Self Portrait by Charles Baudelaire

Charles Baudelaire's
Fleurs du mal / Flowers of Evil


Harpagon, qui veillait son père agonisant,
Se dit, rêveur, devant ces lèvres déjà blanches:
«Nous avons au grenier un nombre suffisant,
Ce me semble, de vieilles planches?»

Célimène roucoule et dit: «Mon coeur est bon,
Et naturellement, Dieu m'a faite très belle.»
— Son coeur! coeur racorni, fumé comme un jambon,
Recuit à la flamme éternelle!

Un gazetier fumeux, qui se croit un flambeau,
Dit au pauvre, qu'il a noyé dans les ténèbres:
«Où donc l'aperçois-tu, ce créateur du Beau,
Ce Redresseur que tu célèbres?»

Mieux que tous, je connais certain voluptueux
Qui bâille nuit et jour, et se lamente, et pleure,
Répétant, l'impuissant et le fat: «Oui, je veux
Etre vertueux, dans une heure!»

L'horloge, à son tour, dit à voix basse: «Il est mûr,
Le damné! J'avertis en vain la chair infecte.
L'homme est aveugle, sourd, fragile, comme un mur
Qu'habite et que ronge un insecte!»

Et puis, Quelqu'un paraît, que tous avaient nié,
Et qui leur dit, railleur et fier: «Dans mon ciboire,
Vous avez, que je crois, assez communié
À la Joyeuse Messe noire?

Chacun de vous m'a fait un temple dans son coeur;
Vous avez, en secret, baisé ma fesse immonde!
Reconnaissez Satan à son rire vainqueur,
Enorme et laid comme le monde!

Avez-vous donc pu croire, hypocrites surpris,
Qu'on se moque du maître, et qu'avec lui l'on triche,
Et qu'il soit naturel de recevoir deux prix,
D'aller au Ciel et d'être riche?

Il faut que le gibier paye le vieux chasseur
Qui se morfond longtemps à l'affût de la proie.
Je vais vous emporter à travers l'épaisseur,
Compagnons de ma triste joie,

À travers l'épaisseur de la terre et du roc,
À travers les amas confus de votre cendre,
Dans un palais aussi grand que moi, d'un seul bloc,
Et qui n'est pas de pierre tendre;

Car il est fait avec l'universel Péché,
Et contient mon orgueil, ma douleur et ma gloire!»
— Cependant, tout en haut de l'univers juché,
Un ange sonne la victoire

De ceux dont le coeur dit: «Que béni soit ton fouet,
Seigneur! que la douleur, ô Père, soit bénie!
Mon âme dans tes mains n'est pas un vain jouet,
Et ta prudence est infinie.»

Le son de la trompette est si délicieux,
Dans ces soirs solennels de célestes vendanges,
Qu'il s'infiltre comme une extase dans tous ceux
Dont elle chante les louanges.

Charles Baudelaire

The Unforeseen

Harpagon watching over his dying father;
Mused, looking at those lips that were already white:
"It seems to me we have in the attic
A sufficient number of old boards?"

Célimène coos and says: "My heart is kind,
And naturally enough, God made me very fair."
— Her heart, a shriveled heart like a ham smoked and seared,
At the eternal flame!

A smoky journalist who thinks he is a light
Says to the poor wretch he has plunged into darkness:
"Where do you see him, this creator of beauty,
This Knight-errant whom you extol?"

I know better than anyone, a sensualist
Who yawns night and day, and laments and weeps,
Repeating, the impotent fop: "Of course, I wish
To be virtuous in an hour!"

The clock in turn says in a low voice: "He is ripe,
The damned one! In vain do I warn the stinking flesh.
Man is blind and deaf, fragile as a wall
That is the home of gnawing insects!"

And then appears Someone all had denied,
Who proud and mocking says: "From my ciboriurn
You have communicated rather frequently,
I think, at the joyous black Mass?

Each of you has made a shrine for me in his heart;
And you have secretly kissed my unclean haunches!
Recognize Satan by his conquering laughter,
Immense and ugly as the world!

Could you have believed, surprised hypocrites,
That one makes fun of the master, that one cheats him,
That it's reasonable to receive two rewards,
To be rich and go to Heaven?

The game must pay the hunter who stands shivering
For a long time on the watch for his prey.
I'm going to take you away through the thickness,
Companions in my gloomy joy,

Through the thickness of the earth and the rock,
Through the unshapen pile of your ashes
Into a palace huge as I, a single block,
That is not fashioned of soft stone;

For it is made of universal Sin,
And contains my pride, my sorrow and my glory!"
But meanwhile, perched on the top of the universe
An Angel sounds the victory

Of those whose hearts say: "Blessed be your whip,
Lord! O Father, blessed be suffering!
My soul in your hands is not an idle plaything
And your prudence is infinite."

