The Six Poems That Were Too Provocative For The French Government

Published in 1857 (the first time), Les Fleurs du Mal is a collection of French poems that sparked outcry. Here’s a rundown.

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In 1857, the first collection of Charles Baudelaire’s poetry, Les Fleurs du Mal (The Flowers of Evil) was published. Eleven hundred copies were sold with an extra twenty published on fine paper. And within a month the French government, while acknowledging the “literary merit” of the works, demanded six poems be deleted. But, censorship only proved to create a sensation.


Les Bijoux (The Jewels)

This poem talks of the jewels a woman wears while interacting with her beloved. It begins by describing how she looks “triumphant like Moorish concubines.” But, it was not because of her jewelry that the poem got banned–it is vulgar and describes the scene between the man and woman in stark detail. If you would like to make your own decisions on the piece, here’s the link to the poem with three separate translations.

Le Léthé (Lethe)

Let’s just say this one is not as vulgar, but one of the stanzas is “To bury my head, so full of pain / In your skirts redolent of your perfume, / To inhale, as from a withered flower, / The moldy sweetness of your defunct love.” But the very next stanza goes onto the topic of death. Interesting.

À celle qui est trop gaie (To She Who Is Too Gay)

Okay, this one is actually kind of interesting. The narrator is describing this woman as if she is the sun, the moon, and the stars, and it’s beautifully worded. For example, the fourth stanza finishes with the line “I hate and love you equally!” Isn’t that the very descriptor of love?


Lesbos is an island in Greece and is also the birthplace of Sappho, who was considered the greatest poet. There is even a section of the poet dedicated to her beauty and livelihood, a beauty that could rival Venus. The poem begins with declarations of adoration for the culture, where kisses are “languishing or joyous” and “like cascades.”

Femmes damnées (À la pâle clarté) (Women Doomed (In the Pale Glimmer)

This poem talks about the love between Delphine and Hippolyta. Delphine describes her love for Hippolyta as “You, my heart and soul, my all, half of my own self.” Hippolyta described their love as the feeling after a rich midnight feast. But she still remains uncertain of it. But according to men, women can only serve men even as Hippolyta and Delphine proclaim their love for one another.

Les Métamorphoses du Vampire (The Vampires Metamorphoses)

This one is also a fairly vulgar piece from the original works of Baudelaire. It talks of the amorous interaction between a female vampire and the narrator and the vampire’s ultimate demise into…bones. The narrator also compares it to a weather vane, but I don’t fully understand that. Maybe someone does, but to each their own I guess.

All in all, some of these poems I can understand. I mean, this is 1800s France we’re talking about. But ultimately, in 1861 Baudelaire came out with a second work of poems that did not include the six, but THIRTY-FIVE new ones alongside the original work. And if that isn’t a spectacle, well, I don’t what else could be.