Les Fleurs du Mal

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Edition of Fleurs du Mal from 1857, proof of title page with notes by Baudelaire

Les Fleurs du Mal (traditional German title: The Flowers of Evil ) is a volume of poetry by Charles Baudelaire , which was published from 1857 to 1868 in three versions of increasing volume and different arrangements. The first edition led to legal proceedings: Baudelaire was convicted of violating public morals and the further publication of six poems labeled as offensive was prohibited.

Baudelaire's main poetic work is about city dwellers and their ennui , an alienation from existence associated with aversion, displeasure and annoyance . After a phase of waning awareness, it later strongly influenced the work of Arthur Rimbaud , Paul Verlaines and Stéphane Mallarmé and is considered in literary history to be the starting point for modern European poetry.


The collection of around 100 poems - some of which were written from around 1840 onwards and some of them had already appeared individually beforehand - is not a simple anthology, but a well-composed whole and is considered to be groundbreaking for modern poetry. It is arranged in five (1857) or six (1861/68) sections with quasi metaphorical titles ( Spleen et Idéal, Tableaux parisiens, Le Vin, Fleurs du Mal, Révolte, La Mort ). The basic moods of most of the pieces are, as in some cases in Romanticism , melancholy ( Das Mondes Trauer, Herbstgesang ) and Weltschmerz ( Alchemy of Pain, De profundis clamavi, Der Feind ). The predominantly basically pessimistic attitude towards life ( gloom ) ranges from personal relationships to transcendental questions: the grief over the end of a love relationship ( autumn song ), the lack of mutual love ( the revenant, autumn sonnet, cloudy sky, the vampire ), the grief over the Death overshadowed life ( Semper eadem, Das Bildnis ), the longing for death ( horror that is dear to me, the lust for nothing, obsession ), the double nature of man and the ambivalent image of the world outside of a dream-longed paradise without firm belief in one Redemption ( fantastic etching ).

The core of the poems are often the experiences of the “poet” or speaker ( lyrical self ) with autobiographical traits and his observations of society, predominantly its marginal existence. This is expressed by the author v. a. in spatial ( the game ) and street atmospheres ( dream in Paris ), light and nature metaphors ( fog and showers, landscape, the sun ), with ascending and descending or morbid word fields (run away, burned up, eaten up, paralyzed, tired , limp, shivering, gruesome, pale, shuddering, hollow, pale, hazy , etc.), vanitas symbolism ( the cracked bell, a piece of carrion ), pairs of opposites such as day and night, autumn and spring, heaven and earth, hope and failure : "When the morning turns red and silver in the gluttony, the day joins the ideal that gnaws, wakes up through the magic power of a secret world An angel of vengeance in the twilight of the vertebrate" ( The spiritual dawn ) and "The sun in the first rising Freshness ”stands in opposition to the“ grave breath ”which“ blows up in the darkness ”( The Romantic Sunset - like all the following evidence in the translation by Carlo Schmid). Baudelaire's views of man and the world are often illustrated by examples from the Bible and ancient mythology, e. B. God the Father and Son , Angels , Satan , Heaven and Hell , Cain and Abel , Luna , Hermes , Danaiden ( The Bin of Hate ), Sisyphus , Icarus , Hippolyta , Andromache , Sappho , Lethe , Styx .

For Baudelaire, in the spirit of the emerging realism of the big city, the world is predominantly ugly and morbid, man appears torn between the Christian-Platonic tendencies idéal and whimsy , between the powers of light and good and those of dark and even satanic. Like the concept of ennuis , which is also central to Baudelaire , Spleen has the character of a sin of disaffection, a fascination with disgusting and evil. In contrast to this, the ideal and the longing for it stand as a virtue . Stefan George translated the pair of terms with gloom and spirituality . Walter Benjamin defines Spleen as "the feeling that speaks of the catastrophe permanently."

