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Spleen et idéal baudelaire

Table des matières


Quand le ciel bas et lourd pèse comme un couvercle
Sur l’esprit gémissant en proie aux longs ennuis,
Et que de l’horizon embrassant tout le cercle
II nous verse un jour noir plus triste que les nuits;

Quand la terre est changée en un cachot humide,
Où l’Espérance, comme une chauve-souris,
S’en va battant les murs de son aile timide
Et se cognant la tête à des plafonds pourris;

Quand la pluie étalant ses immenses traînées
D’une vaste prison imite les barreaux,
Et qu’un peuple muet d’infâmes araignées
Vient tendre ses filets au fond de nos cerveaux,

Des cloches tout à coup sautent avec furie
Et lancent vers le ciel un affreux hurlement,
Ainsi que des esprits errants et sans patrie
Qui se mettent à geindre opiniâtrement.

— Et de longs corbillards, sans tambours ni musique,
Défilent lentement dans mon âme; l’Espoir,
Vaincu, pleure, et l’Angoisse atroce, despotique,
Sur mon crâne incliné plante son drapeau noir.

Charles Baudelaire


When the low, heavy sky weighs like a lid
On the groaning spirit, victim of long ennui,
And from the all-encircling horizon
Spreads over us a day gloomier than the night;

When the earth is changed into a humid dungeon,
In which Hope like a bat
Goes beating the walls with her timid wings
And knocking her head against the rotten ceiling;

When the rain stretching out its endless train
Imitates the bars of a vast prison
And a silent horde of loathsome spiders
Comes to spin their webs in the depths of our brains,

All at once the bells leap with rage
And hurl a frightful roar at heaven,
Even as wandering spirits with no country
Burst into a stubborn, whimpering cry.

— And without drums or music, long hearses
Pass by slowly in my soul; Hope, vanquished,
Weeps, and atrocious, despotic Anguish
On my bowed skull plants her black flag.

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


When the cold heavy sky weighs like a lid
On spirits whom eternal boredom grips,
And the wide ring of the horizon’s hid
In daytime darker than the night’s eclipse:

When the world seems a dungeon, damp and small,
Where hope flies like a bat, in circles reeling,
Beating his timid wings against the wall
And dashing out his brains against the ceiling:

When trawling rains have made their steel-grey fibres
Look like the grilles of some tremendous jail,
And a whole nation of disgusting spiders
Over our brains their dusty cobwebs trail:

Suddenly bells are fiercely clanged about
And hurl a fearsome howl into the sky
Like spirits from their country hunted out
Who’ve nothing else to do but shriek and cry —

Then long processions without fifes or drums
Wind slowly through my soul. Hope, weeping, bows
To conquest. And atrocious Anguish comes
To plant his black flag on my drooping brows.

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

When the Low, Heavy Sky

When the low, heavy sky weighs like the giant lid
Of a great pot upon the spirit crushed by care,
And from the whole horizon encircling us is shed
A day blacker than night, and thicker with despair;

When Earth becomes a dungeon, where the timid bat
Called Confidence, against the damp and slippery walls
Goes beating his blind wings, goes feebly bumping at
The rotted, moldy ceiling, and the plaster falls;

When, dark and dropping straight, the long lines of the rain
Like prison-bars outside the window cage us in;
And silently, about the caught and helpless brain,
We feel the spider walk, and test the web, and spin;

Then all the bells at once ring out in furious clang,
Bombarding heaven with howling, horrible to hear,
Like lost and wandering souls, that whine in shrill harangue
Their obstinate complaints to an unlistening ear.

— And a long line of hearses, with neither dirge nor drums,
Begins to cross my soul. Weeping, with steps that lag,
Hope walks in chains; and Anguish, after long wars, becomes
Tyrant at last, and plants on me his inky flag.

