Les Fleurs du mal

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The Flowers of Evil
Fleurs du mal.jpg
The first edition of Les Fleurs du mal with author's notes.
AuthorCharles Baudelaire
Original titleLes Fleurs du mal
TranslatorGeorge Dillion,
Edna St. Vincent Millay,
Jacques Leclercq,
Stefan George,
William F. Aggeler
IllustratorCarlos Schwabe
GenreLyric poetry
PublisherAuguste Poulet-Malassis
Media typePrint
LC ClassPQ2191 .F6
Original text
Les Fleurs du mal at French Wikisource
TranslationThe Flowers of Evil at Wikisource
Illustration by Armand Rassenfosse for Les Fleurs du Mal. Collection King Baudouin Foundation.

Les Fleurs du mal (French pronunciation: ​[le flœʁ dy mal]; English: The Flowers of Evil) is a volume of French poetry by Charles Baudelaire.

Les Fleurs du mal includes nearly all of Baudelaire's poetry,written in 1840 and ending with his death in August 1867. First published in 1857, it was important in the symbolist and modernist movements. It was considered extremely controversial upon publication, and six of the poems were censored due to their immorality; however, it is now considered to be a major work of French poetry. The poems in Les Fleurs du mal frequently break with tradition, using suggestive images and unusual forms. The poems deal with themes relating to decadence and eroticism, particularly focusing on suffering and its relationship to the original sin, disgust toward evil and oneself, obsession with death, and aspiration toward an ideal world. Les Fleurs du mal was highly influential toward several notable French poets, including Paul Verlaine, Arthur Rimbaud, and Stéphane Mallarmé.


The initial publication of the book was arranged in six thematically segregated sections:

  • Spleen et Idéal (Spleen and Ideal)
  • Tableaux parisiens (Parisian Scenes)
  • Le Vin (Wine)
  • Fleurs du mal (Flowers of Evil)
  • Révolte (Revolt)
  • La Mort (Death)

Baudelaire dedicated the book to the poet Théophile Gautier, Au parfait magicien ès lettres françaises ("To the perfect magician of French letters").[1]


The foreword to the volume, Au Lecteur ("To the Reader"), identifying Satan with the pseudonymous alchemist Hermes Trismegistus and calling boredom the worst of miseries, sets the general tone of what is to follow:

Si le viol, le poison, le poignard, l'incendie,
N'ont pas encore brodé de leurs plaisants dessins
Le canevas banal de nos piteux destins,
C'est que notre âme, hélas ! n'est pas assez hardie.

If rape, poison, dagger and fire,
Have still not embroidered their pleasant designs
On the banal canvas of our pitiable destinies,
It's because our soul, alas, is not bold enough!

The preface concludes with the following malediction:

C'est l'Ennui!—l'œil chargé d'un pleur involontaire,
Il rêve d'échafauds en fumant son houka.
Tu le connais, lecteur, ce monstre délicat,
Hypocrite lecteur,—mon semblable,—mon frère!

It's Boredom!—eye brimming with an involuntary tear
He dreams of gallows while smoking his hookah.
You know him, reader, this delicate monster,
Hypocritical reader, my likeness, my brother!

Tableaux Parisiens (Parisian Scenes)[edit]

Baudelaire's section Tableaux Parisiens, added in the second edition (1861), is considered one of the most formidable criticisms of 19th-century French modernity. This section contains 18 poems, most of which were written during Haussmann's renovation of Paris. Together, the poems in Tableaux Parisiens act as 24-hour cycle of Paris, starting with the second poem Le Soleil (The Sun) and ending with the second to last poem Le Crépuscule du Matin (Morning Twilight). The poems featured in this cycle of Paris all deal with the feelings of anonymity and estrangement from a newly modernized city. Baudelaire is critical of the clean and geometrically laid out streets of Paris which alienate the unsung anti-heroes of Paris who serve as inspiration for the poet: the beggar, the blind, the industrial worker, the gambler, the prostitute, the old and the victim of imperialism. These characters whom Baudelaire once praised as the backbone of Paris are now eulogized in his nostalgic poems. For Baudelaire, the city has been transformed into an anthill of identical bourgeois that reflect the new identical structures that litter a Paris he once called home but can now no longer recognize.[2][3]

Literary significance and criticism[edit]

Illustration of Les Fleurs du Mal by Carlos Schwabe, 1900

The author and the publisher were prosecuted under the regime of the Second Empire as an outrage aux bonnes mœurs ("an insult to public decency"). As a consequence of this prosecution, Baudelaire was fined 300 francs. Six poems from the work were suppressed and the ban on their publication was not lifted in France until 1949. These poems were "Lesbos"; "Femmes damnées (À la pâle clarté)" (or "Women Doomed (In the pale glimmer...)"); "Le Léthé" (or "Lethe"); "À celle qui est trop gaie" (or "To Her Who Is Too Joyful"); "Les Bijoux" (or "The Jewels"); and "Les Métamorphoses du Vampire" (or "The Vampire's Metamorphoses"). These were later published in Brussels in a small volume entitled Les Épaves (Scraps or Jetsam).

