Classic · Collection · Decadent Movement · French Culture · French Literature · Modernism · Poetry · Symbolism

Charles Baudelaire

To the Reader

To the Reader Folly, error, sin, and penny-pinching
Preoccupy our minds and belabor our bodies
And we feed our amiable remorse
Like beggars nourishing their vermin.

Our sins are stubborn, our repentance weak —
We demand generous payment for our confessions
And we return gaily to the muddy path,
Believing a few abject tears will wash away all of our stains.

Satan Trismegistus* patiently rocks our enchanted spirit
To sleep on the pillow of evil,
And the rich metal of our will
Is vaporized completely by this learned alchemist.

The Devil pulls the strings that move us!
Repugnant things attract us —
Each day we descend one step closer to Hell,
Moving without horror through stinking shadows.

Like a poor debauchee kissing and gnawing
The martyred breast of an ancient whore,
We steal a furtive pleasure along the way,
And we press it hard, like an old orange.

Tightly packed, swarming, like a million tapeworms,
A legion of Demons booze it up in our brains,
And when we breathe, Death, an invisible river,
Descends into our lungs, with a dull groan.

If rape, poison, the dagger, and arson
Have not yet embroidered their pretty patterns
On the banal canvas of our pitiful destinies,
It is only because our soul is — alas! — not bold enough.

But among the jackals, panthers, and bitch-hounds,
The monkeys, scorpions, vultures, and serpents,
The yelping, howling, growling, groveling monsters
In the infamous menagerie of our vices,

There is one who is uglier, nastier, more foul!
Although he makes no grand gestures, no great noise,
He would willingly reduce the earth to ruins
And swallow the world in a yawn;

It is Ennui**! His eye brimming with an involuntary teardrop,
He dreams of scaffolds while smoking a hookah.
You know him, reader, this delicate monster,

Charles Baudelaire, Les Fleurs du Mal. (BiblioLife May 5, 2011) Originally published 1857.


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