WARNING: The two last poems, "A Carrion" and "A Journey to Kithira," among the greatest of the XIX. Century, have strong subject matters (about death, decay, castration...) that can offend or distress unprepared sensibilities.

              Five Poems by Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867)

translated by Anne-Marie de Grazia


Harmonies of evening

Now comes the hour when, on their stalks throbbing,
Flowers all their censers waft;
Sounds and perfumes through the evening raft
In a melancholy waltz and passionate swooning!

Flowers all their censers waft;
The violin quavers like a heart grieving,
In a melancholy waltz and passionate swooning!
The sky is garish and sad like a country altar.

The violin quavers like a heart grieving,
A tender heart that hates Nothingness dark and gaping!
The sky is garish and sad like a country altar;
The sun has choked on his blood congealing.

A tender heart that hates Nothingness dark and gaping,
From the luminous past gathers all remnants!
The sun has choked on his blood congealing...
Your memory in me glows like a monstrance!

To a Madonna


I want to build for you, Madonna, my mistress,
An underground altar in the pit of my distress,
And burrow in the darkest corner of my heart,
Far from mundane desire and mocking smarts,
A niche, all of azure and gold enameled,
In which you shall stand, a wondrous Statue.
With my polished Verse, a trellis of pure metal,
Expertly constellated with rhymes of crystal,
I shall make for your head an enormous Crown;
And from my Jealousy, o mortal Madonna,
I know how to cut a mantle in barbaric fashion,
Stiff and heavy, and lined with suspicion
which will, like a watch-house, entrap your charming airs;
Not with Pearls embroidered, but with all my Tears!
Your Robe will be my rippling Desire,
Undulating, my Desire going up and down,
From summits swinging, in dales resting,
And sheething with a kiss your body rosy and white;
Out of my Respect I shall make for you pretty Shoes
Of satin which, by your divine feet trammeled,
Enclosing them in a limp embrace,
Like a faithful mold shall keep their trace.
If I cannot, despite all my diligent art,
For a Footstool carve a silver Moon,
I shall put the Snake who bites my guts
Under your heels, so that you may crush and mock,
O victorious queen, fecund in atonement,
This monster all bloated with spittle and resentment.
You shall see my Thoughts, in ranks like Candles,
Before the flowered altar of the Queen of Virgins,
Starring with reflections the ceiling painted blue,
Always with eyes on fire look up at you.
And as everything in me cherishes and admires you,
All will become Benzoin, Incense, Oliban, Myrrh,
And endlessly towards you, white and snowy summit,
In Vapors shall rise my stormy Spirit.

In the end, to complete your role as a Mary,
And to mix up love with barbary,
Dark thrill! Out of the seven deadly Sins,
A remorseful henchman, I shall make seven Knives,
Well sharpened and, like an impassive juggler,
Choosing the deepest of your love as target,
I shall plant them all in your panting Heart,
In your sobbing Heart, in your bleeding Heart.


The Poison

Wine can clad the most sordid hovel
In miraculous luxury,
And erect many a fabulous portico
Among the gold of its scarlet vapors,
Like a dying sun in a nebulous sky.

Opium aggrandizes what has no bounds,
Stretches the unlimited,
Deepens time, hollows out sensation,
And with dark and dull delights
Fills the soul beyond capacity.

All this does not come close to the poison that oozes
From your eyes, from your green eyes,
Lakes where my trembling soul sees itself upside down...
My dreams gather in a flock
To water themselves at these bitter holes.

All this does not come close to the fearsome prodigy
Of your searing saliva,
That drowns remorselessly my soul in oblivion,
And, propelling vertigoes,
Tumbles it swooning onto death's shores.

A Carrion

Remember that object we saw, dear soul,
In the sweetness of a summer morn:
At a bend of the path a loathsome carrion
On a bed with pebbles strewn,

With legs raised like a lustful woman,
Burning and sweating poisons,
It spread open, nonchalant and scornful,
Its belly, ripe with exhalations.

