty of your widow's grieving,
That false Simois swollen by your tears,

Suddenly made fruitful my teeming memory,
As I walked across the new Carrousel.
— Old Paris is no more (the form of a city
Changes more quickly, alas! than the human heart);

I see only in memory that camp of stalls,
Those piles of shafts, of rough hewn cornices, the grass,
The huge stone blocks stained green in puddles of water,
And in the windows shine the jumbled bric-a-brac.

Once a menagerie was set up there;
There, one morning, at the hour when Labor awakens,
Beneath the clear, cold sky when the dismal hubbub
Of street-cleaners and scavengers breaks the silence,

I saw a swan that had escaped from his cage,
That stroked the dry pavement with his webbed feet
And dragged his white plumage over the uneven ground.
Beside a dry gutter the bird opened his beak,

Restlessly bathed his wings in the dust
And cried, homesick for his fair native lake:
"Rain, when will you fall? Thunder, when will you roll?"
I see that hapless bird, that strange and fatal myth,

Toward the sky at times, like the man in Ovid,
Toward the ironic, cruelly blue sky,
Stretch his avid head upon his quivering neck,
As if he were reproaching God!


Paris changes! but naught in my melancholy
Has stirred! New palaces, scaffolding, blocks of stone,
Old quarters, all become for me an allegory,
And my dear memories are heavier than rocks.

So, before the Louvre, an image oppresses me:
I think of my great swan with his crazy motions,
Ridiculous, sublime, like a man in exile,
Relentlessly gnawed by longing! and then of you,

Andromache, base chattel, fallen from the embrace
Of a mighty husband into the hands of proud Pyrrhus,
Standing bowed in rapture before an empty tomb,
Widow of Hector, alas! and wife of Helenus!

I think of the negress, wasted and consumptive,
Trudging through muddy streets, seeking with a fixed gaze
The absent coco-palms of splendid Africa
Behind the immense wall of mist;

Of whoever has lost that which is never found
Again! Never! Of those who deeply drink of tears
And suckle Pain as they would suck the good she-wolf!
Of the puny orphans withering like flowers!

Thus in the dim forest to which my soul withdraws,
An ancient memory sounds loud the hunting horn!
I think of the sailors forgotten on some isle,
— Of the captives, of the vanquished!...of many others too!

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

The Swan

To Victor Hugo

Andromache! — This shallow stream, the brief
Mirror you once so grandly overcharged
With your vast majesty of widowed grief,
This lying Simois your tears enlarged,

Evoked your name, and made me think of you,
As I was crossing the new Carrousel.
— Old Paris is no more (cities renew,
Quicker than human hearts, their changing spell).

In mind I see that camp of huts, the muddle
Of rough-hewn roofs and leaning shafts for miles,
The grass, green logs stagnating in the puddle,
Where bric-a-brac lay glittering in piles.

Once a menagerie parked there.
And there it chanced one morning, when from slumber freed,
Labour stands up, and Transport through still air
Rumbles its sombre hurricane of speed, —

A swan escaped its cage: and as its feet
With finny palms on the harsh pavement scraped,
Trailing white plumage on the stony street,
In the dry gutter for fresh water gaped.

Nervously bathing in the dust, in wonder
It asked, remembering its native stream,
"When will the rain come down? When roll the thunder?"
I see it now, strange myth and fatal theme!

Sometimes, like Ovid's wretch, towards the sky
(Ironically blue with cruel smile)
Its neck, convulsive, reared its head on high
As though it were its Maker to revile.


Paris has changed, but in my grief no change.
New palaces and scaffoldings and blocks,
To me, are allegories, nothing strange.
My memories are heavier than rocks.

Passing the Louvre, one image makes me sad:
That swan, like other exiles that we knew,
Grandly absurd, with gestures of the mad,
Gnawed by one craving! — Then I think of you,

Who fell from your great husband's arms, to be
A beast of freight for Pyrrhus, and for life,
Bowed by an empty tomb in ecstasy —
Great Hector's widow! Helenus's wife!

I think, too, of the starved and phthisic negress
Tramping the mud, who seeks, with haggard eye,
The palms of Africa, and for some egress
Out of this great black wall of foggy sky:

Of those who've lost what they cannot recover:
Of those who slake with tears their lonely hours
And milk the she-wolf, Sorrow, for their mother:
And skinny orphans withering like flowers.

So in the forest of my soul's exile,
Remembrance winds his horn as on he rides.
I think of sailors stranded on an isle,
Captives, and slaves — and many more besides.

