Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Charles Baudelaire's Flowers of Evil

Charles Baudelaire was born April 21st in 1821 and was a fan of one of my favorite poets, Edgar Allen Poe. Mr. Baudelaire’s collection of poems, The Flowers of Evil, became infamous and banned by mainstream society when it was published in 1861 because his poems were thought to be gruesome and immoral in its depictions of humanity’s lesser, baser sides. I thought his poems would be a wonderful way to close out the month of October and a perfect accompaniment to all things related to Halloween so here are a few poems:

The Temptation

The Demon, in my chamber high,
This morning came to visit me,
And, thinking he would find some fault,
He whispered: “I would know of thee

Among the many lovely things
That make the magic of her face,
Among the beauties, black and rose,
That make her body’s charm and grace,

Which is most fair?” Thou didst reply
To the Abhorred, O soul of mine:
“No single beauty is the best
When she is all one flower divine.

When all things charm me I ignore
Which one brings most delight;
She shines before me like the dawn,
And she consoles me like the night.

The harmony is far too great,
That governs all her body fair.
For impotence to analyse
And say which note is sweetest there.

O mystic metamorphosis!
My sense into one sense flow—
Her voice makes perfume when she speaks,
Her breath is music faint and low!”


Angel of gaiety, have you tasted grief?
Shame and remorse and sobs and weary spite,
And the vague terrors of the fearful night
That crush the heart up like a crumpled leaf?
Angel of gaiety, have you tasted grief?

Angel of kindness, have you tasted hate?
With hands clenched in the shade and tears of gall,
When Vengeance beats her hellish battle-call,
And makes herself the captain of our fate,
Angel of kindness, have you tasted hate?

Angel of health, did ever you know pain,
Which like an exile trails his tired footfalls
The cold length of the white infirmary walls,
With lips compressed, seeking the sun in vain?
Angel of health, did ever you know pain?

Angel of beauty, do you wrinkles know?
Know you the fear of age, the torment vile
Of reading secret horror in the smile
Of eyes your eyes have loved since long ago?
Angel of beauty, do you wrinkles know?

Angel of happiness, and joy, and light,
Old David would have asked for youth afresh
From the pure touch of your enchanted flesh;
I but implore your prayers to aid my plight,
Angel of happiness, and joy, and light.

The Corpse

Remember, my Beloved, what thing we met
By the roadside on that sweet summer day;
There on a grassy couch with pebbles set,
A loathsome body lay.

The wanton limbs stiff-stretched into the air,
Steaming with exhalations vile and dank,
In ruthless cynic fashion had laid bare
The swollen side and flank.

On this decay the sun shone hot from heaven
As though with chemic heat to broil and burn,
And unto Nature all that she had given
A hundredfold return.

The sky smiled down upon the horror there
As on a flower that opens to the day;
So awful an infection smote the air,
Almost you swooned away.

The swarming flies hummed on the putrid side,
Whence poured the maggots in a darkling stream,
That ran along these tatters of life’s pride
With a liquescent gleam.

And like a wave the maggots rose and fell,
The murmuring flies swirled round in busy strife:
It seemed as though a vague breath came to swell
And multiply with life

The hideous corpse. From all his living world
A music as of wind and water ran,
Or as of grain in rhythmic motion swirled
By the swift winnower’s fan.

And then the vague forms like a dream died out,
Or like some distant scene that slowly falls
Upon the artist’s canvas, that with doubt
He only half recalls.

A homeless dog behind the boulders lay
And watched us both with angry eyes forlorn,
Waiting a chance to come and take away
The morsel she had torn.

And you, even you, will be like this drear thing,
A vile infection man may not endure;
Star that I yearn to! Sun that lights my spring!
O passionate and pure!

Yes, such will be you, Queen of every grace!
When the last sacramental words are said;
And beneath grass and flowers that lovely face
Moulders among the dead.

Then, O Beloved, whisper to the worm
That crawls up to devour you with a kiss,
That I still guard in memory the dear form
Of love that comes to this!

If you would like to devour the whole collection yourself, you can easily find Charles Baudelaire’s collection of poems in libraries, universities, book-stores, and on-line book-stores. For an on-line resource that is educational and thorough, I urge you to check out:


Thanks always for reading, please click in tomorrow for more Poems Found by Poet Hound…


Tommaso Gervasutti said...

Dear Poet Hound, when I was 20 I was a great fan of Baudelaire and even more Rimbaud. I read them in Italian translation of course. I still remember "Correspondances" by Baudelaire and the "Le Bateau Ivre" -The Drunken Boat by Rimbaud and...the best: The Waterfall from "Illuminations" by Rimbaud.
That was the first poetry I started seriously reading in my life together with Dylan Thomas', I didn't much understand the meaning and maybe for this reason I "purely" enjoyed it.
I still remember myself going around feeling my long and curly hair ( now I am completely bald!) and curly long beard flooded by words..I was all the time just asking for that... I read while walking...It seemed the books pages could withstand rain and snow..."Illuminations" is still up here in my library, pages not yet completely yellow...

Poet Hound said...


Those are the best kind of poems, ones that cause you to revel in them! I have read Baudelaire off and on since I was a teenager and this time I finally read The Flowers of Evil straight through, in order, without jumping around. It was wonderful.