Self Portrait by Charles Baudelaire

Charles Baudelaire's
Fleurs du mal / Flowers of Evil

Les Promesses d'un visage

J'aime, ô pâle beauté, tes sourcils surbaissés,
    D'où semblent couler des ténèbres;
Tes yeux, quoique très-noirs, m'inspirent des pensers
    Qui ne sont pas du tout funèbres.

Tes yeux, qui sont d'accord avec tes noirs cheveux,
    Avec ta crinière élastique,
Tes yeux, languissamment, me disent: «Si tu veux,
    Amant de la muse plastique,

Suivre l'espoir qu'en toi nous avons excité,
    Et tous les goûts que tu professes,
Tu pourras constater notre véracité
    Depuis le nombril jusqu'aux fesses;

Tu trouveras au bout de deux beaux seins bien lourds,
    Deux larges médailles de bronze,
Et sous un ventre uni, doux comme du velours,
    Bistré comme la peau d'un bonze,

Une riche toison qui, vraiment, est la soeur
    De cette énorme chevelure,
Souple et frisée, et qui t'égale en épaisseur,
    Nuit sans étoiles, Nuit obscure!»

Charles Baudelaire

What a Pair of Eyes Can Promise

I love, pale one, your lifted eyebrows bridging
Twin darknesses of flowing depth.
But however deep they are, they carry me
Another way than that of death.

Your eyes, doubly echoing your hair's darkness
— That leaping, running mane —
Your eyes, though languidly, instruct meĀ :
"Poet and connoisseur of love made plain,

If you desire fulfilment of the promise,
The ecstasy that is your trade,
You can confirm the truth, from thigh to navel,
Of all that we have said.

You will find my white breasts heavy
With the weight of their rough, bronze coins,
And, under a soft as velvet, rounded belly,
Poised between ambered loins,

A fleece, not golden, but for richness sister
To that hair with darkness bright,
Supple and springing — and as boundless
As a deep, starless night!"

— David Paul, Flowers of Evil (NY: New Directions, 1955)

The Promises of a Face

I love your elliptical eyebrows, my pale beauty,
From which darkness seems to flow;
Although so black, your eyes suggest to me
Thoughts in no way funereal.

Your eyes, in harmony with your black hair,
With your buoyant mane,
Your swooning eyes now tell me: "If you wish,
O lover of the plastic muse,

To follow the hope we have excited in you,
And all the fancies you profess,
You will be able to prove our truthfulness
From the navel to the buttocks;

You will find at the tips of two heavy breasts
Two slack bronze medallions,
And under a smooth belly, soft as velvet,
Swarthy as the skin of a Buddhist,

A rich fleece, which truly is the sister
Of this huge head of hair,
Compliant and curly, its thickness equals
Black night, night without stars!"

— 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.