Self Portrait by Charles Baudelaire

Charles Baudelaire's
Fleurs du mal / Flowers of Evil

À une Malabaraise

Tes pieds sont aussi fins que tes mains, et ta hanche
Est large à faire envie à la plus belle blanche;
À l'artiste pensif ton corps est doux et cher;
Tes grands yeux de velours sont plus noirs que ta chair.
Aux pays chauds et bleus où ton Dieu t'a fait naître,
Ta tâche est d'allumer la pipe de ton maître,
De pourvoir les flacons d'eaux fraîches et d'odeurs,
De chasser loin du lit les moustiques rôdeurs,
Et, dès que le matin fait chanter les platanes,

D'acheter au bazar ananas et bananes.
Tout le jour, où tu veux, tu mènes tes pieds nus,
Et fredonnes tout bas de vieux airs inconnus;
Et quand descend le soir au manteau d'écarlate,
Tu poses doucement ton corps sur une natte,
Où tes rêves flottants sont pleins de colibris,
Et toujours, comme toi, gracieux et fleuris.

Pourquoi, l'heureuse enfant, veux-tu voir notre France,
Ce pays trop peuplé que fauche la souffrance,
Et, confiant ta vie aux bras forts des marins,
Faire de grands adieux à tes chers tamarins?
Toi, vêtue à moitié de mousselines frêles,
Frissonnante là-bas sous la neige et les grêles,
Comme tu pleurerais tes loisirs doux et francs
Si, le corset brutal emprisonnant tes flancs
Il te fallait glaner ton souper dans nos fanges
Et vendre le parfum de tes charmes étranges,
Oeil pensif, et suivant, dans nos sales brouillards,
Des cocotiers absents les fantômes épars!

Charles Baudelaire

To a Malabar Woman

Your feet are as slender as your hands and your hips
Are broad; they'd make the fairest white woman jealous;
To the pensive artist your body's sweet and dear;
Your wide, velvety eyes are darker than your skin.

In the hot blue country where your God had you born
It is your task to light the pipe of your master,
To keep the flasks filled with cool water and perfumes,
To drive far from his bed the roving mosquitoes,
And as soon as morning makes the plane-trees sing, to
Buy pineapples and bananas at the bazaar.
All day long your bare feet follow your whims,
And, very low, you hum old, unknown melodies;
And when evening in his scarlet cloak descends,
You stretch out quietly upon a mat and there
Your drifting dreams are full of humming-birds and are
Like you, always pleasant and adorned with flowers.

Why, happy child, do you wish to see France,
That over-peopled country which suffering mows down,
And entrusting your life to the strong arms of sailors,
Bid a last farewell to your dear tamarinds?
You, half-dressed in filmy muslins,
Shivering over there in the snow and the hail,
How you would weep for your free, pleasant leisure, if,
With a brutal corset imprisoning your flanks,
You had to glean your supper in our muddy streets
And sell the fragrance of your exotic charms,
With pensive eye, following in our dirty fogs
The sprawling phantoms of the absent coco palms!

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

To a Girl from Malabar

Your feet are finer than your hands, and bigger
Your haunch than plumpest white ones are. Your figure
Is to a pensive artist dear and fresh.
Your velvet eyes are darker than your flesh.
In hot blue lands, where your God gave you being,
Your task, lighting your master's pipe, and seeing
The jars well filled with lymph, the flasks with scent,
Or switching the mosquitoes — there you went,
When dawn sang through the rustling planes, to buy
Plantains or pineapples from the nearby
Bazaar. All day, at will, barefoot you passed
Humming old unknown tunes: and when at last
The sun went down, bright red, across the flat,
You flung your body on the wicker mat;
And full of humming birds, your floating dream
Was gay and flowery as you always seem.

How, happy child, did you come here to France,
This overpeopled land, by what mischance,
When to your tamarinds you bade adieu
Confiding in the sailors of the crew?
But now half-clothed in muslin frail and thin,
While frost and sleet assail your shivering skin,
With brutal corsets prisoning you fast,
How you must long for the old, carefree past!
Now you must glean your dinners from the mud
And sell the perfumes of your flesh and blood,
In our foul mists, with pensive eye still straying
To catch a glimpse of phantom palm trees swaying.

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

To a Lady of Malabar

Your feet are slim as your hands, and your hips
Are the heavy envy of the most beautiful white woman;
To the thoughtful artist your body is soft and lovable;
Your great velvet eyes are darker than your skin.
In the warm blue climate where your God bore you,
Your task is to light the pipe of your master,
To keep the flasks of fresh water and spices,
To drive far from the bed raiding mosquitoes
And, when the plane-trees sing in the morning,
To buy pineapples and bananas at the bazaar.
All day long anywhere you lead your naked feet,
To low humming of old unknown tunes;
And when the scarlet cloak of evening drops
Softly you place your body on a mat,
Your floating dreams are full of humming birds,
Ever, like you, graceful and flowering.

O why, happy child, do, you want to see our France!
That populous country slashed by suffering,
To confide your life to the arms of strong sailors,
Bidding last farewells to your darling tamarind-trees?
There, clad in sleazy muslin,
Shivering in the snow and hailstorms,
How you would cry for your sweet free playtimes
If, with the cruel corset clasping your breasts,
You had to glean your supper from our mud,
To trade the perfume of your foreign charms
With your pensive eyes seeking amongst our dirty fogs
The slender ghosts of distant coco-palms!

— Geoffrey Wagner, Selected Poems of Charles Baudelaire (NY: Grove Press, 1974)


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.