Self Portrait by Charles Baudelaire

Charles Baudelaire's
Fleurs du mal / Flowers of Evil

L'Amour du mensonge

Quand je te vois passer, ô ma chère indolente,
Au chant des instruments qui se brise au plafond
Suspendant ton allure harmonieuse et lente,
Et promenant l'ennui de ton regard profond;

Quand je contemple, aux feux du gaz qui le colore,
Ton front pâle, embelli par un morbide attrait,
Où les torches du soir allument une aurore,
Et tes yeux attirants comme ceux d'un portrait,

Je me dis: Qu'elle est belle! et bizarrement fraîche!
Le souvenir massif, royale et lourde tour,
La couronne, et son coeur, meurtri comme une pêche,
Est mûr, comme son corps, pour le savant amour.

Es-tu le fruit d'automne aux saveurs souveraines?
Es-tu vase funèbre attendant quelques pleurs,
Parfum qui fait rêver aux oasis lointaines,
Oreiller caressant, ou corbeille de fleurs?

Je sais qu'il est des yeux, des plus mélancoliques,
Qui ne recèlent point de secrets précieux;
Beaux écrins sans joyaux, médaillons sans reliques,
Plus vides, plus profonds que vous-mêmes, ô Cieux!

Mais ne suffit-il pas que tu sois l'apparence,
Pour réjouir un coeur qui fuit la vérité?
Qu'importe ta bêtise ou ton indifférence?
Masque ou décor, salut! J'adore ta beauté.

Charles Baudelaire

The Love of Lies

When I see you pass by, my indolent darling,
To the sound of music that the ceiling deadens,
Pausing in your slow and harmonious movements,
Turning here and there the boredom of your gaze;

When I study, in the gaslight which colors it,
Your pale forehead, embellished with a morbid charm,
Where the torches of evening kindle a dawn,
And your eyes alluring as a portrait's,

I say within: "How fair she is! How strangely fresh!"
Huge, massive memory, royal, heavy tower,
Crowns her; her heart bruised like a peach
Is ripe like her body for a skillful lover.

Are you the autumn fruit with sovereign taste?
A funereal urn awaiting a few tears?
Perfume that makes one dream of distant oases?
A caressive pillow, a basket of flowers?

I know that there are eyes, most melancholy ones,
In which no precious secrets lie hidden;
Lovely cases without jewels, lockets without relics,
Emptier and deeper than you are, O Heavens!

But is it not enough that you are a semblance
To gladden a heart that flees from the truth?
What matter your obtuseness or your indifference?
Mask or ornament, hail! I adore your beauty.

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

Love of Lies

Dear indolent, I love to watch you so,
While on the ceiling break the tunes of dances,
And hesitant, harmoniously slow,
You turn the wandering boredom of your glances.

I watch the gas-flares colouring your drawn,
Pale forehead, which a morbid charm enhances,
Where evening lamps illuminate a dawn
In eyes as of a painting that entrances:

And then I say, "She's fair and strangely fresh,
Whom memory crowns with lofty towers above.
Her heart is like a peach's murdered flesh,
Or like her own, most ripe for learned love."

Are you an autumn fruit of sovereign flavour?
A funeral urn awaiting tearful showers?
Of far oases the faint, wafted savour?
A dreamy pillow? or a sheaf of flowers?

I have known deep, sad eyes that yet concealed
No secrets: caskets void of any gem:
Medallions where no sacred charm lay sealed,
Deep as the Skies, but vacuous like them!

It is enough that your appearance flatters,
Rejoicing one who flies from truth or duty.
Your listless, cold stupidity — what matters?
Hail, mask or curtain, I adore your beauty!

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

Illusionary Love

When I behold thee wander by, my languorous love,
To songs of viols which throughout the dome resound,
Harmonious and stately as thy footsteps move,
Bestowing forth the languor of thy glance profound.

When I regard thee, glowing in the gaslight rays,
Thy pallid brow embellished by a charm obscure,
Here where the evening torches light the twilight haze,
Thine eyes attracting me like those of a portraiture,

I say — How beautiful she is! how strangely rich!
A mighty memory, royal and commanding tower,
A garland: and her heart, bruised like a ruddy peach,
Is ripe — like her body for Love's sapient power.

Art thou, that spicy Autumn-fruit with taste supreme?
Art thou a funeral vase inviting tears of grief?
Aroma — causing one of Eastern wastes to dream;
A downy cushion, bunch of flowers or golden sheaf?

I know that there are eyes, most melancholy ones,
Wherein no precious secret deeply hidden lies,
Resplendent shrines, devoid of relics, sacred stones,
More empty, more profound than ye yourselves, O skies?

Yea, does thy semblance, not alone for me suffice,
To kindle senses which the cruel truth abhor?
All one to me! thy folly or thy heart of ice,
Decoy or mask, all hail! thy beauty I adore!

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

L'Amour du mensonge

when I behold thee in thy nonchalance,
while from the dome the shards of music fall:
— thy feet that slowly weave a weary dance
— thy gaze a wearier flood engulfing all —

and when I watch thy brow so palely wan,
yet haunting in the gaslight's warm disguise,
— where evening's torches paint the rose of dawn
— thine eyes that hold me like a portrait's eyes

I cry: o rose bizarre, now bloomed afresh!
for regal memories crown her, towering, vast,
and all her heart's fruit, whose bruisèd flesh
is, like her body, riped for love at last.

art thou October fruit of sovereign wiles?
art thou an urn of tears for Sorrow's hours?
a fragrance wafting me to slumberous isles,
a roseleaf bed or funeral wreath of flowers?

some eyes are deep as though they always mourned
— eyes where no secret pearl of sorrow lies:
fair empty caskets by no gems adorned,
profound and bottomless as ye, o skies!

mere seeming this? but if thy seeming be
a balsam in my heart, with truth at war?
dull or indifferent, what were that to me?
hail, mask of art! thy beauty I adore.

— 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.