The individual sections of the volume of poems have thematic focuses, but are networked with one another through the speaker's worldview and human image and the corresponding metaphors. The ambivalent motifs dream and reality, rise and fall, eros and death appear throughout:

Dream fantasy of paradise and reality

A few poems describe the speaker's happiness in love, mostly he only experiences it in images of longing of the imagination ( Moesta et errabunda, Eine Kreolin ), on a trip to a distant ideal country ( invitation to a trip ) or, for example, at a chance encounter with a woman on the street who passed "slim, in deep sadness, proud sorrow". In her he sees a soul mate: "I would have loved you and you knew it" ( on one who passed by ). In the poem The Voice , two voices try to influence the speaker: “The earth is a sweet bread” or “Come and travel to dreams”, which is where he flees when “what is” to him “applies to foams of lies”. In Auf ein Mädchen von Malabar, the speaker warns an Indian girl to leave her innocent idyll to Europe: "Why do you, happy child, you now come to us in overcrowded countries that are degenerating in pain." The child's departure into one Imagination journey ends with disillusionment: “How big we see the world when lamps are on, And oh! How small does it see memory. ”Because“ A sailor to Icaria is the soul ”. What "blinked from cities, from climes, never followed mysterious curls." Likewise, in contrast to the Platonic doctrine of ideas, he also sees the beautiful in "faces [n] in which the worm eats furrows in the heart" ( relationships ).

The greed for “splendid pleasure” reveals itself as “child's mind, oh madness!”: It is the “bitter knowledge, secretly hidden on travel” that the “world, so small and eternally the same [...] oasis of Graun in Grames Desert egg ”is what only“ The Lotos odor feast ”makes forgotten. From this the speaker concludes on the basic existential situation of all people: "People worth laughing at, in all latitudes Admire you in your convulsive twitch of death" ( dance of death ). In his distress he asks the representative of the innocent ideal: "Angels full of serenity, say: do you know the horror, the shame of conscience, the powers that harm care" ( reversibility ). In a reversal of this questioning, the evil prince tries the speaker: he wants to know from him what is the best for him and prompts him to describe his vision "the dear flawless, who through her heavenly eye gives you new bloom" ( it is whole ) .

Only in the “gentle drunkenness” […] “can one pick the miracle fruit for which your heart glows”. At the end of the poem Die Reise he calls out to the “old boatman death” “Lift anchor! We are bored of this land, O death. On a journey! "He wants to" dive into the realm of the unknown [...] Whether heaven or hell is the same [for him]! "( The journey ) And, he fears," God [...] might have arranged it like this "," That we have to tread the heavy spade forever In a country you don't know, With bleeding and bare feet In the brittle earth ”( The bony farmer ). Typical of most poems is the earthly suffering of people and the disillusionment of the transcendent meaning of life: The human being is a double being, everyone "has a snake dwelling in himself" ( Der Warner ). It is thrown back on itself, because the sky is the "lid to the large cauldron, where man evaporates unnoticed and widely" ( the lid ). “In a pale light, Im vortex slides” […] “Life shamelessly” […] “and doesn't know what” ( end of the day ).

This disappointment with the state of the world is combined in the poems of the 5th section with the outrage over an unjust world order. Thus the situation of Cain, unloved by God the Father, is contrasted with Abels: “Family of Cain, storm the heavens And fall to earth, God!” ( Abel and Cain ) Accordingly, the speaker assesses the execution of Jesus, which the Father permitted: “I will gladly leave a world where consequently the deeds do not come as dream siblings. I want the sword to perish in it! Peter betrayed the Lord ... well he did right! ”( The denial of St. Peter ). He suffers from "lust, [the] torture of souls" ( The prayer of a pagan ). and refuses the angel who falls down “from the blue” and chastises him “with giant fists”: “And I don't want to!” ( The rebel ).

Rise and fall

In Baudelaire's poems it is seldom the case of ascent alone: ​​"Happy who is behind frustration and suffering, who nestle heavily on the sea of ​​mist of existence, With strong wings can soar and fly To the gardens of light and serenity" ( upswing ). Albatros, the “king of the cloud”, is compared to a poet who only finds his fulfillment when he swings up from putrid foams to the “gardens of light” ( upswing, Icarian lamentation ) and washes himself clean in the “upper air” .

