Self Portrait by Charles Baudelaire

Charles Baudelaire's
Fleurs du mal / Flowers of Evil


Tout homme digne de ce nom
A dans le coeur un Serpent jaune,
Installé comme sur un trône,
Qui, s'il dit: «Je veux,» répond: «Non!»

Plonge tes yeux dans les yeux fixes
Des Satyresses ou des Nixes,
La Dent dit: «Pense à ton devoir!»

Fais des enfants, plante des arbres,
Polis des vers, sculpte des marbres,
La Dent dit: «Vivras-tu ce soir?»

Quoi qu'il ébauche ou qu'il espère,
L'homme ne vit pas un moment
Sans subir l'avertissement
De l'insupportable Vipère.

Charles Baudelaire

The Warner

Every man worthy of the name
Has in his heart a yellow Snake
Installed as if upon a throne,
Who, if he says: "I will!" answers: "No!"

Plunge your eyes into the fixed gaze
Of Satyresses or Nixies,
The Fang says: "Think of your duty!"

Beget children, set out trees,
Polish verses, sculpture marble,
The Fang says: "Will you be alive tonight?

Whatever he may plan or hope,
Man does not live for an instant
Without enduring the warning
Of the unbearable Viper.

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

The Fang

Each Man who's fit to be so called
A Serpent in his heart has got,
As though upon a throne installed,
Who when he says "I will," says "Not."

If your gaze the gaze transfixes
O satyresses or of nixies,
The Fang says, "Is your duty done?"

Breed brats, plant trees, perform your task,
Write verse, chip stone — the Fang will ask,
"Will you be there at set of sun?"

Men scheme each night and hope each morning,
Yet no man grows one moment riper
But suffers, at each turn, the warning
Of the insufferable viper.

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

The Fang

No man that's worthy of the name
But in his helpless heart alive
Harbors a yellow, talkative
Serpent, he cannot hush nor tame.

Gaze if you like into the eyes
Of dryads... Just before you drown,
The Fang says, "You've a date in town."

Beget your children, plant your trees,
Chisel your marble, build your song...
The Fang says, "Well, — it's not for Iong."

Hope — if you're hopeful — or despair;
Nothing's to hinder you; but hark! —
Always the hissing head is there,
The insupportable remark.

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


each man who is a man must know
that yellow serpent in his heart,
ruling as on a throne apart,
that, when he says "I will!" cries "No!"

plunge in the fixed and frozen lies
of Satyr-maids' or nixies' eyes,
the Fang says: "duty, not delight!"

engender children, plant a tree,
carve Paros, chisel poetry,
the Fang says: "if thou die tonight?"

whatever plan or hope we grasp,
we cannot live one moment and
avoid the warning reprimand
of that intolerable asp.

— Lewis Piaget Shanks, Flowers of Evil (New York: Ives Washburn, 1931)

The Warner

Each man who is man, high or low,
Has in his heart a yellow snake
Who on a throne his seat doth take
And answers "I desire" with "No."

Plunge thine eyes deep in Sirens' eyes,
Drink in their sensuous sorceries;
The Tooth says, "Think on what is right."

Yea, breed thy children, plant thy trees,
Polish thy verse or carve thy frieze,
The Tooth says, "Shalt thou live this night?"

Man cannot live a moment here,
Whate'er he plan, or ill or well,
But boding, insupportable,
The Viper whispers in his ear.

— Jack Collings Squire, Poems and Baudelaire Flowers (London: The New Age Press, Ltd, 1909)


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.