Self Portrait by Charles Baudelaire

Charles Baudelaire's
Fleurs du mal / Flowers of Evil

Rêve parisien

À Constantin Guys


De ce terrible paysage,
Tel que jamais mortel n'en vit,
Ce matin encore l'image,
Vague et lointaine, me ravit.

Le sommeil est plein de miracles!
Par un caprice singulier
J'avais banni de ces spectacles
Le végétal irrégulier,

Et, peintre fier de mon génie,
Je savourais dans mon tableau
L'enivrante monotonie
Du métal, du marbre et de l'eau.

Babel d'escaliers et d'arcades,
C'était un palais infini
Plein de bassins et de cascades
Tombant dans l'or mat ou bruni;

Et des cataractes pesantes,
Comme des rideaux de cristal
Se suspendaient, éblouissantes,
À des murailles de métal.

Non d'arbres, mais de colonnades
Les étangs dormants s'entouraient
Où de gigantesques naïades,
Comme des femmes, se miraient.

Des nappes d'eau s'épanchaient, bleues,
Entre des quais roses et verts,
Pendant des millions de lieues,
Vers les confins de l'univers:

C'étaient des pierres inouïes
Et des flots magiques, c'étaient
D'immenses glaces éblouies
Par tout ce qu'elles reflétaient!

Insouciants et taciturnes,
Des Ganges, dans le firmament,
Versaient le trésor de leurs urnes
Dans des gouffres de diamant.

Architecte de mes féeries,
Je faisais, à ma volonté,
Sous un tunnel de pierreries
Passer un océan dompté;

Et tout, même la couleur noire,
Semblait fourbi, clair, irisé;
Le liquide enchâssait sa gloire
Dans le rayon cristallisé.

Nul astre d'ailleurs, nuls vestiges
De soleil, même au bas du ciel,
Pour illuminer ces prodiges,
Qui brillaient d'un feu personnel!

Et sur ces mouvantes merveilles
Planait (terrible nouveauté!
Tout pour l'oeil, rien pour les oreilles!)
Un silence d'éternité.


En rouvrant mes yeux pleins de flamme
J'ai vu l'horreur de mon taudis,
Et senti, rentrant dans mon âme,
La pointe des soucis maudits;

La pendule aux accents funèbres
Sonnait brutalement midi,
Et le ciel versait des ténèbres
Sur le triste monde engourdi.

Charles Baudelaire

Parisian Dream

To Constantin Guys


This morning I am still entranced
By the image, distant and dim,
Of that awe-inspiring landscape
Such as no mortal ever saw.

Sleep is full of miracles!
Obeying a curious whim,
I had banned from that spectacle
Irregular vegetation,

And, painter proud of his genius,
I savored in my picture
The delightful monotony
Of water, marble, and metal.

Babel of arcades and stairways,
It was a palace infinite,
Full of basins and of cascades
Falling on dull or burnished gold,

And heavy waterfalls,
Like curtains of crystal,
Were hanging, bright and resplendent,
From ramparts of metal.

Not with trees but with colonnades
The sleeping ponds were encircled;
In these mirrors huge naiads
Admired themselves like women.

Streams of blue water flowed along
Between rose and green embankments,
Stretching away millions of leagues
Toward the end of the universe;

There were indescribable stones
And magic waves; there were
Enormous glaciers bedazzled
By everything they reflected!

Insouciant and taciturn,
Ganges, in the firmament,
Poured out the treasure of their urns
Into chasms made of diamonds.

Architect of my fairyland,
Whenever it pleased me I made
A vanquished ocean flow
Into a tunnel of jewels;

And all, even the color black,
Seemed polished, bright, iridescent,
Liquid enchased its own glory
In the crystallized rays of light.

Moreover, no star, no glimmer
Of sun, even at the sky's rim,
Illuminated these marvels
That burned with a personal fire!

And over these shifting wonders
Hovered (terrible novelty!
All for the eye, naught for the ear!)
The silence of eternity.


Opening my eyes full of flames
I saw my miserable room
And felt the cursed blade of care
Sink deep into my heart again;

The clock with its death-like accent
Was brutally striking noon;
The sky was pouring down its gloom
Upon the dismal, torpid world.

