Sex and death, rebellion, corruption — the themes of Charles Baudelaire's sensual poems sparked outrage upon their 1857 debut. His masterpiece, Flowers of Evil (Les Fleurs du Mal), was dismissed as decadent and obscene and banned in France for nearly a century. Although Baudelaire died in obscurity, today he is recognized as one of the nineteenth century's greatest and most influential poets, whose works were ahead of their time.
This unique collection captures the fevered spirit of the transition from Romanticism to Modernism with authoritative interpretations of fifty-one poems from Flowers of Evil. In addition, fourteen prose poems from the posthumously published Paris Spleen offer poignant reflections on the city and its humbler denizens. Noted scholar Wallace Fowlie provides definitive translations of these verses.
About the Author
Poet, critic, and translator Charles Baudelaire (1821-67) was deeply affected by Gothic novels and the works of Edgar Allan Poe. A leading figure of the Decadent movement, he exercised enormous influence over subsequent poets and authors, including Rimbaud, Proust, and Eliot. He published his first and most famous book of poems, Flowers of Evil, at the age of 36 and died less than a decade later, after a life shadowed by debt, drug abuse, and disease.
Translator Walter Fowlie was the James Duke Professor of French at Duke University.
Read an Excerpt
The Flowers of Evil & Paris Spleen
By Charles Baudelaire, SUZANNE E. JOHNSON, Wallace Fowlie
Dover Publications, Inc.Copyright © 2010 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
THE FLOWERS OF EVIL
To the Reader
Folly, error, sin and avarice
Occupy our minds and waste our bodies,
And we feed our polite remorse
As beggars feed their lice.
Our sins are stubborn, our repentance is cowardly;
We ask high prices for our vows,
And we gaily return to the muddy road,
Believing we will wash away all our spots with vile tears.
On the pillow of evil it is Thrice-Great Satan
Who endlessly rocks our bewitched mind,
And the rich metal of our will
Is vaporized by that wise chemist.
It is the Devil who pulls the strings that move us!
In repulsive objects we find enticing lures;
Each day we go down one more step toward Hell,
Without horror, through the darkness which smells rank.
Just as a lustful pauper who kisses and bites
The martyred breast of an aged whore,
We steal, as we move along, a clandestine pleasure
Which we squeeze hard like an old orange.
Packed tight and swarming like a million maggots,
A crowd of Demons carouse in our brains,
And, when we breathe, Death into our lungs
Descends, an invisible river, with heavy wailings.
If rape, poison, the knife and arson
Have not yet woven with their pleasing patterns
The banal canvas of our pitiful fate,
It is because our soul, alas, is not bold enough.
But among the jackals, panthers, bitches,
Monkeys, scorpions, vultures, serpents,
The monsters squealing, yelling, grunting, crawling
In the infamous menagerie of our vices
There is one uglier, more wicked and more foul than all!
Although he does not make great gestures or great cries,
He would gladly make the earth a shambles
And swallow the world in a yawn;
It is boredom! his eyes weeping an involuntary tear,
He dreams of gibbets as he smokes his hookah.
You know him, reader, this delicate monster,
—Hypocrite reader—my twin—my brother!
When, by a decree of the sovereign powers,
The Poet comes into this bored world,
His mother, terrified and full of blasphemy,
Clenches her fists toward God, who has pity on her:
"Ah, why didn't I litter a nest of vipers,
Rather than give birth to this mockery?
A curse on that night with its fleeting pleasures
When my womb conceived my expiation!
Since you chose me from among all women
To be the disgust of my disappointed husband,
And since I cannot throw back into the fire
This weak monster, like a love letter,
I will make your hate which stifles me gush forth
On the accursed instrument of your plottings,
And I will twist this wretched tree so far
That its blighted buds will not grow!"
Thus she swallows the foam of her hate,
And, without understanding the eternal designs,
She prepares in the pit of Hell
The pyres consecrated to the crimes of a mother.
Meanwhile, under the invisible care of an Angel,
The disinherited Child is intoxicated with sunlight,
And in all he drinks and in all he eats
Discovers ambrosia and vermillion nectar.
He plays with the wind, talks with the cloud,
And singing revels in the way of the cross;
And the Spirit following him in his pilgrimage
Weeps at seeing him happy as a bird in the forest.
All those he would love look at him with fear,
Or, emboldened by his calm manner,
Vie with one another in drawing from him a complaint
And practice on him the experiments of their cruelty.
In the bread and wine destined for his mouth
They mingle ashes with filthy spittings;
Hypocritically they throw away what he touches,
And blame themselves for stepping where he stepped.
