Les Fleurs du mal

Charles Baudelaire

Preview: Issue 1 of 10

Translated by Cyril Scott


When by the changeless Power of a Supreme Decree The poet issues forth upon this sorry sphere, His mother, horrified, and full of blasphemy, Uplifts her voice to God, who takes compassion on her.

"Ah, why did I not bear a serpent's nest entire, Instead of bringing forth this hideous Child of Doom! Oh cursèd be that transient night of vain desire When I conceived my expiation in my womb!"

"Yet since among all women thou hast chosen me To be the degradation of my jaded mate, And since I cannot like a love-leaf wantonly Consign this stunted monster to the glowing grate,"

"I'll cause thine overwhelming hatred to rebound Upon the cursèd tool of thy most wicked spite. Forsooth, the branches of this wretched tree I'll wound And rob its pestilential blossoms of their might!"

So thus, she giveth vent unto her foaming ire, And knowing not the changeless statutes of all times, Herself, amid the flames of hell, prepares the pyre; The consecrated penance of maternal crimes.

Yet 'neath th' invisible shelter of an Angel's wing This sunlight-loving infant disinherited, Exhales from all he eats and drinks, and everything The ever sweet ambrosia and the nectar red.

He trifles with the winds and with the clouds that glide, About the way unto the Cross, he loves to sing, The spirit on his pilgrimage; that faithful guide, Oft weeps to see him joyful like a bird of Spring.

All those that he would cherish shrink from him with fear, And some that waxen bold by his tranquility, Endeavour hard some grievance from his heart to tear, And make on him the trial of their ferocity.

Within the bread and wine outspread for his repast To mingle dust and dirty spittle they essay, And everything he touches, forth they slyly cast, Or scourge themselves, if e'er their feet betrod his way.

His wife goes round proclaiming in the crowded quads-- "Since he can find my body beauteous to behold, Why not perform the office of those ancient gods And like unto them, redeck myself with shining gold?"

"I'll bathe myself with incense, spikenard and myrrh, With genuflexions, delicate viandes and wine, To see, in jest, if from a heart, that loves me dear, I cannot filch away the hommages divine."

"And when of these impious jokes at length I tire, My frail but mighty hands, around his breast entwined, With nails, like harpies' nails, shall cunningly conspire The hidden path unto his feeble heart to find."

"And like a youngling bird that trembles in its nest, I'll pluck his heart right out; within its own blood drowned, And finally to satiate my favourite beast, I'll throw it with intense disdain upon the ground!"

Towards the Heavens where he sees the sacred grail The poet calmly stretches forth his pious arms, Whereon the lightenings from his lucid spirit veil The sight of the infuriated mob that swarms.

"Oh blest be thou, Almighty who bestowest pain, Like some divine redress for our infirmities, And like the most refreshing and the purest rain, To sanctify the strong, for saintly ecstasies."

"I know that for the poet thou wilt grant a chair, Among the Sainted Legion and the Blissful ones, That of the endless feast thou wilt accord his share To him, of Virtues, Dominations and of Thrones."

"I know, that Sorrow is that nobleness alone, Which never may corrupted be by hell nor curse, I know, in order to enwreathe my mystic crown I must inspire the ages and the universe."

"And yet the buried jewels of Palmyra old, The undiscovered metals and the pearly sea Of gems, that unto me you show could never hold Beside this diadem of blinding brilliancy."

"For it shall be engendered from the purest fire Of rays primeval, from the holy hearth amassed, Of which the eyes of Mortals, in their sheen entire, Are but the tarnished mirrors, sad and overcast!"


In Nature's temple, living columns rise, Which oftentimes give tongue to words subdued, And Man traverses this symbolic wood, Which looks at him with half familiar eyes,

Like lingering echoes, which afar confound Themselves in deep and sombre unity, As vast as Night, and like transplendency, The scents and colours to each other respond.

And scents there are, like infant's flesh as chaste, As sweet as oboes, and as meadows fair, And others, proud, corrupted, rich and vast,

Which have the expansion of infinity, Like amber, musk and frankincense and myrrh, That sing the soul's and senses' ecstasy.

The Sick Muse

Alas--my poor Muse--what aileth thee now? Thine eyes are bedimmed with the visions of Night, And silent and cold--I perceive on thy brow In their turns--Despair and Madness alight.

A succubus green, or a hobgoblin red, Has it poured o'er thee Horror and Love from its urn? Or the Nightmare with masterful bearing hath led Thee to drown in the depths of some magic Minturne?

I wish, as the health-giving fragrance I cull, That thy breast with strong thoughts could for ever be full, And that rhymthmic'ly flowing--thy Christian blood

Could resemble the olden-time metrical-flood, Where each in his turn reigned the father of Rhymes Phoebus--and Pan, lord of Harvest-times.

The Venal Muse

Oh Muse of my heart--so fond of palaces old, Wilt have--when New Year speeds its wintry blast, Amid those tedious nights, with snow o'ercast, A log to warm thy feet, benumbed with cold?

Wilt thou thy marbled shoulders then revive With nightly rays that through thy shutters peep? And--void thy purse and void thy palace--reap A golden hoard within some azure hive?

Thou must, to earn thy daily bread, each night, Suspend the censer like an acolyte, Te-Deums sing, with sanctimonious ease,

Or as a famished mountebank, with jokes obscene Essay to lull the vulgar rabble's spleen; Thy laughter soaked in tears which no one sees.

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