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— Edna St. Vincent Millay, Flowers of Evil (NY: Harper and Brothers, 1936)


when low skies weightier than a coffin-lid
cast on the moaning soul their weary blight,
and from the whole horizon’s murky grid
its grey light drips more dismal than the night;

when earth’s a dungeon damp whose chill appals,
in which — a fluttering bat — my Hope, alone
buffets with timid wing the mouldering walls
and beats her head against the dome of stone;

when close as prison-bars, from overhead,
the clouds let fall the curtain of the rains,
and voiceless hordes of spiders come, to spread
their infamous cobwebs through our darkened brains,

explosively the bells begin to ring,
hurling their frightful clangour toward the sky,
as homeless spirits lost and wandering
might raise their indefatigable cry;

and ancient hearses through my soul advance
muffled and slow; my Hope, now pitiful,
weeps her defeat, and conquering Anguish plants
his great black banner on my cowering skull.

— Lewis Piaget Shanks, Flowers of Evil (New York: Ives Washburn, 1931)


When the low heavy sky weighs like a lid
Upon the spirit aching for the light,
And all the wide horizon’s line is hid
By a black day sadder than any night;

When the changed earth is but a dungeon dank
Where batlike Hope goes blindly fluttering
And, striking wall and roof and mouldered plank,
Bruises his tender head and timid wing;

When like grim prison-bars stretch down the thin,
Straight, rigid pillars of the endless rain,
And the dumb throngs of infamous spiders spin
Their meshes in the caverns of the brain; —

Suddenly, bells leap forth into the air,
Hurling a hideous uproar to the sky
As ’twere a band of homeless spirits who fare
Through the strange heavens, wailing stubbornly.

And hearses, without drum or instrument,
File slowly through my soul; crushed, sorrowful,
Weeps Hope, and Grief, fierce and omnipotent,
Plants his black banner on my drooping skull.

— Jack Collings Squire, Poems and Baudelaire Flowers (London: The New Age Press, Ltd, 1909)


When the low and heavy sky presses like a lid
On the groaning heart a prey to slow cares,
And when from a horizon holding the whole orb
There is cast at us a dark sky more sad than night;

When earth is changed to a damp dungeon,
Where Hope, like a bat,
Flees beating the walls with its timorous wings,
And knocking its head on the rotting ceilings;

When the rain spreads out vast trails
Like the bars of a huge prison,
And when, like sordid spiders, silent people stretch
Threads to the depths of our brains,

Suddenly the bells jump furiously
And hurl to the sky a horrible shriek,
Like some wandering landless spirits
Starting an obstinate complaint.

— And long hearses, with no drums, no music,
File slowly through my soul: Hope,
Conquered, cries, and despotic atrocious Agony
Plants on my bent skull its flag of black.

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

Spleen et Idéal constitue la section la plus importante des Fleurs du Mal. Cela est d’abord apparent par le fait que quatre-vingt-cinq des cent vingt-six poèmes du recueil y sont regroupés, mais aussi parce que la plupart des thèmes essentiels de Baudelaire sont ici présents.

Le titre, Spleen et Idéal, est significatif. On le sait, Baudelaire est, par excellence, le poète du Spleen. Ce mot anglais était déjà employé en France vers la fin du XVIIIe siècle et des Romantiques comme Musset et O’Neddy l’ont mis à la mode vers 1830. Cependant, Baudelaire enrichit considérablement l’imagerie et la portée de ce terme: désormais, il ne renvoie plus à une mélancolie rappelant le mal du siècle, mais il désigne un ennui absolu, existentiel, si lourd qu’il en devient paralysant. Mais Baudelaire est aussi le poète de l’Idéal, c’est-à-dire de l’aspiration vers la perfection, vers le monde des Idées où toute contrainte, désormais, est effacée.

C’est aussi dans Spleen et Idéal que Baudelaire aborde les thèmes de l’art et de l’amour. L’art évoque naturellement l’univers du rêve, de l’imagination, là où l’Esprit règne sur le monde et échappe au Temps; mais l’art, pour Baudelaire, est aussi dominé par la Beauté, froide comme le marbre, ardue à conquérir, presque inaccessible. La dualité idéal/spleen est donc en jeu ici, de la même manière qu’elle se retrouve dans la manière dont Baudelaire aborde le thème de l’amour. De fait, la sensualité inspirée par Jeanne Duval peut tout aussi bien mener le poète à une langueur rêveuse qu’à un aigu sentiment de déchéance. L’amour spirituel, inspiré par Mme Sabatier, ou fraternel sont aisément associables à l’aspiration vers l’Idéal, mais ils n’empêchent pas Baudelaire, du moins dans l’édition de 1861 des Fleurs du Mal (celle retenue ici), de conclure la section sur l’évocation répétée du Spleen et sur le constat de la défaite de l’Homme face au Temps.

