Les Fleurs du mal

Les Fleurs du mal (French pronunciation: ​[le flœʁ dy mal]; English: The Flowers of Evil) is a volume of French poetry by Charles Baudelaire. First published in 1857 (see 1857 in poetry), it was important in the symbolist and modernist movements. The poems deal with themes relating to decadence and eroticism.

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.


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, describing him as a parfait magicien des lettres françaises ("a 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 beggars, 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 criticismEdit

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.


The book monger character, Wren, refers to Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast as ‘hypocrite lecteur’ in the Pendergast Book Series authored by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child in many of their interactions.

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

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.

"Flor De Mal" (Larriva, Hufsteter) is a song in the 1985 eponymous album by the Cruzados.

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 hit sitcom Friends, 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." It is the twelfth episode of the third season and is titled: "The One with All the Jealousy".

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

Sopor Aeternus & the Ensemble of Shadows released an album named Les Fleurs du Mal and also an 8 and half minute song too.

"The Funeral of Hearts" is a song by the Finnish band HIM, released in 2003. It is the second track and first single from the album Love Metal. The opening verse contains the lyric "When angels cry blood on Flowers of Evil in bloom."

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)

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. He steals the gym clothes of his crush, Nanako Saeki, after being inspired by the book. The manga was in 2013 adapted into an animated series and in 2019 a live-action film adaptation was released.

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. The music is written by a series of different artists, and the shows are presented across the United States, though primarily in Chicago. The collective is scheduled to present Episode 8 in its series on October 1, 2015. The intention is to convert the entirety of Les Fleurs du Mal to cantastoria in seven years.[4]

The Swedish folk singer Sofia Karlsson 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).[5]



  1. ^ Baudelaire, les Fleurs du Mal, Le Livre de poche, page 345.
  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.
  5. ^ "Visfavoriter från turnén". Dagens Nyheter. 12 April 2007. Retrieved 5 March 2016.

Further reading

External linksEdit