Les Fleurs du Mal

by Charles Baudelaire

Blanche fille aux cheveux roux,
Dont ta robe par ses trous
Laisse voir la pauvreté
Et la beauté,

Pour moi, poète chétif,
Ton jeune corps maladif
Plein de taches de rousseur
A sa douceur.

Tu portes plus galamment
Qu'une reine de roman
Ses cothurnes de velours
Tes sabots lourds.

Au lieu d'un haillon trop court,
Qu'un superbe habit de cour
Traîne à plis bruyants et longs
Sur tes talons;

Et place de bas troués,
Que pour les yeux des roués
Sur ta jambe un poignard d'or
Reluise encor;

Que des noeuds mal attachés
Dévoilent pour nos péchés
Tes deux beaux seins, radieux
Comme des yeux;

Que pour te déshabiller
Tes bras se fassent prier
Et chassent à coups mutins
Les doigts lutins;

Perles de la plus belle eau,
Sonnets de maître Belleau
Par tes galants mis aux fers
Sans cesse offerts,

Valetaille de rimeurs
Te dédiant leurs primeurs
Et contemplant ton soulier
Sous l'escalier,

Maint page épris du hasard,
Maint seigneur et maint Ronsard
Epieraient pour le déduit
Ton frais réduit!

Tu compterais dans tes lits
Plus de baisers que de lys
Et rangerais sous tes lois
Plus d'un Valois!

--Cependant tu vas gueusant
Quelque vieux débris gisant
Au seuil de quelque Véfour
De carrefour;

Tu vas lorgnant en dessous
Des bijoux de vingt-neuf sous
Dont je ne puis, oh! pardon!
Te faire don;

Va donc, sans autre ornement,
Parfum, perles, diamant,
Que ta maigre nudité,
O ma beauté!

tr. Keith Waldrop (also linked here) (2006) (he calls these "versets" -- from his Wesleyan book, much of which is also on Google Books).


tr. Charles Bernstein

To a Begging Redhead

Palish girl with reddish hair
You whose dress’s holes
Expose poverty
And beauty,

For me, weak poet,
Your meek body, speckled
With sickly red freckles,
Is completely sweet

You wear with more charm
Than queens in yarns
Your velvet boots,
Such heavy brutes;

Instead of a shoddy rag’s mess
You’d have a super party dress
With noisy pleats that trail
All the way to your heels

Instead of stocking holes
On your legs: daggers of gold
To blind the suaves
Whose gazes enslave

As a bad knot open lies
Disclosing for our sinning sighs
Two beautiful breasts, radiant
As your eyes;

So that for you to undress
Your arms are pressed to pray
To chase away treacherous play
Of lecher’s fingers

Pearls from the most beautiful waters
Sonnets from the master’s coffers
From your gallants in iron chains
Who make incessant offers

Valets of rime
Dedicating to you their prime
And contemplating your shoes
On a sunset cruise

Many a page caged by chance
Many a haute rage of France
Would vie to deduce
If your price is reduced!

You will count in your bed
More kisses than threads
And will lure under your laws
More than a Louis Quatorze

– In the meantime, you go scrounging
Whatever old debris falls
Outside the door of some
Not so grand Véfour;

You go eyeing, desiring
Some gems worth maybe 29 cents
That still I can’t – forgive me! –
Give you;

Go then, without ornament –
Perfume, pearls, diamond –
Other than your bare nudity,
O, my beauty!

To the Begging Redhead

tr. Jane Malcolm (20004)

Pale red-headed girl
whose mangled dress
belies squalor
and beauty,

for me, a feeble poet,
your young, frail body
covered in bruises
is sweetness.

You wear more gracefully
than a storybook queen
in her spiked velour heels,
your heavy wooden clogs.

Instead of skimpy rags,
an opulent courtly robe
with long, rustling pleats should trail
at your heels;

and never remove your holed stockings
that toward the gaze of unscrupulous eyes
at your legs, a golden dagger
shines again and again;

that poorly tied knots
unveil (slowly) for our many sins
your two beautiful breasts, radiant
like eyes;

that to undress yourself
your arms make themselves pray
and chase with mocking gestures
fingers that probe.

---Pearls of the most lovely waters,
sonnets by the master, Belleau,
by your suitors caught up in your fires,
unceasingly are offered.

A throng of uninspired poets
dedicating to you their first, best stanzas
and imagining your underclothes strewn,
under stairs.

Many a boy enamored of destiny,
many a "gentleman" and many Ronsards,
would willingly spy to uncover it:
your true price!

You could count in your beds
more kisses than lilies
and could undo at your will
more than one Valois.

---Still, you go out debauching
some old, decrepit mausoleum,
or in the doorway of some motel
at the crossroads.

You go around coveting in secret
jewelry worth pennies
that I cannot, oh, forgive me,
present to you (with sincerity).

Go, then, without any adornment,
no perfume, no pearls, no diamonds,
just your skinny nakedness,
oh my beauty!

To A Red-headed Beggar-girl

tr. A.S.Kline 2001

Pale girl with fiery hair,
whose tattered dress shows there
glimpses of your poverty
and your beauty,

a wretched poet, for me,
your young skinny body
with its freckled brownness
has its sweetness.