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

Parisian Dream

To Constantin Guys


Of the dread landscape that I saw,
Where human eyes were never set,
I still am ravished by the awe
That, vague and distant, haunts me yet.

Sleep is of miracles so fain
That I (O singular caprice!)
As being formless, could obtain
That vegetable life should cease.

A painter, in my genius free,
I there exulted in the fettle
Derived from a monotony
Composed of marble, lymph, and metal.

Babels of stairways and arcades,
Endless and topless to behold,
With ponds, and jets, and steep cascades
Filling receptacles of gold:

Ponderous cataracts there swung
Like crystal curtains, foaming shawls —
Dazzling and glittering they hung
Suspended from the metal walls.

Not trees, but colonnades, enclosed
Motionless lakes, besides whose shelves
Gigantic naiades reposed,
Like women, gazing at themselves.

Blue sheets of water interlay
Unnumbered quays of green and rose,
That stretched a million leagues away
To where the bounds of space impose.

'Twas formed of unknown stones that blazed
And magic waves that intersect,
Where icebergs floated, seeming dazed
With all they mirror and reflect.

Impassive, cold, and taciturn,
Great Ganges, through the sky's vast prism,
Each poured the treasures of its urn
Into a diamond abysm.

Architect of my fairy scene,
I willed, by wondrous stratagems,
An ocean, tamed, to pass between
A tunnel that was made of gems.

There all things, even the colour black,
Seemed irridescently to play,
And liquid crystalised its lack
Of outline in a frozen ray.

No star, no sun could be discerned,
Even low down, in that vast sky:
The fire was personal that burned
To show these marvels to the eye.

Above these moving wonders sheer
There soared (that such a thing should be!
All for the eye, none for the ear!)
A silence of eternity.


My opening eyes, as red as coal,
The horror of my lodging met.
I felt re-entering my soul
The knife of cares and vain regret.

The clock with brutal accent played
Funereal chimes. The time was noon
And heaven covered, with its shade,
The world, this fatuous balloon!

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

Parisian Dream


That marvelous landscape of my dream —
Which no eye knows, nor ever will —
At moments, wide awake, I seem
To grasp, and it excites me still.

Sleep, how miraculous you are —
A strange caprice had urged my hand
To banish, as irregular,
All vegetation from that land;

And, proud of what my art had done,
I viewed my painting, knew the great
Intoxicating monotone
Of marble, water, steel and slate.

Staircases and arcades there were
In a long labyrinth, which led
To a vast palace; fountains there
Were gushing gold, and gushing lead.

And many a heavy cataract
Hung like a curtain, — did not fall,
As water does, but hung, compact,
Crystal, on many a metal wall.

Tall nymphs with Titan breasts and knees
Gazed at their images unblurred,
Where groves of colonnades, not trees,
Fringed a deep pool where nothing stirred.

Blue sheets of water, left and right,
Spread between quays of rose and green,
To the world's end and out of sight,
And still expanded, though unseen.

Enchanted rivers, those — with jade
And jasper were their banks bedecked;
Enormous mirrors, dazzled, made
Dizzy by all they did reflect.

And many a Ganges, taciturn
And heedless, in the vaulted air,
Poured out the treasure of its urn
Into a gulf of diamond there.

As architect, it tempted me
To tame the ocean at its source;
And this I did, — I made the sea
Under a jeweled culvert course.

And every color, even black,
Became prismatic, polished, bright;
The liquid gave its glory back
Mounted in iridescent light.

There was no moon, there was no sun, —
For why should sun and moon conspire
To light such prodigies? — each one
Blazed with its own essential fire!

A silence like eternity
Prevailed, there was no sound to hear;
These marvels all were for the eye,
And there was nothing for the ear.


I woke; my mind was bright with flame;
I saw the cheap and sordid hole
I live in, and my cares all came
Burrowing back into my soul.

Brutally the twelve strokes of noon
Against my naked ear were hurled;
And a gray sky was drizzling down
Upon this sad, lethargic world.

— Edna St. Vincent Millay, Flowers of Evil (NY: Harper and Brothers, 1936)


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.