La Sagesse par Boleslas Biegas
Fleurs du mal

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/ Flowers of Evil

1861 Edition

The first edition of Les Fleurs du mal sold out within a year of its publication, thanks in part to the succès de scandale created by the government’s obscenity trial against the book. Anxious to keep his poems in print, Baudelaire agitated for several years for another edition to be published. In addition, he composed new poems to add to the collection, including several works such as « Le Cygne » and « Le Voyage » which are today regarded as masterpieces.

The second edition of Les Fleurs du mal entered the bookshops of Paris in the first week of February 1861. Readers spent three francs to purchase the new edition, of which fifteen hundred copies had been printed (plus a few hors commerce on fine paper). This edition, now considered definitive, lacked the six poems censored by the French government but contained a new subdivision (« Tableaux parisiens »), thirty-five new poems, and a portrait of the author by Félix Bracquemond.

Poems added to the second edition are indicated below by red guillemets like this ».

Table of Contents

To the Reader

Spleen et idéal

/ Spleen and Ideal

The Albatross
I love the memory of those naked epochs…
The Beacons
The Sick Muse
The Venal Muse
The Bad Monk
The Enemy
Bad Luck
Past Life
Traveling Gypsies
Man and the Sea
Don Juan in Hell
Punishment of Pride
The Ideal
The Giantess
The Mask
Hymn to Beauty
Exotic Perfume
I adore you as much as the nocturnal vault…
You would take the entire world to bed with you…
Never Satisfied
With her pearly undulating dresses…
The Dancing Serpent
A Carcass
From the Depths I Cried
The Vampire
One night when I lay beside a frightful Jewess…
Posthumous Remorse
The cat
The Duel
The Balcony
The Possessed
A Phantom
I give you these verses so if my name…
Always the Same
All Together
What will you say tonight, poor solitary soul…
The Living Torch
Spiritual Dawn
Evening Harmony
The Perfume Flask
Cloudy Sky
The Cat
The Beautiful Ship
Invitation to the Voyage
The Irreparable
Autumn Song
To a Madonna
Afternoon Song
In Praise of My Frances
To a Creole Lady
Grieving and Wandering
The Ghost
Autumn Sonnet
Sorrows of the Moon
The Cats
The Owls
The Pipe
A Fantastic Engraving
The Grateful Dead
The Cask of Hatred
The Broken Bell
Spleen (Pluvius, irritated…)
Spleen (I have more memories…)
Spleen (I’m like the king…)
Spleen (When the sky low and heavy…)
The Taste for Nothingness
The Alchemy of Grief
Sympathetic Horror
The Self-Tormenter
The Irremediable
The Clock

Tableaux Parisiens

/ Parisian Scenes

The Sun
To a Mendicant Redhead
The Swan
The Seven Old Men
The Little Old Ladies
The Blind
To a Passerby
The Hard-Working Skeleton
Evening Crepuscule
Danse Macabre
The Love of Lies
I have not forgotten, near the city…
The kind-hearted servant of whom you were jealous…
Mists and Rains
Parisian Dream
Morning Crepuscule

Le Vin

/ Wine

The Soul of Wine
The Rag-Picker’s Wine
The Murderer’s Wine
The Lonely Man’s Wine
The Lovers’ Wine

Fleurs du mal

/ Flowers of Evil

A Martyr
Women Doomed (Like pensive cattle…)
The Two Good Sisters
The Fountain of Blood
A Voyage to Cythera
Love and the Skull


/ Revolt

The Denial of Saint Peter
Abel and Cain
The Litanies of Satan

La Mort

/ Death

The Death of Lovers
The Death of the Poor
The Death of Artists
End of the Day
Dream of a Curious Man
The Voyage

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