Self Portrait by Charles Baudelaire

Charles Baudelaire's
Fleurs du mal / Flowers of Evil

Danse macabre

À Ernest Christophe

Fière, autant qu'un vivant, de sa noble stature
Avec son gros bouquet, son mouchoir et ses gants
Elle a la nonchalance et la désinvolture
D'une coquette maigre aux airs extravagants.

Vit-on jamais au bal une taille plus mince?
Sa robe exagérée, en sa royale ampleur,
S'écroule abondamment sur un pied sec que pince
Un soulier pomponné, joli comme une fleur.

La ruche qui se joue au bord des clavicules,
Comme un ruisseau lascif qui se frotte au rocher,
Défend pudiquement des lazzi ridicules
Les funèbres appas qu'elle tient à cacher.

Ses yeux profonds sont faits de vide et de ténèbres,
Et son crâne, de fleurs artistement coiffé,
Oscille mollement sur ses frêles vertèbres.
Ô charme d'un néant follement attifé.

Aucuns t'appelleront une caricature,
Qui ne comprennent pas, amants ivres de chair,
L'élégance sans nom de l'humaine armature.
Tu réponds, grand squelette, à mon goût le plus cher!

Viens-tu troubler, avec ta puissante grimace,
La fête de la Vie? ou quelque vieux désir,
Eperonnant encor ta vivante carcasse,
Te pousse-t-il, crédule, au sabbat du Plaisir?

Au chant des violons, aux flammes des bougies,
Espères-tu chasser ton cauchemar moqueur,
Et viens-tu demander au torrent des orgies
De rafraîchir l'enfer allumé dans ton coeur?

Inépuisable puits de sottise et de fautes!
De l'antique douleur éternel alambic!
À travers le treillis recourbé de tes côtes
Je vois, errant encor, l'insatiable aspic.

Pour dire vrai, je crains que ta coquetterie
Ne trouve pas un prix digne de ses efforts
Qui, de ces coeurs mortels, entend la raillerie?
Les charmes de l'horreur n'enivrent que les forts!

Le gouffre de tes yeux, plein d'horribles pensées,
Exhale le vertige, et les danseurs prudents
Ne contempleront pas sans d'amères nausées
Le sourire éternel de tes trente-deux dents.

Pourtant, qui n'a serré dans ses bras un squelette,
Et qui ne s'est nourri des choses du tombeau?
Qu'importe le parfum, l'habit ou la toilette?
Qui fait le dégoûté montre qu'il se croit beau.

Bayadère sans nez, irrésistible gouge,
Dis donc à ces danseurs qui font les offusqués:
«Fiers mignons, malgré l'art des poudres et du rouge
Vous sentez tous la mort! Ô squelettes musqués,

Antinoüs flétris, dandys à face glabre,
Cadavres vernissés, lovelaces chenus,
Le branle universel de la danse macabre
Vous entraîne en des lieux qui ne sont pas connus!

Des quais froids de la Seine aux bords brûlants du Gange,
Le troupeau mortel saute et se pâme, sans voir
Dans un trou du plafond la trompette de l'Ange
Sinistrement béante ainsi qu'un tromblon noir.

En tout climat, sous tout soleil, la Mort t'admire
En tes contorsions, risible Humanité
Et souvent, comme toi, se parfumant de myrrhe,
Mêle son ironie à ton insanité!»

Charles Baudelaire

The Dance of Death

To Ernest Christophe

Proud as a living person of her noble stature,
With her big bouquet, her handkerchief and gloves,
She has the nonchalance and easy manner
Of a slender coquette with bizarre ways.

Did one ever see a slimmer waist at a ball?
Her ostentatious dress in its queenly fullness
Falls in ample folds over thin feet, tightly pressed
Into slippers with pompons pretty as flowers.

The swarm of bees that plays along her collar-bones
Like a lecherous brook that rubs against the rocks
Modestly protects from cat-calls and jeers
The funereal charms that she's anxious to hide.

Her deep eye-sockets are empty and dark,
And her skull, skillfully adorned with flowers,
Oscillates gently on her fragile vertebrae.
Charm of a non-existent thing, madly arrayed!

Some, lovers drunken with flesh, will call you
A caricature; they don't understand
The marvelous elegance of the human frame.
You satisfy my fondest taste, tall skeleton!

Do you come to trouble with your potent grimace
The festival of Life? Or does some old desire
Still goading your living carcass
Urge you on, credulous one, toward Pleasure's sabbath?

With the flames of candles, with songs of violins,
Do you hope to chase away your mocking nightmare,
And do you come to ask of the flood of orgies
To cool the hell set ablaze in your heart?

Inexhaustible well of folly and of sins!
Eternal alembic of ancient suffering!
Through the curved trellis of your ribs
I see, still wandering, the insatiable asp.

To tell the truth, I fear your coquetry
Will not find a reward worthy of its efforts;
Which of these mortal hearts understands raillery?
The charms of horror enrapture only the strong!

The abyss of your eyes, full of horrible thoughts,
Exhales vertigo, and discreet dancers
Cannot look without bitter nausea
At the eternal smile of your thirty-two teeth.

Yet who has not clasped a skeleton in his arms,
Who has not fed upon what belongs to the grave?
What matters the perfume, the costume or the dress?
He who shows disgust believes that he is handsome.

Noseless dancer, irresistible whore,
Tell those dancing couples who act so offended:
"Proud darlings, despite the art of make-up
You all smell of death! Skeletons perfumed with musk,

Withered Antinoi, dandies with smooth faces,
Varnished corpses, hoary-haired Lovclaces,
The universal swing of the danse macabre
Sweeps you along into places unknown!