His wife cries in the public places:
"Since he finds me beautiful enough to worship,
I will take on the profession of ancient idols,
And like them I will cover my body with gold;
And I will get drunk on nard, incense, myrrh,
Genuflections, meats and wines,
To learn if I can from an admiring heart
Laughingly usurp the homage of the gods!
And, when I am bored with these impious farces,
I will lay on him my frail and strong hand;
And my nails, like the nails of harpies,
Will dig a path to his heart.
Like a very young bird trembling and palpitating
I will pull that red heart out from his breast,
And, in order to satiate my favorite beast,
Scornfully I will throw it to him on the ground!"
Toward Heaven, where his eyes see a shining throne,
The serene Poet raises his reverent arms,
And the vast visions of his lucid mind
Shut off from him the sight of cruel races:
"Be blessed, my Lord, who give suffering
As a divine remedy for our impurities
And as the best and the purest essence
Which prepares the strong for holy ecstasies!
I know that you keep a place for the Poet
In the blessed ranks of the holy legions,
And that you invite him to the eternal feast
Of Thrones, Virtues and Dominations.
I know that suffering is the one nobility
Where the earth and hell will have no effect,
And that in order to weave my mystic crown
All times and all worlds must be used.
But the lost jewels of ancient Palmyra,
The unknown metals, the pearls of the sea,
Mounted by your hand, could not suffice
For this handsome diadem shining and clear;
For it will be made only of pure light,
Drawn from the holy hearth of primal rays,
And to which mortal eyes, in their full splendor,
Are but tarnished and sad mirrors!"
Often, as an amusement, crewmen
Catch albatrosses, huge birds of the sea,
Who follow, indolent companions of the voyage,
The ship gliding over the salty deeps.
As soon as they have placed them on the deck,
These kings of the sky, awkward and ashamed,
Pitiably let their large white wings
Drag at their sides like oars.
This winged voyager, how gauche and weak he is!
Once so handsome, how comic and ugly he is!
One sailor irritates his beak with a pipestem,
Another mimes, as he limps, the invalid who once flew!
The Poet is like the prince of the clouds,
Who haunts the tempest and mocks the archer;
Exiled on the earth in the midst of derision,
His giant wings keep him from walking.
Above ponds, above valleys,
Mountains, woods, clouds, seas,
Beyond the sun, beyond the ether,
Beyond the limits of the starry spheres,
My spirit, you move with agility.
And, like a good swimmer who collapses in the water,
You gaily furrow the deep expanse
With an unspeakable male delight.
Fly far away from these fetid marshes;
Purify yourself in the upper air,
And drink, like some pure divine liqueur,
The clear fire that fills the limpid spaces.
Behind the boredom and endless cares
Which burden our fogged existence with their weight,
Happy is the man who can with vigorous wing
Mount to those luminous serene fields!
The man whose thoughts, like larks,
Take liberated flight toward the morning skies
—Who hovers over life and understands without effort
The language of flowers and voiceless things!
Nature is a temple where living pillars
At times allow confused words to come forth;
There man passes through forests of symbols
Which observe him with familiar eyes.
Like long echoes which in a distance are mingled
In a dark and profound unison
Vast as night is and light,
Perfumes, colors and sounds answer one another.
There are perfumes as cool as the flesh of children,
Sweet as oboes, green as prairies
—And others, corrupt, rich and triumphant,
Having the expansion of infinite things,
Like amber, musk, myrrh and incense,
Which sing of the transports of the mind and the senses.
Rubens, river of forgetfulness, garden of idleness,
Pillow of cool flesh where one cannot love,
But where life abounds and writhes ceaselessly,
Like air in the sky and the sea in the sea;
Leonardo da Vinci, deep and dark mirror,
Where charming angels, with a sweet smile
Charged with mystery, appear under the shadow
Of glaciers and pines which shut in their country;
Rembrandt, sad hospital filled with murmurings,
And decorated only with a large crucifix,
Where tearful prayers are exhaled from excrement
And abruptly crossed by a winter ray;
Michelangelo, vague place where are seen Hercules
Mingling with Christs, and rising upright
Powerful phantoms which at twilight
Rip open their shrouds when they stretch their fingers;
Anger of the wrestler, impudence of the faun,
You who collected the beauty of soldiers,
Noble heart swollen with pride, weak jaundiced man,
Puget, melancholy emperor of convicts;
Watteau, that carnival where many illustrious hearts,
Like moths, wander as flames catch them,
Fresh, light decors illuminated by chandeliers
Which pour madness over the turning dance;
Goya, nightmare filled with unknown things,
With foetuses which are cooked in the midst of a witch's feast,
Of old women at a mirror and naked girls
Adjusting their stockings to tempt the demons;
Delacroix, lake of blood haunted by evil angels,
Under the shadow of a green forest of firs,
Where, under a gloomy sky, strange fanfares
Pass, like a muffled sigh of Weber;
These curses, blasphemies, complaints,
These ecstasies, cries, tears, these Te Deums,
Are an echo repeated by a thousand labyrinths;
They are for the hearts of men a divine opium!
