Self Portrait by Charles Baudelaire

Charles Baudelaire's
Fleurs du mal / Flowers of Evil

Le Gouffre

Pascal avait son gouffre, avec lui se mouvant.
— Hélas! tout est abîme, — action, désir, rêve,
Parole! Et sur mon poil qui tout droit se relève
Mainte fois de la Peur je sens passer le vent.

En haut, en bas, partout, la profondeur, la grève,
Le silence, l'espace affreux et captivant...
Sur le fond de mes nuits Dieu de son doigt savant
Dessine un cauchemar multiforme et sans trêve.

J'ai peur du sommeil comme on a peur d'un grand trou,
Tout plein de vague horreur, menant on ne sait où;
Je ne vois qu'infini par toutes les fenêtres,

Et mon esprit, toujours du vertige hanté,
Jalouse du néant l'insensibilité.
— Ah! ne jamais sortir des Nombres et des Êtres!

Charles Baudelaire

The Abyss

Pascal had his abyss that moved along with him.
— Alas! all is abysmal, — action, desire, dream,
Word! and over my hair which stands on end
I feel the wind of Fear pass frequently.

Above, below, on every side, the depth, the strand,
The silence, space, hideous and fascinating...
On the background of my nights God with clever hands
Sketches an unending nightmare of many forms.

I'm afraid of sleep as one is of a great hole
Full of obscure horrors, leading one knows not where;
I see only infinite through every window,

And my spirit, haunted by vertigo, is jealous
Of the insensibility of nothingness.
— Ah! Never to go out from Numbers and Beings!

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

The Gulf

Wherever Pascal went, his gulf was spread,
All is abyss — dream, act, desire, or word!
And often by the wind of terror stirred
I've felt the hair shoot upright on my head.

High up, low down, all round, the depth descending,
The verge, the silence, the dread captor, Space.
Behind my nights I see God's finger trace
A Nightmare multiform yet never-ending.

I dread my sleep like some enormous hole
Full of vague horror, leading to no goal.
All windows bare the infinite to me.

My soul, in its vertiginous endeavour,
Envies the senseless void — Ah, never never
From entities or numbers to be free!

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


Pascal abhorred the abyss but it hounded at his heals.
The gulf gulps words, desires, actions and dreams.
While my hair stands on end each woeful time
The wind gropes through it with its silent screams.

Above, below, about me, the great empty depth.
A silence latches onto me and won't let me break loose,
While God drafts my nightmares with his skillful pen,
Multifaceted nightmares that know no truce.

I'm scared to fall into the gaping hole of sleep.
What horrors does it hold in its pitch black pit?
Infinity lurks below. Through each window it peeps
While vertigo is stalking me and my jittery spirit.

I long to lose all feeling and embrace nothingness
Where Beings and Numbers leave me to peaceful bliss.

— James W. Underhill


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.