French Language Blog

L’ennemi (The Enemy) — Charles Baudelaire, “Les Fleurs du Mal” Posted by on Nov 12, 2010 in Vocabulary

Three years before he joined l’autre monde (the Other World), Baudelaire had this to say about his vision of reality, and its levels of existence:

– “J’ai quelques convictions, dans un sens plus élevé, et qui ne peut pas être compris par les gens de mon temps.”

– “I have a few convictions, in a higher sense, which cannot be understood by the people of my time.”

By declaring that, Baudelaire proves, contrary to what is generally assumed of him, that he is not un homme de son temps (a man of his time.)

In an era where le romantisme is the word of the day, Baudelaire tells us that beyond the physical world, beyond space, and especially beyond le temps (time), he senses another level. A higher one.

Baudelaire does not say it, but he is alluding to the transcendental; to what Platon (Plato) calls le monde des idées (the World of Ideas.)

All his life, he entertained the intuition of it.

Perhaps was he aiming at a certain

maturité ?



Whether he reached it or not, it was only a matter of



And time is precisely the object of his poem.

C’est une course contre la montre (a time race.)

Time is l’ennemi.

Ma jeunesse ne fut qu’un ténébreux orage,
Traversé çà et là par de brillants soleils;
Le tonnerre et la pluie ont fait un tel ravage,
Qu’il reste en mon jardin bien peu de fruits vermeils.Voilà que j’ai touché l’automne des idées,
Et qu’il faut employer la pelle et les râteaux
Pour rassembler à neuf les terres inondées,
Où l’eau creuse des trous grands comme des tombeaux.Et qui sait si les fleurs nouvelles que je rêve
Trouveront dans ce sol lavé comme une grève
Le mystique aliment qui ferait leur vigueur?— Ô douleur! ô douleur! Le Temps mange la vie,
Et l’obscur Ennemi qui nous ronge le coeur
Du sang que nous perdons croît et se fortifie!











 My youth was nothing but a black storm
Crossed now and then by brilliant suns.
The thunder and the rain so ravage the shores
Nothing’s left of the fruit my garden held once.I should employ the rake and the plow,
Having reached the autumn of ideas,
To restore this inundated ground
Where the deep grooves of water form tombs in the lees.And who knows if the new flowers you dreamed
Will find in a soil stripped and cleaned
The mystic nourishment that fortifies?—O Sorrow—O Sorrow—Time consumes Life,
And the obscure enemy that gnaws at my heart
Uses the blood that I lose to play my part.Translated by William A. Sigler


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