The sun shone onto the rotting heap,
As if to bring it to the boil,
And tender a hundredfold to vast Nature
All that together she had joined;

And the sky watched that superb carcass
Like a flower blossom out.
The stench was so strong that on the grass
You thought you would pass out.

Flies hummed upon the putrid belly,
Whence larvae in black battalions spread
And like a heavy liquid flowed
Along the tatters deliquescing.

All together it unfurled, and rose like a wave
And bubbling it sprang forth;
One might have believed that, with a faint breath filled,
The body, multiplying, lived.

And this world gave out a strange music
Like of running water and of wind,
Or of grain in a winnow
Rhythmically shaken and tossed.

Form was erased and all but a vision,
A sketch slow to take shape
On a forgotten canvas, which the artist finishes
from memory alone.

Behind the rocks a fretting bitch
Looked at us with fierce mien
Anxious to retrieve from the corpse
A morsel that she had dropped.

Yet to this rot you shall be like,
To this horrid corruption,
Star of my eyes, sun of desire,
You, my angel and my passion!

Yes, such you shall be, you, queen of all graces,
After the last sacraments,
When you go beneath the grass and waxy flowers,
To mold among the skeletons.

Then, oh my beauty! You must tell the vermin,
As it eats you up with kisses,
That I have preserved the form and essence divine
Of my decayed loves.

A Journey To Kithira

My heart, like a bird, fluttered about gaily
And hovered free about the rigging;
The ship pitched and rolled under a cloudless sky,
Like a seraph drunk with sunbeams.

What is that island sad and dusky? - It's Kithira,
We were told, a land famous in old songs,
The playboys' banal Eldorado.
See, when you come down to it, it's a wretched spot.

- Isle of sweet secrets and feasts of the heart!
Ancient Venus' glorious phantom
Above your shores drifts like a perfume,
and weights down the mind with love and languor.

Lovely island green with myrtle, clothed with bloom,
Blessed through all times and nations,
Where the sighs of hearts in veneration
Waft as incense over a rose garden,

As the timeless cooing of the ringdove!
- Kithira appeared to us like a land most barren,
A stony desert troubled by raucous calls.
Yet I could make out a singular object!

It was not a temple in a shady grove,
Where the young priestess, enamored with flowers,
Went, her body burning with a secret ardor,
Half-opening her robe to the passing breeze;

But as we hugged the coastline tight enough
To distract the birds with our white sails,
We saw that it was a three-branched gibbet,
Standing out against the sky like a cypress.

Fierce birds perching on their meal
Destroyed with their beaks a hanged man, ripe as yet
Each digging, like a tool, its unclean beak
Into every bleeding crack of that hunk of rot;

His eyes were but holes, and out of his caved-in belly
His heavy guts came tumbling down his thighs,
And his torturers, gorging with hideous delights,
Had with strokes of their bills thoroughly castrated him.

Under his feet a flock of jealous beasts,
Lifting their snouts, turned and lingered;
A bigger creature bustled about in the middle,
Like an executioner surrounded by his aides.

Inhabitant of Kithira, child of such lovely skies
Silently you suffered those insults
In expiation for your infamous cults
And for sins which banned you from a tomb.

Silly hanged fool, you suffering is mine!
I felt, at the sight of your floating limbs,
Like vomit eddy back to my teeth
Along the rivers of gall of ancient sorrow,

Watching you, poor devil, whom I fondly remember,
I have felt again all the jabs of beaks and claws
from piercing crows and black female panthers
Which once utterly relished to chastise my flesh.

- The sky was lovely, the sea was flat;
For me all was dark and bloody now,
Alas! and I felt as if in a thick shroud
My heart had buried itself in this allegory.

On your island, o Venus! I have found standing
But a symbolic gibbet with my image dangling...
- Ah! Lord! Give me the strength and courage
To contemplate my heart and body without loathing!