Most of the time, however, the upswing is followed by a crash, e.g. B. The Albatros ( The Albatros ) caught by the people of a ship gliding “on a bitter whirlpool” . This is also the situation of the person who, in the Icarean lament, "broke his arms when he reached for clouds and firn". This Icarus motif is varied in many pictures, e.g. B. in the rushing avalanche ( The lust for nothing ), the water jet of a fountain ( The water jet ): "And then dying like a wave of tired longing that pours out, which flows in an imperceptible gradient to the bottom of my heart" or in that The swan that broke out of the Parisian cage, who “rubbed the pavement bloody fan ornament”, whose “wings crawled white over the gravel” and who “said, the heart full of the lake that cradled it: 'When do you rain water, you? And, lightning, when will you go down? '”( The Swan )

Eros and death

The speaker finds consolation for his suffering in life, but at the same time the aggravation of suffering, time and again in erotic descriptions or fantasy images: the heavenly or hellish beauty of a young woman ( the beautiful ship, hymn to beauty ), hers, the queen of sin, intoxicating attraction ( the hair, foreign scent ) her supple body ( the snake in the dance ), the deep sinking into her beautiful eye and the "slumbering [e] [w] rushing in the shadow [of] her eyelashes" ( semper eadem ) Love experience ( singing in the afternoon, the balcony ). He numbs himself in sexual intoxication when he wants to sneak “in cowardly care” ( The All-Happy ) “in the night in the hall of the bell of lusts to the treasury of your breasts” . Or he looks for the “bed abyss” to “drown his crying”: “I can suck forgetfulness from your mouth, in your kisses Lethe thought dies” ( Lethe ). The “dear woman” who wears “only her jewelery that sounds” enchants him with her “victorious look” and pushes his soul “from the crystal mountains”, where she indulged in solitude and listened to pure choirs ( Das Geschmeide ). This escape from reality by immersing in the dark layers becomes an addiction to "lose oneself in the vaults of unpredictable grief" ( A dream image ) and in the "madness playground" ( The obsessive one ), but it is also connected with fear insatiability ( Sed non satiata ): "These beautiful people will never [...] satisfy a heart that beats like mine". His heart, "as deep as deep gullies" needs a "Lady Macbeth" with her "heart with strength to sin" ( The Ideal ). He is looking for a "young [...] giantess" from prehistoric times, "when the world was still swelling with juices" ( The giantess ).

Often it is “just a mask, ornament to bribe, this face that kisses the bright, sweet grimace” and behind it is the “river of tears [...] because someone gave her life” ( the mask ). The erotic images are also combined with those of death: "And puddles will be as deep as tombs", "One evening, rosy-blue gluten, a lightning bolt will flood between us How long sobbing, heavy with farewell greetings" ( The death of lovers ) . On the other hand, a woman writhing "like a snake" transforms "in the bright light" into a blood-drinking jointed doll that crumbles into a skeleton ( The Metamorphosis of the Vampire ). The speaker calls on these "lost [s], stray from life" to flee, "what you carry within you indefinitely" ( women in damnation ). The intoxication is followed by disillusionment and guilt. So the “conscience research at midnight” leads to the confession of sinful instincts: “The heretic litany glorified”, “Jesus Christ grieved”, “So worthy of the accolade of hell”, “The giantess stupid,” “Kissed […] The dull face of the world of matter "," Drunk without thirst compulsion! ... [...] we fear to hide in the darkness! "Next to him" Satan wiggles restlessly ": He arouses his" lust for sin "for" seductive women "and" potions full of shame and Horror ”( The Annihilation ). A picture of Mary, for which he has built “an altar in the crevices of agony”, he gives the “primeval cruelty of love in [...]” by hurling seven knives into her heart, “oh black lust” ( On a picture of Mary ).