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

The Swan

To Victor Hugo


Andromache, I think of you! This small river,
Poor sad mirror where once shone
The immense majesty of your widow's grief,
This deceptive Simoïs which grows with your tears,

Suddenly enriched my fertile memory,
As I crossed the newly built Carrousel.
Old Paris is no more (the form of a city
Changes more quickly, alas, than the heart of a man);

I see only in my mind that camp of booths,
The piles of rough-hewn capitals and shafts,
The grass, the heavy blocks turned green by the water of pools,
And, shining on the tiles, the crowded bric-à-brac.

There once a menagerie spread out;
There I saw, one morning, at the time when under a cold
Clear sky Labor awakens, when the road
Pushes a dark storm through the silent air,

A swan which had escaped from its cage,
And, with its webby feet rubbing the dry pavement,
Was dragging its white plumage over the level ground.
Near a stream without water the bird opening its beak

Nervously bathed its wings in the dust,
And said, its heart full of its beautiful native lake:
"Water, when will you rain down? When will you thunder, O lightning?"
I see that wretched bird, a strange and fatal myth,

Toward the sky at times, like the man of Ovid,
Toward the ironic and cruelly blue sky,
Stretching its avid head over its convulsed neck,
As if it were addressing reproaches to God!


Paris changes! But nothing in my sadness
Has moved! new palaces, scaffoldings, blocks,
Old suburbs, everything becomes an allegory for me,
And my dear memories are heavier than rocks.

In front of the Louvre an image vexes me:
I think of my great swan, with its mad gestures,
Like exiles, ridiculous and sublime,
And devoured by an unrelenting desire! And then of you,

Andromache, fallen from the arms of a great husband,
A degraded animal, in the hands of proud Pyrrhus,
Near an empty tomb bent over in ecstasy;
Widow of Hector, alas, and wife of Helenus!

I think of the Negress, thin and phthisical,
Walking in mud, and looking, with haggard eyes,
For the absent palm trees of proud Africa
Behind the huge wall of fog;

Of whoever has lost what can never
Be found again! Of those who collapse in tears
And suckle Grief as if she were a kind wolf!
Of sickly orphans drying like flowers!

As if in a forest where my mind is exiled
An old memory sounds as in a blast from a horn!
I think of sailors forgotten on an island,
Of prisoners, of conquered men! … And of many others!

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

The Swan

Andromache, I think of you as I look down on the broad languid surface
of the Seine from Carrousel Bridge. It's a mirror of yesterday that undercuts
my every feeling, even in this clear contemplation of you, still in your widow's
grief, as cocky Phyrrus drags you to his bed.

The Paris of old has undergone changes my heart cannot. Now only in memory,
the Paris of makeshift booths and crowded tradesmen's squares. Every massive
stone was covered with a green algaeous stain thrown up by wheels hurrying
to keep the machinery of a divine indifference turning. The once necessary
storefront jumble of bric-a-brac has been effaced.

A menagerie used to set up to the west of me. Just over there, one morning,
as the loud road menders came to work to hoist bricks in the bird-alive dawn,
I saw a swan pecking at the peg holding shut its wicker cage. Once free,
it made for what it took for a wet gutter. It had not rained in two weeks.
Webbed feet dragged white plumes across a scorched street. At the dried-
up pool, the thirsty creature became frantic. Flapping its wings, it shaded
itself in a mist of acrid dust. The neck twisted and the beak scraped the
dirt. Lifting its head to the cloudless sky, it scraked for water. I can
still hear that unhappy bird scolding the dreaming azure. The amused
owner tied a rope around the swan's neck and used a broom handle to
prod it back into its cage.

As Paris changes, my melancholy deepens. The new palaces, covered by
scaffolding and surrounded by blocks of stone, overlook the old suburbs
that are being torn down to pave wide, utilitarian avenues. The new city's
coils strangle memory. As I stand gazing at the everyday activity surrounding
the Louvre, I have an oppressive vision -- my frenzied swan's desperation is
the condition of the multiplying exiles on this globe.

I think of you again, Andromache, as I watch a tubercular Negress trudging the
steps of our courthouse counting on a pity it cannot offer. Walking home by
the street orphans living off the offal of third-class restaurants, I fix on
Pacific cannibals, my friends' ennui, our insignificant bents, and on those
daily made reviled, slaughtered Hector, Andromache in Phyrrus' bed.