You wear, more stylishly
than a queen in story
wears her velvet shoe
your heavy two.

Instead of your dress, ripped, short,
may a fine robe of court
trail in long folds to greet
your slender feet:

in place of your torn hose
may daggers of gold,
down your legs, blaze
for the eyes of roués:

may ribbons loosely tied
unveil in your pride
your two lovely breasts, bright
as your eyes:

may your arms be coaxed too,
to sweetly undress you,
and with pert blows
discourage those

impish fingers, pearls that glow,
sonnets of master Belleau,
by your captive lovers,
endlessly offered.

The poets, in pursuit,
dedicating to you their fruit,
and gazing at your shoes, there
from beneath the stair:

many a page-boy's game,
many a famous name,
would spy, still hoping,
on your cool lodging!

You, in your bed, would count
more kisses than lilies no doubt,
and subject to your law
a Valois or more!

- Meanwhile you go seeking
any old scraps, cadging,
outside the back door
of some shabby store:

you go gazing, from afar,
at valueless beads that are
still, alas, so much more
than I can afford!

Go then, with no ornament,
perfume, pearl or diamond,
only your slender nudity,
O my beauty!


tr. James Kirkup (c) 2001

Pale red-haired girl, whose
torn dress adorns poverty
but also beauty -

to this poor poet
your frail body, all freckled,
appears so tender.

Bravely as a queen
in velvet buskins, you wear
your heavy old clogs.

Would that some gorgeous
court robe might let its train
rustle at your heels;

Not holed stockings, but
a gold dagger on your thigh
to scare old roués;

May your arms refuse
to be bared; and chase away
too-playful fingers,

priceless pearls, sonnets
by master Belleau offered,
penned for jailed gallants.

Rhymster mobs bring
fresh verse, to gaze on your shoe
underneath the stairs.

Many a page, lord
and Ronsard would pleasure you
in your chill hovel!

In your bed you'd count
more kisses than lilies, lodge
more than one Valois!

Yet you go begging
an old soak flopped outside some
cheap crossroads café

You set your eye on
some worthless trinket - gift I
- alas - can't afford.

But never mind - and
on your fragile nudity
display no other

ornament - no scents,
no pearls, no diamonds -
O you, my beauty!

To A Red-Headed Beggar Girl*

Tr. Cat Nilan (© 1999)

White girl with red hair
Whose dress, through its holes,
Lets one glimpse your poverty
And beauty,

For me, wretched poet,
Your young, unhealthy body,
Covered with freckles,
Has its attractions.

You wear more gallantly
Than a queen in a novel
Her velvet buskins (1)
Your heavy wooden shoes.

Instead of a too-short rag,
Would that a magnificent court dress
Might trail in long, rustling pleats
At your heels;

Instead of stockings full of holes,
For the eyes of the rakes (2),
Might a golden knife on your leg
Yet shine;

Might loosely-tied ribbons
Unveil, for our sins,
Your two beautiful breasts, radiant
As eyes.

Might your arms resist
Undressing you,
And shoo away, with saucy slaps,
Wanton fingers,

Pearls of the first water,
Master Belleau's sonnets (3),
By your admirers -- cast into chains --
Ceaselessy offered.

A pack of flunkey rhymers
Dedicating their first fruits to you
And contemplating your shoe
From beneath the stairs,

Many a page sure of his luck,
Many a lord and many a Ronsard (4)
Would, for their titillation, spy on
Your fresh retreat.

You would count in your beds
More kisses than lilies,
And subject to your laws
More than one Valois (5)!

-- Meanwhile you go begging
For old scraps
At the door of some
Street-corner dive (6);

You go ogling with a downcast eye
Cheap costume jewelry,
Which I cannot, oh! please pardon me!,
Give you as a gift (7).

Go then, without any other ornament --
Perfume, pearls, diamond --
Than your scrawny nudity,
Oh my beauty!


*CAVEAT: I would beg the reader to forgive the more than usually awkward flow of this translation. The beauty of this poem -- and it is very beautiful, indeed, despite the fact that it treats a topic that even the more liberal modern reader may find somewhat distasteful -- lies in Baudelaire's sadly untranslatable use of melodic full and part rhymes. I have tried to preserve the phrasing of the original, rather than reworking the order of the lines, which might have produced greater clarity and euphony but would lose Baudelaire's dramatic emphases. This is just one of those poems that you must read -- HEAR -- in French ...

(1) A thick-soled, lace-up boot, associated with tragic theater.

(2) Given the archaism of Baudelaire's vocabulary in these comparisons, roué is probably meant in its original, literal sense: someone so dissolute that they deserved to be punished by being broken on the wheel (la roue).

(3) Remi Belleau (1528-1577), French poet known especially for his love poems.

(4) Pierre Ronsard (1524-1585), French poet and head of the "Pléiade" school (of which Belleau was a minor member).

(5) French royal family from 1328 to 1589.

(6) "Véfour de carrefour" -- literally a "crossroads Véfour." Véfour was a famous, high-class Parisian restaurant.