On the streets of the big city

While all sections of the collection of poems deal with the existential situation of humans, the Parisian pictures also focus on the social question. On his walks through Paris, the poet finds evidence of his Weltschmerz in the pathetic existences. This already shows the gloomy atmosphere of the city "full of swarms [...] where, by daylight, the ghost seizes the walker", "where everything, even the horror, is surrounded by a magic breath". "In these angular folds of ancient cities [...] I follow strange creatures, as enchanting as they are weathered, stopped by my evil will". It is the figures at the bottom of society, e.g. B. a ragged old man, at whose "gazing all alone the gifts should snow" ( the seven old men ), a "girl white in red curls, whose badly tattered skirt longing leaves all poverty and beauty to me" ( to a red-haired beggar ), the blind, whose “cloudy pair of stars […] robbed of God's light, staring at the sky”, “as if at distant things” ( the blind ). In the frost of the ragged splendor of worn silk clothes [...] old women drag themselves "driven by the evil wind": "The unformed were once women [...] Let us love them, the hunchbacked ones: they are still souls, these beings" . "You are ashamed that there are you, shrunken shadows!" ( The old women ) Surrounded by "the old whore people so lively dance of death cooing In the" black [n], image that [he] saw spread in the dream at night ", in "Wilted chairs upholstery courtesans [...] with a dark, flattering look that captivates, they have faded". In this playhouse the “poor people […]” who, drunk with their blood, basically prefer to suffer from pain than from death, from hells than from nothing! ”( The game ) The poem Eine creates extreme aggression towards women blood honor : the description of the murder room and the corpse for a rape and murder.


Frontispiece of the Les Épaves collection with the six censored poems of the first edition. The decline of humanity (1866) that grew out of the seven deadly sins is symbolized .

The dating of the individual poems is controversial or impossible. Based on the testimonies of acquaintances and friends of Baudelaire, it is assumed that most of the texts in the first edition were written between 1840 and 1850. Almost half of the poems in the first edition had already been published, in 1851 eleven pieces under the title Les Limbes (German limbo, in-between world, limbo) and in 1855 another 18 pieces in the Revue des Deux Mondes . This publication already bore the later title Les Fleurs du Mal , which, however, came from the critic Hippolyte Babou . In addition to Les Limbes (which was later featured in the work of the writer Georges Durand, which appeared in 1852), Baudelaire also originally envisaged the title Les Lesbiennes (Eng: The Lesbians), which was already mentioned in an unrealized publication announcement from 1845.

Baudelaire's letter to Empress Eugénie requesting a reduction in the penalty for the publication of the Fleurs du Mal Baudelaire's letter to Empress Eugénie requesting a reduction in the penalty for the publication of the Fleurs du Mal
Baudelaire's letter to Empress Eugénie requesting a reduction in the penalty for the publication of the Fleurs du Mal

The first edition went on sale in an edition of around 1,100 copies on June 25, 1857. Already on 7 July 1857, headed prosecutor a criminal prosecution for blasphemy and insulting public morality one. The last allegation had already been made in February of the same year against Gustave Flaubert regarding his novel Madame Bovary . On August 20, 1857, the court sentenced Baudelaire to a fine of 300 francs on the second count. His favorite publisher, Auguste Poulet-Malassis , was also fined . Six incriminated poems - Lesbos, Femmes damnées, Le Lèthe, À celle qui est trop gaie, Les Bijoux, Les Métamorphoses du vampire - had to be removed from the Fleurs du Mal and could not be published any further. In 1858, through a letter to Empress Eugénie requesting that it be forwarded to the Minister of Justice, Baudelaire reduced the penalty to 50 francs. The judgment was formally overturned in 1949.

Baudelaire developed plans for a second edition from the end of 1857, as the censorship due to the judgment had seriously damaged the composition of the first edition and he was not satisfied with the publication anyway. On February 9, 1861 , 1,500 copies of the second version of Fleurs du Mal appeared , without the six censored ones, but with 32 other poems that had been published elsewhere since 1857 and the content was reorganized. In contrast to other works of his own, which he heavily criticized in retrospect, Baudelaire described this book as “almost well done”.

