Self Portrait by Charles Baudelaire

Charles Baudelaire's
Fleurs du mal / Flowers of Evil

Le Couvercle

En quelque lieu qu'il aille, ou sur mer ou sur terre,
Sous un climat de flamme ou sous un soleil blanc,
Serviteur de Jésus, courtisan de Cythère,
Mendiant ténébreux ou Crésus rutilant,

Citadin, campagnard, vagabond, sédentaire,
Que son petit cerveau soit actif ou soit lent,
Partout l'homme subit la terreur du mystère,
Et ne regarde en haut qu'avec un oeil tremblant.

En haut, le Ciel! Ce mur de caveau qui l'étouffe,
Plafond illuminé par un opéra bouffe
Où chaque histrion foule un sol ensanglanté;

Terreur du libertin, espoir du fol ermite;
Le Ciel! Couvercle noir de la grande marmite
Où bout l'imperceptible et vaste Humanité.

Charles Baudelaire

The Cover

Wherever he may go, on land or sea,
Under a blazing sky or a pale sun,
Servant of Jesus, courtier of Cythera,
Somber beggar or glittering Croesus,

City-dweller, rustic, vagabond, stay-at-home,
Whether his little brain be sluggish or alert,
Everywhere man feels the terror of mystery
And looks up at heaven only with frightened eyes

Above, the Sky! that cavern wall that stifles him,
That ceiling lighted by a comic opera
Where every player treads on blood-stained soil;

Terror of the lecher, hope of the mad recluse:
The Sky! black cover of the great cauldron
In which boils vast, imperceptible Humanity.

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

The Lid

Wherever Man may go, by earth or ocean,
Beneath a sky of fire, or sun snow-cold,
Whether to Christ or Venus his devotion,
In gloomy want, or glittering with gold;

Citizen, vagabond, stamplicker, farmer,
Be his small brain slow-witted, quick, or sly,
For this strange terror he can find no armour
Nor look to heaven save with trembling eye.

Above, the Sky, that cellar-ceiling, stifles,
Lit up for comic farce, where struts and trifles
Each mummer on a floor of blood and mire.

Terror of rakes, the crazy hermits' hope —
Beneath its cauldron-lid mankind must grope,
Never above its margin to aspire.

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

The Lid

Wherever they go
Under a sky aflame
A slave of Christ
Vitamin deficient beggar
Townie, queen, or clod
Dull or sharp
The kind is apprehensive.

Above is heaven
A ceiling lit
By an operatically
Suffocating wall
Under which many of the actors
Still have a fear of the libertine.

Heaven. You
Black lidded
Boiling our dreams.

— Will Schmitz

The Lid

Where'er he may rove, upon sea or on land,
'Neath a fiery sky or a pallid sun,
Be he Christian or one of Cythera's band,
Opulent Croesus or beggar — 'tis one,

Whether citizen, peasant or vagabond he,
Be his little brain active or dull. Everywhere,
Man feels the terror of mystery,
And looks upon high with a glance full of fear.

The Heaven above, that oppressive wall;
A ceiling lit up in some lewd music hall,
Where the actors step forth on a blood-red soil

The eremite's hope, and the dread of the sot,
The Sky; that black lid of a mighty pot,
Where, vast and minute, human Races boil.

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

The Sky

Where'er he be, on water or on land,
Under pale suns or climes that flames enfold;
One of Christ's own, or of Cythera's band,
Shadowy beggar or Crœsus rich with gold;

Citizen, peasant, student, tramp; whate'er
His little brain may be, alive or dead;
Man knows the fear of mystery everywhere,
And peeps, with trembling glances, overhead.

The heaven above? A strangling cavern wall;
The lighted ceiling of a music-hall
Where every actor treads a bloody soil —

The hermit's hope; the terror of the sot;
The sky: the black lid of the mighty pot
Where the vast human generations boil!

— 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.