Charles Baudelaire, Fleurs du mal / Flowers of Evil

Charles Baudelaire

Fleurs du mal / Flowers of Evil (1857 Edition)

Baudelaire's poetry was well-known long before it was collected in Les Fleurs du mal in 1857. A few scattered poems had appeared in journals and reviews, and Baudelaire had also achieved notoriety reciting his lurid verses aloud. Several times he announced that he was going to publish a collection of poems, giving titles such as Les Lesbiennes (The Lesbians) and Les Limbes (Limbo). However, the definitive title was not to come until 1855, when "fleurs du mal" was suggested by his friend Hippolypte Babou, and publication was not to come until 1857, when his friend Auguste Poulet-Malassis printed the first edition of "ces fleurs maladives," as Baudelaire wrote in the dedication.

Les Fleurs du mal appeared on the bookshelves of Paris in June 1857. Eleven hundred copies had been printed for sale, with an additional twenty copies hors commerce printed on fine paper. Within a month, the French government initiated an action against the author and the publisher, accusing them of outrages to public morality. On August 20th, a French court acknowledged the literary merit of the book as a whole but demanded that six poems be deleted on moral grounds. In a pattern now familiar, however, the trial only served to create a sensation, and by the following summer the initial printing of Les Fleurs du mal was sold out

A Selection of Poems - 

Le Soleil
Le long du vieux faubourg, où pendent aux masures
Les persiennes, abri des secrètes luxures,
Quand le soleil cruel frappe à traits redoublés
Sur la ville et les champs, sur les toits et les blés,
Je vais m'exercer seul à ma fantasque escrime,
Flairant dans tous les coins les hasards de la rime,
Trébuchant sur les mots comme sur les pavés
Heurtant parfois des vers depuis longtemps rêvés.
Ce père nourricier, ennemi des chloroses,
Eveille dans les champs les vers comme les roses;
II fait s'évaporer les soucis vers le ciel,
Et remplit les cerveaux et les ruches le miel.
C'est lui qui rajeunit les porteurs de béquilles
Et les rend gais et doux comme des jeunes filles,
Et commande aux moissons de croître et de mûrir
Dans le coeur immortel qui toujours veut fleurir!
Quand, ainsi qu'un poète, il descend dans les villes,
II ennoblit le sort des choses les plus viles,
Et s'introduit en roi, sans bruit et sans valets,
Dans tous les hôpitaux et dans tous les palais.
— Charles Baudelaire

The Sun
Along the old street on whose cottages are hung 
The slatted shutters which hide secret lecheries, 
When the cruel sun strikes with increased blows 
The city, the country, the roofs, and the wheat fields, 
I go alone to try my fanciful fencing, 
Scenting in every corner the chance of a rhyme, 
Stumbling over words as over paving stones, 
Colliding at times with lines dreamed of long ago.
This foster-father, enemy of chlorosis,
Makes verses bloom in the fields like roses;
He makes cares evaporate toward heaven,
And fills with honey hives and brains alike.
He rejuvenates those who go on crutches
And gives them the sweetness and gaiety of girls,
And commands crops to flourish and ripen
In those immortal hearts which ever wish to bloom!
When, like a poet, he goes down into cities, 
He ennobles the fate of the lowliest things 
And enters like a king, without servants or noise, 
All the hospitals and all the castles.
— William Aggeler, The Flowers of Evil (Fresno, CA: Academy Library Guild, 1954)

De profundis clamavi
J'implore ta pitié, Toi, l'unique que j'aime,
Du fond du gouffre obscur où mon coeur est tombé.
C'est un univers morne à l'horizon plombé,
Où nagent dans la nuit l'horreur et le blasphème;
Un soleil sans chaleur plane au-dessus six mois,
Et les six autres mois la nuit couvre la terre;
C'est un pays plus nu que la terre polaire
— Ni bêtes, ni ruisseaux, ni verdure, ni bois!
Or il n'est pas d'horreur au monde qui surpasse
La froide cruauté de ce soleil de glace
Et cette immense nuit semblable au vieux Chaos;
Je jalouse le sort des plus vils animaux
Qui peuvent se plonger dans un sommeil stupide,
Tant l'écheveau du temps lentement se dévide!
— Charles Baudelaire

Out of the Depths Have I Cried
I beg pity of Thee, the only one I love, 
From the depths of the dark pit where my heart has fallen, 
It's a gloomy world with a leaden horizon, 
Where through the night swim horror and blasphemy;
A frigid sun floats overhead six months,
And the other six months darkness covers the land;
It's a land more bleak than the polar wastes
— Neither beasts, nor streams, nor verdure, nor woods!
But no horror in the world can surpass 
The cold cruelty of that glacial sun 
And this vast night which is like old Chaos;
I envy the lot of the lowest animals 
Who are able to sink into a stupid sleep, 
So slowly does the skein of time unwind!
— William Aggeler, The Flowers of Evil (Fresno, CA: Academy Library Guild, 1954)