(7) The Scarfe translation reads a dark meaning into this line (which it translates as "... you go about goggling, from a distance, at elevenpence-halfpenny beads which -- forgive me -- I am unable to offer you for nothing."). My literal translation better reflects the neutral language used by Baudelaire. While the poem is very suggestive about the narrator's sexual attraction to the young beggar girl, it seems more likely that the "wretched poet" simply can't afford to buy her even jewelry this cheap, rather than that he intends to use it to barter for her favors.


To an Auburn-Haired Beggar-Maid


Pale girl with the auburn hair,

Whose dress through its tears and holes

Reveals your poverty

And your beauty,


For me, an ailing poet,

Your body, young and sickly,

Spotted with countless freckles,

Has its sweetness.


You wear with more elegance

Your wooden clogs than the queen

In a romance her sandals

Trimmed with velvet.


Instead of a scanty rag,

Let a glittering court dress

Trail with its long, rustling folds

Over your heels;


In place of stockings with holes,

Let, for the eyes of roués,

A golden poniard glisten

In your garter;


Let ill-tied ribbons give way

And unveil, so we may sin,

Your two lovely breasts, radiant

As shining eyes;


Let your arms demand entreating

To uncover your body

And repel with saucy blows

Roguish fingers,


Pearls of the finest water,

Sonnets by Master Belleau

Constantly offered by swains

Held in love's chains,


Plebeian versifiers

Offering first books to you

And ogling your slippered foot

From under the stair;


Many a page fond of love's chance,

Many a Ronsard and lord

For amusement would spy on

Your chilly hut!


You could count in your beds

More kisses than fleurs-de-lis

And subject to your power

Many Valois!


— However, you go begging

Some moldy refuse lying

On the steps of some Véfour

At the crossroads;


You go furtively eyeing

Baubles at twenty-nine sous,

Of which I can't, oh! pardon!

Make you a gift.


Go, with no more adornment,

Perfume or pearl or diamond,

Than your slender nudity,

O my beauty!


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


The Red-Haired Beggar Girl


White girl with flame-red hair,

Whose garments, here and there,

Give poverty to view,

And beauty too.


To me, poor puny poet,

Your body, as you show it,

With freckles on your arms,

Has yet its charms.


You wear with prouder mien

Than in Romance a queen

Her velvet buskins could —

Your clogs of wood.


In place of tatters short

Let some rich robe of court

Swirl with its silken wheels

After your heels:


In place of stockings holed

A dagger made of gold,

To light the lecher's eye,

Flash on your thigh:


Let ribbons slip their bows

And for our sins disclose

A breast whose radiance vies

Even with your eyes.


To show them further charms

Let them implore your arms,

And these, rebuking, humble

Fingers that fumble


With proferred pearls aglow

And sonnets of Belleau,

Which, fettered by your beauty,

They yield in duty.


Riffraff of scullion-rhymers

Would dedicate their primers

Under the stairs to view

Only your shoe.


Each page-boy lucky-starred,

Each marquis, each Ronsard

Would hang about your bower

To while an hour.


You'd count, among your blisses,

Than lilies far more kisses,

And boast, among your flames,

Some royal names.


Yet now your beauty begs

For scraps on floors, and dregs

Else destined to the gutter,

As bread and butter.


You eye, with longing tense,

Cheap gauds for thirty cents,

Which, pardon me, these days

I cannot raise.


No scent, or pearl, or stone,

But nothing save your own

Thin nudity for dower,

Pass on, my flower!


— Roy Campbell, Poems of Baudelaire (New York: Pantheon Books, 1952)




To a Red-Haired Beggar Girl


Little white girl with red hair,

The holes in your frock

Show poverty

And beauty,


For me, a poor poet,

Your young and ailing body,

Spotted with, freckles,

Has its sweetness.


You carry more gallantly,

Than can a queen of fiction

Her high-boots of velvet,

Your heavy clogs.


In place of rags too short for you,

May a fine court costume

Be drawn in blustering, long folds

At your heels;


In place of stockings in holes,

May a dagger of gold

Glitter for the eyes of rakes

On your leg;


May barely fastened knots

Reveal for our sinning

Your lovely breasts, radiant

As two eyes;


May, to undress yourself,

Your arms require coaxing

And may they archly repel

Mischievous fingers,


May pearls of finest water,

Sonnets by Belleau,

Be ceaselessly proffered

By your enslaved lovers,


Trains of servant rhymers,

Dedicating first lines to you

And watching your slipper

Under the staircase,


Many a flunkey struck at random,

Many a lord and many a Ronsard

Would spy to seduce it

Your tender retreat!


You would count more kisses

Than lilies in your beds

And you would hold in sway

More than one Valois!


— Meanwhile you go begging

Some old rubbish lying

On the threshold of some

Vulgar Véfour;


You go gaping past your shoulder

At twenty-nine sou jewels

Of which, I cannot, I am sorry,

Make a gift to you.


Go then, without other ornament,

Perfume, pearls or diamonds,

Than your emaciated nudity,

O my beauty!


— Geoffrey Wagner, Selected Poems of Charles Baudelaire (NY: Grove Press, 1974)