Self Portrait by Charles Baudelaire

Charles Baudelaire's
Fleurs du mal / Flowers of Evil

La Voix

Mon berceau s'adossait à la bibliothèque,
Babel sombre, où roman, science, fabliau,
Tout, la cendre latine et la poussière grecque,
Se mêlaient. J'était haut comme un in-folio.
Deux voix me parlaient. L'une, insidieuse et ferme,
Disait: «La Terre est un gâteau plein de douceur;
Je puis (et ton plaisir serait alors sans terme!)
Te faire un appétit d'une égale grosseur.»
Et l'autre: «Viens! oh! viens voyager dans les rêves,
Au delà du possible, au delà du connu!»
Et celle-là chantait comme le vent des grèves,
Fantôme vagissant, on ne sait d'où venu,
Qui caresse l'oreille et cependant l'effraie.
Je te répondis: «Oui! douce voix!» C'est d'alors
Que date ce qu'on peut, hélas! nommer ma plaie
Et ma fatalité. Derrière les décors
De l'existence immense, au plus noir de l'abîme,
Je vois distinctement des mondes singuliers,
Et, de ma clairvoyance extatique victime,
Je traîne des serpents qui mordent mes souliers.
Et c'est depuis ce temps que, pareil aux prophètes,
J'aime si tendrement le désert et la mer;
Que je ris dans les deuils et pleure dans les fêtes,
Et trouve un goût suave au vin le plus amer;
Que je prends très souvent les faits pour des mensonges,
Et que, les yeux au ciel, je tombe dans des trous.
Mais la voix me console et dit: «Garde tes songes:
Les sages n'en ont pas d'aussi beaux que les fous!»

Charles Baudelaire

The Voice

The back of my crib was against the library,
That gloomy Babel, where novels, science, fabliaux,
Everything, Latin ashes and Greek dust,
Were mingled. I was no taller than a folio.
Two voices used to speak to me. One, sly and firm,
Would say: "The Earth's a cake full of sweetness;
I can (and then there'd be no end to your pleasure!)
Give you an appetite of equal size."
And the other: "Come travel in dreams
Beyond the possible, beyond the known!"
And it would sing like the wind on the strand,
That wailing ghost, one knows not whence it comes,
That caresses the ear and withal frightens it.
I answered you: "Yes! gentle voice!" It's from that time
That dates what may be called alas! my wound
And my fatality. Behind the scenes
Of life's vastness, in the abyss' darkest corner
I see distinctly bizarre worlds,
And ecstatic victim of my own clairvoyance,
I drag along with me, serpents that bite my shoes.

And it's since that time that, like the prophets,
I love so tenderly the desert and the sea;
That I laugh at funerals and weep at festivals
And find a pleasant taste in the most bitter wine;
That very often I take facts for lies
And that, my eyes raised heavenward, I fall in holes.
But the Voice consoles me and it says: "Keep your dreams;
Wise men do not have such beautiful ones as fools!"

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

The Voice

My cot was next the library, a Babel
Where fiction jostled science, myth and fable.
Greek dust with Roman ash there met the sight.
And I was but a folio in height
When two Voices addressed me. "Earth's a cake,"
Said one, "and full of sweetness. I can make
Your appetite to its proportions equal
Forever and forever without sequel."
Another said "Come, rove in dreams, with me,
Past knowledge, thought or possibility."
That voice sang like the wind along the shore
And, though caressing, frightened me the more.
I answered "O sweet Voice!" and from that date
Could never name my sorrow or my fate.
Behind the giant scenery of this life
I see strange worlds: with my own self at strife,
Ecstatic victim of my second sight,
I trail huge snakes, that at my ankles bite.
And like an ancient prophet, from that time,
I've loved the desert, found the sea sublime;
I've wept at festivals and laughed at wakes:
And found in sourest wines a sweet that slakes;
Falsehoods for facts I love to swallow whole,
And often fall, star-gazing, in a hole.
But the Voice cheers — "Keep dreaming. It's a rule
No sage can dream such beauty as a fool."

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

The Voice

I grew up in the shadow of a big bookcase: a tall
Babel, where verses, novels, histories, row upon row —
The immemorial ashes of Greek and Latin — all
Mingled and murmured. When I was as high as a folio,
I heard two voices speaking. The first one said: "Be wise;
The world is but a large, delicious cake, my friend!
It calls for an appetite of corresponding size
And whoso heeds my counsel, his joys shall have no end."
The other voice spoke softly: "Come, travel with me in dreams,
Far, far beyond the range of the possible and the known!"
And in that voice was the senseless music of winds and streams
Blown suddenly out of nowhere and into nowhere blown —
A phantom cry, a sound to frighten and captivate.
And I replied: "I will, O lovely voice!" And from
That hour was sealed for ever the disastrous fate
Which still attends me! Always, behind the tedium
Of finite semblances, beyond the accustomed zone
Of time and space, I see distinctly another world —
And I must wear with loathing these mortal toils, as one
Dragging a weight of serpents about his ankles curled.
And from that hour, like the old prophets of Palestine,
I love extravagantly the wilderness and the sea;
I find an ineffable joy in the taste of harsh, sour wine;
I smile at the saddest moments; I weep amid gaiety;
I take facts for illusions and often as not, with my eyes
Fixed confidently upon the heavens, I fall into holes.
But the Voice comforts me: "Guard, fool, thy dreams! The wise
Have none so beautiful as thou hast." And the Voice consoles.

— George Dillon, 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.