Franciscae meae laudes
Novis te cantabo chordis,
O novelletum quod ludis
In solitudine cordis.
Esto sertis implicata,
Ô femina delicata
Per quam solvuntur peccata!
Sicut beneficum Lethe,
Hauriam oscula de te,
Quae imbuta es magnete.
Quum vitiorum tempegtas
Turbabat omnes semitas,
Apparuisti, Deitas,
Velut stella salutaris
In naufragiis amaris.....
Suspendam cor tuis aris!
Piscina plena virtutis,
Fons æternæ juventutis
Labris vocem redde mutis!
Quod erat spurcum, cremasti;
Quod rudius, exaequasti;
Quod debile, confirmasti.
In fame mea taberna
In nocte mea lucerna,
Recte me semper guberna.
Adde nunc vires viribus,
Dulce balneum suavibus
Unguentatum odoribus!
Meos circa lumbos mica,
O castitatis lorica,
Aqua tincta seraphica;
Patera gemmis corusca,
Panis salsus, mollis esca,
Divinum vinum, Francisca!
— Charles Baudelaire

In Praise of My Frances
I'll sing to you on a new note, 
O young hind that gambols gaily 
In the solitude of my heart.
Be adorned with wreaths of flowers, 
O delightful woman 
By whom our sins are washed away!
As from a benign Lethe, 
I shall drink kisses from you, 
Who were given a magnet's strength.
When a tempest of vices
Was sweeping down on every path,
You appeared, O divinity!
Like the star of salvation
Above a disastrous shipwreck...
I shall place my heart on your altar!
Reservoir full of virtue, 
Fountain of eternal youth, 
Restore the voice to my mute lips!
You have burned that which was filthy, 
Made smooth that which was rough, 
Strengthened that which was weak.
In my hunger you are the inn, 
In the darkness my lamp, 
Lead me always on virtue's path.
Add your strength now to my strength,
Sweet bath scented
With pleasant perfumes!
Shine forth from my loins,
O cuirass of chastity,
That was dipped in seraphic water,
Cup glittering with precious stones, 
Bread seasoned with salt, delectable dish, 
Heavenly wine — My Frances.
— William Aggeler, The Flowers of Evil (Fresno, CA: Academy Library Guild, 1954)

Le Revenant
Comme les anges à l'oeil fauve,
Je reviendrai dans ton alcôve
Et vers toi glisserai sans bruit
Avec les ombres de la nuit;
Et je te donnerai, ma brune,
Des baisers froids comme la lune
Et des caresses de serpent
Autour d'une fosse rampant.
Quand viendra le matin livide,
Tu trouveras ma place vide,
Où jusqu'au soir il fera froid.
Comme d'autres par la tendresse,
Sur ta vie et sur ta jeunesse,
Moi, je veux régner par l'effroi.
— Charles Baudelaire

The Ghost
Like angels with wild beast's eyes 
I shall return to your bedroom 
And silently glide toward you 
With the shadows of the night;
And, dark beauty, I shall give you 
Kisses cold as the moon 
And the caresses of a snake 
That crawls around a grave.
When the livid morning comes, 
You'll find my place empty, 
And it will be cold there till night.
I wish to hold sway over 
Your life and youth by fear, 
As others do by tenderness.
— William Aggeler, The Flowers of Evil (Fresno, CA: Academy Library Guild, 1954)

La Fontaine de Sang
Il me semble parfois que mon sang coule à flots,
Ainsi qu'une fontaine aux rythmiques sanglots.
Je l'entends bien qui coule avec un long murmure,
Mais je me tâte en vain pour trouver la blessure.
À travers la cité, comme dans un champ clos,
Il s'en va, transformant les pavés en îlots,
Désaltérant la soif de chaque créature,
Et partout colorant en rouge la nature.
J'ai demandé souvent à des vins captieux
D'endormir pour un jour la terreur qui me mine;
Le vin rend l'oeil plus clair et l'oreille plus fine!
J'ai cherché dans l'amour un sommeil oublieux;
Mais l'amour n'est pour moi qu'un matelas d'aiguilles
Fait pour donner à boire à ces cruelles filles!
— Charles Baudelaire

The Fountain of Blood
It seems to me at times my blood flows out in waves 
Like a fountain that gushes in rhythmical sobs. 
I hear it clearly, escaping with long murmurs, 
But I feel my body in vain to find the wound.
Across the city, as in a tournament field, 
It courses, making islands of the paving stones, 
Satisfying the thirst of every creature 
And turning the color of all nature to red.
I have often asked insidious wines 
To lull to sleep for a day my wasting terror; 
Wine makes the eye sharper, the ear more sensitive!
I have sought in love a forgetful sleep; 
But love is to me only a bed of needles 
Made to slake the thirst of those cruel prostitutes!

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