Self Portrait by Charles Baudelaire

Charles Baudelaire's
Fleurs du mal / Flowers of Evil

La Rançon

L'homme a, pour payer sa rançon,
Deux champs au tuf profond et riche,
Qu'il faut qu'il remue et défriche
Avec le fer de la raison;

Pour obtenir la moindre rose,
Pour extorquer quelques épis,
Des pleurs salés de son front gris
Sans cesse il faut qu'il les arrose.

L'un est l'Art, et l'autre l'Amour.
— Pour rendre le juge propice,
Lorsque de la stricte justice
Paraîtra le terrible jour,

Il faudra lui montrer des granges
Pleines de moissons, et des fleurs
Dont les formes et les couleurs
Gagnent le suffrage des Anges.

Charles Baudelaire

The Ransom

Man has, for paying his ransom,
Two fields of rich, deep, porous rock
That he must clear and cultivate
With the iron of his reason;

To obtain the sorriest rose,
To extort a few ears of grain,
He must water them constantly
With salty sweat from his gray brow.

One is Art and the other Love.
— To win the judge's favor
When the terrible day
Of dispassionate justice dawns,

He will have to show granaries
Filled with harvests and with flowers
Whose forms and colors will
Win the suffrage of the Angels.

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

The Ransom

Man, for his ransom, has two fields,
Two fields of tufa, deep and rich,
Which he must duly delve and ditch.
His reason is the hoe he wields.

In order to extort one rose,
Or to produce a few poor cars,
He has to squander showers of tears
In watering the seeds he sows.

One field is Art, the other Love;
And both must for his favour bloom
When the strict judge appears above
Upon the dreadful day of doom.

Man's granges must be filled to burst
With crops and flowers, whose form and shade
Must win the angels' suffrage first
Before his ransom can be paid.

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

La Rançon

to pay our ransom, heaven-assigned,
two fields we have, whose fertile soil
we must make rich by constant toil
with the rude mattock of the mind;

to bring to bloom one single stem,
to wrest one sheaf of wheaten ears,
our brows, with bitter streaming tears,
must never cease to water them.

one field is Art, the other Love.
— and when that Day of Wrath-to-be,
the Day of Justice comes, if we
would satisfy the Judge above,

then we must point to barns abrim
with garnered hoards of golden grain,
and flowers fair enough to gain
the suffrage of the Seraphim.

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

The Ransom

To pay his ransom man must toil
With Reason's implement alone
To plough and rake and free from stone
Two plots of hard volcanic soil.

And if he would from out them wrench
A few thorns or a meagre flower,
Continually a heavy shower
Of his salt sweat their roots must drench.

The one is Art, the other Love;
And on that last and terrible day
The wrath of the stern judge to stay
And 'scape the vengeance from above,

He must show barns whose uttermost
Recesses swell with ripened grain,
And blooms whose shapes and hues will gain
The suffrage of the Heavenly Host.

— 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.