It is a cry repeated by a thousand sentinels,
An order returned by a thousand loud-speakers;
It is a beacon lighted on a thousand citadels,
A call of hunters lost in the deep woods!
For it is truth, O Lord, the best testimonial
We can give of our dignity—
This ardent sobbing which rolls from age to age
And comes to die at the edge of your eternity!
My youth was a dark storm,
Crossed here and there by brilliant suns;
Thunder and rain have caused such quick ravage
That there remain in my garden very few red fruits.
Now I have touched the autumn of my mind,
And I must use the spade and rakes
To assemble again the drenched lands,
Where the water digs holes as large as graves.
And who knows whether the new flowers I dream of
Will find in this soil washed like a shore
The mystic food which would create their strength?
—O grief! O grief! Time eats away life,
And the dark Enemy who gnaws the heart
Grows and thrives on the blood we lose.
To raise a weight so heavy,
Sisyphus, we would need your courage!
Although we have a strong heart for the work,
Art is long and Time is short.
Far from famous graves,
Toward a lonely cemetery,
My heart, like a muffled drum,
Comes beating a funeral march.
—Many a gem lies buried
In darkness and oblivion,
Far from pickaxes and drills;
Many a flower pours forth regretfully
Its perfume sweet as a secret
In solitary shades.
A long time I lived under vast porticoes
Which marine suns tinged with a thousand fires,
And which their tall pillars, straight and majestic,
Caused to resemble basalt caves at night.
The surge, as it rolled images of the sky,
Mingled in a solemn mystical way
The omnipotent harmonies of its rich music
With the colors of the setting sun reflected in my eyes.
It is there I lived in serene sensuousness,
In the midst of blue sky, waves, splendor
And naked slaves, impregnated with perfumes,
Who cooled my brow with palms,
And whose one care was to understand
The grievous secret which made me sad.
Man and the Sea
Free man, you will always cherish the sea!
The sea is your mirror; you contemplate your soul
In the infinite rolling of its surface,
And your spirit is not a less bitter abyss.
You take pleasure in plunging into the heart of your image;
You embrace it with your eyes and your arms, and your heart
At times forgets its own rhythm
In the noise of that wild and tameless complaint.
Both of you are dark and discreet:
Man, no one has sounded the depths of your being,
Sea, no one knows your intimate secrets,
So eager are you to retain your secrets!
And yet for countless centuries
You have fought without pity and without remorse,
So much do you love carnage and death,
O eternal fighters, O implacable brothers!
Don Juan in Hell
When Don Juan descended to the lower water
And when he had given his fee to Charon,
A solemn beggar, with eyes as proud as Antisthenes,
Seized each oar with an avenging strong arm.
Showing their drooping breasts and their opened dresses,
Some women were swaying under the black firmament,
And, like a large herd of sacrificed victims,
Trailed behind him with long moans.
Sganarelle laughing asked him for his wages,
While Don Luis with a trembling finger
Pointed out to all the dead wandering on the banks
The bold son who mocked his white brow.
Trembling under her veils, chaste and thin Elvira,
Near the perfidious husband who had been her lover,
Seemed to claim from his one last smile
Where the sweetness of his first vows would shine forth.
Upright in his armor, a tall man of stone
Stood at the helm and cleft the dark waves;
But the calm hero, leaning on his sword,
Looked at the wake and did not deign to see anything else.
Excerpted from The Flowers of Evil & Paris Spleen by Charles Baudelaire, SUZANNE E. JOHNSON, Wallace Fowlie. Copyright © 2010 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
The Flowers of Evil
To the Reader
Man and the Sea
Don Juan in Hell
Hymn to Beauty
"I Worship You"
De Profundis Clamavi
"I Give You These Verses"
"What Will You Say?"
Dawn of the Spirit
An Invitation to Voyage
Song of Autumn
Moesta et Errabunda
The Broken Bell
"The Warm-Hearted Servant"
A Voyage to Cythera
Death of the Lovers
Death of the Artists
To a Malabar Girl
Epigraph for a Condemned Book
Complaints of an Icarus
The Artist's Confiteor
The Double Room
Each of Us Has His Chimera
The Wicked Maker of Window Glass
The Old Clown
The Poor Boy's Toy
Any Where Out of the World
Alphabetical List of Titles
Alphabetical List of First Lines