In Brussels , where the French judiciary had no access and where Poulet-Malassis had fled from imminent fines and imprisonment, Baudelaire tried to have the Fleurs du Mal completely reissued as an édition définitive , but this project failed. In 1866, the Les Épaves (dt. Strandgut) collection appeared in a collector's edition with the six censored poems and 17 new ones. The frontispiece showed a picture by Félicien Rops , which was probably based on a design created by Félix Bracquemond for the second edition but not used. This publication was also prosecuted in France. After Baudelaire's death, Théodore de Banville was based on the poet's notes that were difficult to interpret, adding a further 25 poems to a new version, including eleven from the Épaves and thirteen published elsewhere. This edition was published in December 1868 as the first volume of the Œuvres complètes . In 1869 a Complément aux Fleurs du Mal de Charles Baudelaire came out in Brussels , which contained the still forbidden and the unrecorded pieces of the Épaves . Since the posthumous additions or insertions in Baudelaire's original arrangement are now regarded as unsuccessful or even unsuccessful, the version of 1861 with an appendix of the censored and later poems has been valid for literary criticism at least since the decisive new edition of the resuvres complètes of 1975 for reference.

An illustrative implementation was done in 1900 by the symbolist Carlos Schwabe .


Cover illustration by Carlos Schwabe (1900)

Shortly after the publication of the first edition, on August 30, 1857, Victor Hugo wrote an enthusiastic letter to Baudelaire: “  Vos fleurs du mal rayonnent et éblouissent comme des étoiles. Continuez. Je crie bravo de toutes mes forces à votre vigoureux esprit.  »(German:" Your flowers of evil shine and sparkle like stars. Carry on like this. I call your energetic spirit a bravo with all my might. ") There have been positive reviews, for example from Jules Amédée Barbey d'Aurevilly , yes there was also criticism like in Figaro . In addition to the criminally prosecuted allegations, Baudelaire was suspected of socialist inclinations because of the unmistakably time-critical tone of his poems and the political positioning of his publisher Poulet-Malassis. Overall, the public reaction was subdued; The author and work remained suspect to the prevailing Juste milieu of the Second Empire , as did left-wing circles, who missed any political protest in the poems. In February 1866, Baudelaire described Les Fleurs du Mal , which was only known to a small readership, as a “forgotten book”.

Les Fleurs du Mal only developed its effect in the younger generation of Symbolist and Impressionist poetry by Arthur Rimbaud , Paul Verlaines and Stéphane Mallarmé , when they emerged from the shadow of Victor Hugo after 1880. Stefan George produced the first German partial translation in 1891 in a facsimile manuscript of 25 copies. The significance of the Fleurs du Mal finally became apparent at the turn of the 20th century, when a paradigm shift in poetry became evident: From then on, the poet appears typologically as a poète maudit (German: ostracized poet) who is on the fringes of society Opposes the vulgarity of the world with passionate contempt and contradiction and addresses its phenomena (anonymity of mass society, anti-nature of the big city).

Walter Benjamin had been working on a translation of Les Fleur du Mal since 1914 , which he had printed by Richard Weissbach in 1923 . This volume was published under the title Tableaux Parisiens with a preface on the translator's task . Franz Hessel published four further transcriptions of Benjamin's poems from this cycle in his magazine Vers und Prosa.

In 1977 the writer and draftsman Robert Gernhardt jokingly referred to Les Fleurs du Mal with his collection of nonsense stories under the title Die Blousen des Böhmen , by creating a shaking rhyme from the German translation of the title.


  • Claude Pichois (Ed.): Charles Baudelaire: Œuvres complètes . Gallimard, Paris 1975. Annotated complete edition

Translations into German

  • The flowers of evil. Rewrite Stefan George . Bondi, Berlin 1901 and others Reprint Tredition, Hamburg 2013 ISBN 978-3-8472-4351-9
  • The flowers of evil. Übers. Wolf von Kalckreuth . Vignettes, binding jewelry Heinrich Wilhelm Wulff. Insel, Leipzig 1907; again Anaconda, Cologne 2009 (also digitally through the University of Virginia )
  • The flowers of evil. An anthology of German transmissions. Edited and foreword by Erich Oesterheld. Preface by Baudelaire. Verlag Oesterheld, Berlin 1908 a. ö.
  • The flowers of evil. Translated from Otto Hauser . Series: From foreign gardens, 62/63. Alexander Duncker, Weimar 1917
  • The flowers of evil. Translated by Terese Robinson . Nachw. Hans-Horst Henschen . Series detebe-Klassiker, 20999. Diogenes, Zurich 1982 (the translation first 1925)
  • The flowers of depravity. New seals by Carl Fischer. Verlag Johann Bachmair, Söcking 1949 (bilingual)
  • The flowers of evil. Translated by Carlo Schmid . Series: Goldmann's yellow paperbacks, 535. Goldmann, Munich 1959; again Insel, Frankfurt 1976
  • The flowers of evil. Translated by Friedhelm Kemp . dtv , Munich 2004 (first: Fischer Bücherei, Hamburg 1966) ISBN 3-423-12349-4
  • Les Fleurs du Mal. The flowers of evil are complete . rev. Translated by Monika Fahrenbach-Wachendorff. Notes Horst Hina. Epilogue, Kurt Kloocke chronological table. Reclams Universal Library 9973. Opposite the EA rev. Ed. Reclam, Stuttgart 2011 (EA ibid. 1980) ISBN 978-3-15-010797-3 (bilingual; different covers depending on the edition)
  • Übers. Simon Werle : Les Fleurs du Mal. The flowers of evil. Poems. Rowohlt, Reinbek 2017 ISBN 978-3-498-00677-8 (bilingual) Eugen Helmlé Translator Award 2017