On the other hand, upon reading "The Swan" (or "Le Cygne") from Les Fleurs du mal, Victor Hugo announced that Baudelaire had created "un nouveau frisson" (a new shudder, a new thrill) in literature.

In the wake of the prosecution, a second edition was issued in 1861 which added 35 new poems, removed the six suppressed poems, and added a new section entitled Tableaux Parisiens. Among the new poems was the widely-studied "L'albatros" ("The Albatross").

A posthumous third edition, with a preface by Théophile Gautier and including 14 previously unpublished poems, was issued in 1868.


T.S. Eliot's poem The Waste Land (1922) references "Au Lecteur" with the line: "You! hypocrite lecteur!—mon semblable,—mon frère!"

In the 1945 film The Picture of Dorian Gray the character Lord Wotton is seen reading the book in the first scene during a coach ride. When he exits the coach he tosses the book up to the coachman.

Alban Berg's "Der Wein" (1929) is a concert aria setting Stefan George's translation of three poems from "Le Vin".

Baudelaire's Flowers Of Evil (Les Fleurs Du Mal) is a 1968 recording by Yvette Mimieux and Ali Akbar Khan originally issued on LP by Connoisseur Society. Mimeux reads excerpts of Cyril Scott's 1909 translation with original music by Khan.

In 1969, American composer Ruth White released the album Flowers of Evil. It features electroacoustic composition with Baudelaire's poetry recited over it. The album was published by Limelight Records.

Henri Dutilleux's Tout un monde lointain... for cello and orchestra (1970) is strongly influenced by Les Fleurs du Mal. Each of its five movements is prefaced by a quotation from the volume and the title itself comes from one of its poems, "XXIII. La Chevelure".

In Roger Zelazny's book Roadmarks the protagonist Red Dorakeen travels with a sentient speaking computer disguised as a cybernetic extension of the book Les Fleurs du mal named "Flowers of Evil". It befriends another computer which has disguised itself as Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman.

Rock band Buck-Tick named their 1990 album Aku no Hana, as well as its title track, after Les Fleurs du mal.

The movie Immortal (2004, Dominique Brunner); In the scene on the Eiffel Tower, Jill (Linda Hardy) is reading from the book Les Fleurs Du Mal. She recites the third stanza from the poem "XLIX. Le Poison".

In a January 1997 episode of the sitcom Friends titled "The One with All the Jealousy", Monica (Courtney Cox) asks her coworker Julio about his book. He says it's ""Flowers of Evil" by Baudelaire" and when Monica asks if he enjoyed it he replies "I thought I would, but the translation's no good."

An episode of the television show The Batman was named "Fleurs du Mal" in reference to the poem. In addition to this, a florist's shop in the episode is named Baudelaire's.

French songwriter and musician Neige used poems from Les Fleurs du mal as lyrics for several songs that he wrote with different bands. "Élévation" (with Alcest) "Recueillement" (with Amesoeurs) "Le revenant" and "Ciel brouillé" (with Mortifera)

Geographer and political economist David Harvey includes the poem "The Eyes of the Poor" in a book chapter called "The Political Economy of Public Space".[4]

French Black Metal band Peste Noire used poems as lyrics for their songs "Le mort joyeux" and "Spleen" from their album La Sanie des siècles – Panégyrique de la dégénérescence

The 2009 manga Aku no Hana is named after Les Fleurs du mal. The main character, Takao Kasuga, is enamored with the book and the adult depravity that it represents.

Industrial metal band Marilyn Manson released a song entitled "The Flowers of Evil" on their 2012 album Born Villain.

Symphonic metal band Therion released an album named Les Fleurs du Mal in 2012.

In episode 13 of Saving Hope's first season (2012), a copy of The Flowers of Evil is among the personal effects of a patient. Later in the episode a doctor briefly discusses Baudelaire and a phrase from the book with that patient.

Chicago-based artistic collective Theater Oobleck produced a series of cantastoria using Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du Mal as text.[5]

The Swedish folk singer Sofia Karlsson (alongside Alex Landart, Negro Malick, Hugo Voy, Benjamin Coquille, Logan Pischedda and Jason Bernard) sang versions of "Le vin des amants" and "Moesta et errabunda", translated by the poet Dan Andersson, on her 2007 album Visor från vinden (Songs from the wind).[6]



  1. ^ Baudelaire, trs William Aggeler, Kindle edition 9781420950366 2015, .
  2. ^ Chambers, Ross. The Writing of Melancholy: Modes of Opposition in Early French Modernism. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1993. Print.
  3. ^ Thompson, William J. Understanding Les Fleurs Du Mal: Critical Readings. Nashville: Vanderbilt UP, 1997. Print.
  4. ^ Harvey, David (2006). "The Political Economy of Public Space" (PDF). Retrieved 31 October 2020.
  6. ^ "Visfavoriter från turnén". Dagens Nyheter. 12 April 2007. Retrieved 5 March 2016.

Further reading

External links[edit]