— Will Schmitz

Le Cygne


Andromache, of thee I think! and of
the dreary streamlet where, through exiled years,
shone the vast grandeur of thy widow's love,
that false Simois brimmed with royal tears

poured like the Nile across my memory strange,
as past the Louvre new I strolled, apart.
— Old Paris is no more (for cities change
— alas! — more quickly than a mortal's heart);

only my memory sees the capitals,
the shafts unfinished once, in pools of rain,
the slimy marble blocks, weeds, market-stalls
with old brass gleaming through each dusty pane.

that corner houses a whole menagerie once;
and here one day I saw, when 'neath the fair
cold heavens, Toil awoke, and over the stones
the storm of traffic rent the silent air,

a swan which from its cage had made escape
patting the torrid blocks with webby feet,
trailing great plumes of snow, while beak agape
fumbled for water in the parching street;

wildly it plunged its wings in dust again,
mourning its native lake, and seemed to shrill:
"lightning, when comest thou? and when, the rain?"
strange symbol! wretched bird, I see it still,

up to the sky, like Ovid's fool accurst,
up to the cruelly blue ironic sky
raising its neck convulsed and beak athirst,
as though reproaching God in each mad cry.


towns change... but in my melancholy naught
has moved at all! new portals, ladders, blocks,
old alleys — all become symbolic thought,
in me, loved memories turn to moveless rocks.

so, crushing me, the Louvre gates recall
my huge white swan, insane with agony,
comic, sublime, like exiles one and all
by truceless cravings torn! I think of thee

Andromache, a slave apportioned, whom
proud Pyrrhus took from hands more glorious,
in ecstasy bent o'er an empty tomb;
great Hector's widow, wed to Helenus!

I think of thee, consumptive Nubian,
wading the mire, wan-eyed girl, agog
to find the absent palms of proud Soudan
behind the boundless rampart of the fog;

I think of all who lose the boons we find
no more! no more! who feed on tears and cling
to the good she-wolf Grief, whose tears are kind!
— of orphans gaunt like flowers withering!

thus, in the jungle of my soul's exile,
old memories wind a horn I've heard before!
I think of sailors wrecked on some lost isle,
of prisoners, captives!... and many more!

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

The Swan


Andromache, I think of you! The stream,
The poor, sad mirror where in bygone days
Shone all the majesty of your widowed grief,
The lying Simoïs flooded by your tears,
Made all my fertile memory blossom forth
As I passed by the new-built Carrousel.
Old Paris is no more (a town, alas,
Changes more quickly than man's heart may change);
Yet in my mind I still can see the booths;
The heaps of brick and rough-hewn capitals;
The grass; the stones all over-green with moss;
The _débris_, and the square-set heaps of tiles.

There a menagerie was once outspread;
And there I saw, one morning at the hour
When toil awakes beneath the cold, clear sky,
And the road roars upon the silent air,
A swan who had escaped his cage, and walked
On the dry pavement with his webby feet,
And trailed his spotless plumage on the ground.
And near a waterless stream the piteous swan
Opened his beak, and bathing in the dust
His nervous wings, he cried (his heart the while
Filled with a vision of his own fair lake):
"O water, when then wilt thou come in rain?
Lightning, when wilt thou glitter?"
Sometimes yet
I see the hapless bird — strange, fatal myth —
Like him that Ovid writes of, lifting up
Unto the cruelly blue, ironic heavens,
With stretched, convulsive neck a thirsty face,
As though he sent reproaches up to God!


Paris may change; my melancholy is fixed.
New palaces, and scaffoldings, and blocks,
And suburbs old, are symbols all to me
Whose memories are as heavy as a stone.
And so, before the Louvre, to vex my soul,
The image came of my majestic swan
With his mad gestures, foolish and sublime,
As of an exile whom one great desire
Gnaws with no truce. And then I thought of you,
Andromache! torn from your hero's arms;
Beneath the hand of Pyrrhus in his pride;
Bent o'er an empty tomb in ecstasy;
Widow of Hector — wife of Helenus!
And of the negress, wan and phthisical,
Tramping the mud, and with her haggard eyes
Seeking beyond the mighty walls of fog
The absent palm-trees of proud Africa;
Of all who lose that which they never find;
Of all who drink of tears; all whom grey grief
Gives suck to as the kindly wolf gave suck;
Of meagre orphans who like blossoms fade.
And one old Memory like a crying horn
Sounds through the forest where my soul is lost....
I think of sailors on some isle forgotten;
Of captives; vanquished ... and of many more.

— F.P. Sturm, from Baudelaire: His Prose and Poetry, edited by Thomas Robert Smith (New York: Boni and Liveright, 1919)


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.