See also


  • Karl Heinz Bohrer : Baudelaire's melancholy as time consciousness. In dsb .: the farewell. Theory of grief. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt 1996, ISBN 3-518-40807-0 , pp. 40-319
  • Thorsten Greiner: Charles Baudelaire: "Les Fleurs du Mal". In: Martha Kleinhans, Klaus Stierstorfer (Hrsg.): Readings for the 21st century. Key texts in European literature: England, France, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Russia (lecture series at the University of Würzburg 2000). Königshausen & Neumann, Würzburg 2001, ISBN 3-8260-1944-X , pp. 61–78.
  • Harald Weinrich : Baudelaire reading. In dsb., Literature for readers. Essays and essays on literary studies. Dtv, Munich 1986, ISBN 3-423-04451-9 , pp. 101-131
  • Jean Firges : Baudelaire, "The Flowers of Evil." (Series: Exemplary Series Literature and Philosophy, 8) Sonnenberg, Annweiler 2001, ISBN 978-3-933264-15-2 (interpretation, with own translation of the interpreted poems)

Web links

Wikisource: The Flowers of Evil  - Sources and full texts

in the translation by Stefan George

Wikisource: Les Fleurs du mal  - sources and full texts (French)

Edition by Michel Lévy Frères, 1868

Commons : Les Fleurs du mal  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. In the bilingual Reclam edition (1980), which Monika Fahrenbach-Wachendorff translated, an afterword written by Kurt Kloocke on the question of the title states the following: " Fleurs , which in French means both flowers and blossoms , [would] be great The translator [Monika Fahrenbach-Wachendorff] would have liked to have preferred the title The Blossoms of Evil , especially since it would clarify the relationship between fleur and Mal : Art makes this possible Evil transformed into beauty, it blooms out of evil, as it were; with Mal, on the other hand, it is not just moral evil that is meant, but misery, ruin and suffering from finiteness. If the work [in Reclam] is nevertheless entitled The Flowers of the Evil appears, above all because of a now firmly established tradition of translation, which it would not be easy to break through "(epilogue: p. 391).
  2. ^ Walter Benjamin: Zentralpark, in: Schriften, Vol. 1, Frankfurt am Main 1955, p. 474.
  3. Walther Skaupy: Morality, immorality and religious offenses in the trials against the poets Gustave Flaubert and Charles Baudelaire . In: Great Trials of World History . Emil Vollmer Verlag, ISBN 978-3-88400-101-1 , pp. 99-136.
  4. Thomas Hatry: Im Typographischen. Richard Weissbach and his publishing house. Heidelberg, 2016. S. 42, No. 21 ff.
  5. ^ In Project Gutenberg and online at Zeno.org . George made a selection. Reprint Zweiausendeins , 2011 (public domain). Also online in the original make-up and design through University of Toronto archive.org
  6. It was the first complete, not abridged by the censorship
  7. Bilingual, with annotations. Searchable in online bookshops. The Kemp-Übers. there are different publishers and with different. Bindings.
  8. Born in 1934. Brief vita of the translator at the beginning of ISBN 3-8233-5182-6 , online at Google books