The sound of the trumpet is O! so delightful
On the solemn evenings of heavenly harvest,
That it permeates like an ecstasy all those
Whose praises the trumpet sings.

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

The Unforeseen

Harpagon watched his father slowly dying
And musing on his white lips as they shrunk,
Said, "There is lumber in the outhouse lying
It seems: old boards and junk."

Celimene cooed, and said, "How good I am
And, naturally, God made my looks excell"
(Her callous heart, thrice-smoked like salted ham,
Will burn in endless Hell!)

A smoky scribbler, to himself a beacon,
Says to the wretch whom he has plunged in shade —
"Where's the Creator you so loved to speak on,
The Saviour you portrayed?"

But best of all I know a certain rogue
Who yawns and weeps, lamenting night and day
(Impotent fathead) in the same old brogue,
"I will be good — one day!"

The clock says in a whisper, "He is ready
The damned one, whom I warned of his disaster.
He's blind, and deaf, and like a wall unsteady,
Where termites mine the plaster."

Then one appeared whom all of them denied
And said with mocking laughter "To my manger
You've all come; to the Black Mass I provide
Not one of you's a stranger.

You've built me temples in your hearts of sin.
You've kissed my buttocks in your secret mirth.
Know me for Satan by this conquering grin,
As monstrous as the Earth.

D'you think, poor hypocrites surprised red-handed
That you can trick your lord without a hitch;
And that by guile two prizes can be landed —
Heaven, and being rich?

The wages of the huntsman is his quarry,
Which pays him for the chills he gets while stalking
Companions of my revels grim and sorry
I am going to take you walking,

Down through the denseness of the soil and rock,
Down through the dust and ash you leave behind,
Into a palace, built in one sole block,
Of stone that is not kind:

For it is built of Universal Sin
And holds of me all that is proud and glorious"
— Meanwhile an angel, far above the din,
Sends forth a peal victorious

For all whose hearts can say, "I bless thy rod;
And blessed be the griefs that on us fall.
My soul is but a toy, Eternal God,
Thy wisdom all in all!"

And so deliciously that trumpet blows
On evenings of celestial harvestings,
It makes a rapture in the hearts of those
Whose love and praise it sings.

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

The Unforeseen

Harpagon, sitting up beside his father's bed,
Mused, as the breathing altered and the lips went gray,
"I've plenty of old planks, I think, out in the shed;
I saw them there the other day."

Célimène coos and says, "How beautiful I am!
God, since my heart is kind, has made me fair, as well!"
Her heart! — as tough as leather, her heart! — smoked like a ham;
And turning on a spit in hell!

A sputtering gazetteer, who thinks he casts a light,
Says to his readers drowned in paradox and doubt,
"Where do you see him, then, this God of Truth and Right?
This Savior that you talk about?"

Better than these I know — although I know all three —
That foppish libertine, who yawns in easy grief
Nightly upon my shoulder, "All right, you wait and see;
I'm turning over a new leaf!"

The clock says, "The condemned is ready; you may call
For him; I have advised in vain as to those flaws
Which threatened; Man is blind, deaf, fragile — like a wall
In which an insect lives and gnaws."

Whereat a Presence, stranger to few, greeted by none,
Appears. "Well met!" he mocks; "have I not seen you pass
Before my sacred vessel, in communion
Of joyousness, at the Black Mass?

"Each of you builds in secret a temple to my fame;
Each one of you in secret has kissed my foul behind;
Look at me; hear this laughter: Satan is my name, —
Lewd, monstrous as the world! Oh, blind,

"Oh, hypocritical men! — and did you think indeed
To mock your master? — trick him till double wage be given?
Did it seem likely two such prizes be decreed:
To be so rich — and enter Heaven?

"The game must pay the hunter; the hunter for his prey
Lies chilled and cramped so long behind the vain decoy;
Down through the thickness now I carry you away,
Companions of my dreary joy;

"Down through the thickness of primeval earth and rock,
Thickness of human ashes helter-skelter blown,
Into a palace huge as I — a single block —
And of no soft and crumbling stone!

"For it is fashioned whole from Universal Sin;
And it contains my grief, my glory and my pride!"
— Meantime, from his high perch above our earthly din,
An Angel sounds the victory wide

Of those whose heart says, "Blessèd be this punishment,
O Lord! O Heavenly Father, be this anguish blest!
My soul in Thy kind hands at last is well content,
A toy no more; Thou knowest best!"

So sweetly, so deliciously that music flows
Through the cool harvest evenings of these celestial days,
That like an ecstasy it penetrates all those
Of whose pure lives it sings the praise.

— 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.