Self Portrait by Charles Baudelaire

Charles Baudelaire's
Fleurs du mal / Flowers of Evil

L'Examen de minuit

La pendule, sonnant minuit,
Ironiquement nous engage
À nous rappeler quel usage
Nous fîmes du jour qui s'enfuit:
— Aujourd'hui, date fatidique,
Vendredi, treize, nous avons,
Malgré tout ce que nous savons,
Mené le train d'un hérétique.

Nous avons blasphémé Jésus,
Des Dieux le plus incontestable!
Comme un parasite à la table
De quelque monstrueux Crésus,
Nous avons, pour plaire à la brute,
Digne vassale des Démons,
Insulté ce que nous aimons
Et flatté ce qui nous rebute;

Contristé, servile bourreau,
Le faible qu'à tort on méprise;
Salué l'énorme Bêtise,
La Bêtise au front de taureau;
Baisé la stupide Matière
Avec grande dévotion,
Et de la putréfaction
Béni la blafarde lumière.

Enfin, nous avons, pour noyer
Le vertige clans le délire,
Nous, prêtre orgueilleux de la Lyre,
Dont la gloire est de déployer
L'ivresse des choses funèbres,
Bu sans soif et mangé sans faim!...
— Vite soufflons la lampe, afin
De nous cacher dans les ténèbres!

Charles Baudelaire

Examination of Conscience at Midnight

The clock striking midnight
Ironically invites us
To call to mind what use we made
Of the day that is fleeing:
— Today, a fateful date,
Friday the thirteenth we have
In spite of everything we know
Lived the life of a heretic;

We have blasphemed Jesus,
The one God one cannot deny!
Like a parasite at the table
Of some monstrous Croesus,
We have, to please the brute,
Worthy vassal of the Demons,
Hurled insults at that which we love
And flattered what repulses us.

Servile hangman, we have saddened
The weak man, wrongfully despised,
Saluted enormous Folly,
Folly with the brow of a bull;
Kissed with great devotion
Stupid and unfeeling Matter
And bestowed our blessing on
The wan light of putrefaction;

Finally we have, to drown
Vertigo in delirium,
We, the proud priest of the Lyre,
Whose glory is to show
The rapture of sorrowful things,
Drunk without thirst, eaten without hunger!
— Quickly let us snuff out the lamp,
So we may hide in the darkness!

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

Midnight Enquiry

The clocks strike midnight one by one
Ironically to remind us,
And ask what profit we have won
Out of the day we've left behind us.
The Thirteenth, Friday, as it chances!
A fatal date; when all is said,
In spite of all we know, we've led
The most heretical of dances.

Today we've spent blaspheming Jesus,
The incontestable, sole Lord;
Like a base sponger at the board
Of some intolerable Croesus,
We have, to please the beast within us,
The Devil's worthy advocate,
Defamed all that whose love should win us,
And flattered all that we should hate.

The weak man, like a bullying coward,
We harmed, and wrongly did despise;
We worshipped Folly, where he towered,
Huge bull-horned monster, to the skies.
We have lain kissing stupid Matter
With great devotion to its presence,
And of Corruption stooped to flatter
The wan, mephitic phosphorescence.

To drown our vertigo entire
And our delirium to nourish —
Proud priest of the immortal Lyre
Whose glory it has been to flourish
The rapture of funereal things —
We've eaten without appetite,
Unthirsting drunk of muddy springs.
Come, quick, my soul, blow out the light,
To hide in shades of blackest night!

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

At Midnight

Ironic as the voice of Fate,
Those dulcet chimes will have us start
Pondering over, to our woe,
The mined hours they bid depart.
Today was an unlucky date —
Friday, the thirteenth. O my heart,
In spite of everything we know,
How we have erred and fallen low!

We have offended Jesus, most
Admirable of gods by far:
Even as sycophants approve
Anything to be popular
Or please some vile and powerful host
(Creature of Satan that we are!)
We have insulted what we love,
Flattered what we have horror of —

Heard falsehood, seen injustice done,
Helped to cry down the poor man's cause;
Paid homage to expressionless
Cold Matter; hailed with wild huzzas
Stupidity, that bull-like one
Whose very bigness overawes;
Nor have we been averse to bless
The pale glitter of putridness.

Finally, to cheat sadness, we
Have reveled at the board of Greed,
With neither thirst nor appetite —
We, of the old Pierian breed,
Whose pride was to win ecstasy
From sorrow, loneliness, and need.
— Hurry! Let us put out the light,
That we be hidden in the night.

— George Dillon, Flowers of Evil (NY: Harper and Brothers, 1936)

Midnight Confessional

The clock now sounds its twelfth last stroke,
Ironically it bids us say
To what good use we put this day
Now vanished into vagrom smoke.
Today, a fateful dateline, sic,
Friday, thirteenth! in spite of all,
We have lived helpless in the thrall
Of sin, a stubborn heretic!

We have blasphemed, denying Jesus,
The one irrefutable Lord!
Sycophant at the groaning board
Of some fantastic monstrous Croesus,
We have, to please the brute, made one
With Demon hordes, and jesting of
The holy truths which we should love,
We have adored what we should shun.

Basely we have heaped melancholy
On the weak man wrongly decried,
We have saluted endless Folly
With its bull's brow and its ram's hide,
We have with uttermost conviction
Kissed Matter in its vilest essence,
And we have lavished benediction
On the wan glimmer of putrescence.

Finally, drowning vertigo
In stark delirium, shamefully,
We, levites of the Lyre, lo! we
Whose glory was devised to show
Sorrow's brave rapture and grief's spark,
Have feasted without appetite!
— Quickly, let us snuff out the light
And hide in the indulgent dark!

— Jacques LeClercq, Flowers of Evil (Mt Vernon, NY: Peter Pauper Press, 1958)


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.