From the Seine's cold quays to the Ganges' burning shores,
The human troupe skips and swoons with delight, sees not
In a hole in the ceiling the Angel's trumpet
Gaping ominously like a black blunderbuss.

In all climes, under every sun, Death admires you
At your antics, ridiculous Humanity,
And frequently, like you, scenting herself with myrrh,
Mingles her irony with your insanity!"

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

The Dance of Death

To Ernest Christophe

Proud, as a living person, of her height,
Her scarf and gloves and huge bouquet of roses,
She shows such nonchalance and ease as might
A thin coquette excessive in her poses.

Who, at a ball, has seen a form so slim?
Her sumptuous skirts extravagantly shower
To a dry foot that, exquisitely trim,
Her footwear pinches, dainty as a flower.

The frills that rub her collarbone, and feel,
Like a lascivious rill against a rock,
The charms she is so anxious to conceal,
Defend them, too, from ridicule and mock.

Her eyes are formed of emptiness and shade.
Her skull, with flowers so deftly decked about,
Upon her dainty vertebrae is swayed.
Oh what a charm when nullity tricks out!

"Caricature," some might opine, but wrongly,
Whose hearts, too drunk with flesh that runs to waste,
Ignore the grace of what upholds so strongly.
Tall skeleton, you match my dearest taste!

Come you to trouble with your strong grimace,
The feast of life? Or has some old desire
Rowelled your living carcase from its place
And sent you, credulous, to feed its fire?

With tunes of fiddles and the flames of candles,
Hope you to chase the nightmare far apart,
Or with a flood of orgies, feasts, and scandals
To quench the bell that's lighted in your heart?

Exhaustless well of follies and of faults,
Of the old woe the alembic and the urn,
Around your trellised ribs, in new assaults,
I see the insatiable serpent turn.

I fear your coquetry's not worth the strain,
The prize not worth the effort you prolong.
Could mortal hearts your railleries explain?
The joys of horror only charm the strong.

The pits of your dark eyes dread fancies breathe,
And vertigo. Among the dancers prudent,
Hope not your sixteen pairs of smiling teeth
Will ever find a contemplative student.

Yet who's not squeezed a skeleton with passion?
Nor ravened with his kisses on the meat
Of charnels. What of costume, scent, or fashion?
The man who feigns disgust, betrays conceit.

O noseless geisha, unresisted gouge!
Tell these fastidious feigners, from your husk —
"Proud fondling fools, in spite of talc and rouge,
You smell of death. Anatomies of musk,

Withered Antinouses, beaux of dunder,
Corpses in varnish, Lovelaces of bone,
The dance of death, with universal thunder,
Is whirling you to places yet unknown!

From Seine to Ganges frolicking about,
You see not, through a black hole in the ceiling,
Like a great blunderbus, with funnelled snout,
The Angel's trumpet, on the point of pealing.

in every clime, Death studies your devices
And vain contortions, laughable Humanity,
And oft, like you, perfumes herself with spices
Mixing her irony with your insanity!"

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

Danse macabre

proud as a woman of her queenly height,
with huge bouquet and handkerchief and gloves,
she flaunts the grace and nonchalance, tonight,
of gaunt coquettes who play at lady-loves.

could any dancer vaunt a slimmer waist?
her lavish robe in royal fullness flows
in folds upon her dainty ankles, laced
in tufted patterns lovely as a rose

the lace-frill rippling on her bony breast,
like rills caressing rocks in amorous play,
chastely defends from every silly jest
those ghastly charms that must not see the day.

her eyes are darkening voids which open wide;
her skull, with flowers dexterously crowned,
sways on her slender spine from side to side.
o spell of nothingness by folly gowned!

some, lovers of the flesh, perhaps will claim
thou art a travesty. they do not know
the nameless elegance of the human frame.
tall skeleton, my heart prefers thee so!

doest come to trouble, with thy potent sneer
Life's festival? or does some ancient fire
— of fool! — still prick thy living carcass here
making thee seek this Sabbath of Desire?

dost hope, by violins and lights beguiled,
to slay that mocking nightmare of unrest?
art come to urge the orgy's torrent wild
to quench the hell-fire blazing in thy breast?

exhaustless fount of every stupid sin!
alembic of our old, eternal woe!
I see thy ribs, and wandering within,
the sateless asp, still wriggling to and fro.

but, truth to tell, I fear thy coquetry
may find no guerdon for its labours long;
which of these death-doomed hearts can laugh with thee?
nay, horror's wine is only for the strong!

those eyes, deep gulfs where ghastly secrets lurk,
breathe giddiness. no prudent cavaliers
can gaze unsickened on the eternal smirk
that on thy two and thirty teeth appears.

yet, who has not embraced a skeleton?
who on the thought of tombs has never fed?
what means the scent we use, the cloak we don?
lovely ye deem yourselves, who scorn the dead.

o noseless nautch-girl, o resistless trull,
go tell the partner who thy beauty shuns:
"proud minions, though ye rouge each bleaching skull,
all smell of death! o scented skeletons,

worn dandies, shaven fools with stinking breath,
pale varnished corpses, grey decrepit beaux,
the world-wide rhythm of the Dance of Death
is sweeping you to shores no mortal knows!

from Seine to Ganges burnt, where'er we roam,
Death's head is dancing, crazed, incurious
of the Dark Angel's trump which from the dome
is thrust, an evil gaping blunderbuss.

Death ogles thee both here and everywhere,
writhing, ridiculous humanity,
and oft, myrrh-scented too, she comes to share
in irony, thine own insanity!"

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


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.