The Death of Lovers

No doubt you can spot the keywords which leapt out at me from Charles Baudelaire‘s poem “La Mort des amants” (“The Death of Lovers”, here translated by William Aggeler) from Les Fleurs du mal, but the whole thing is sublime. There’s a Debussy setting of it below, or a more contemporary version here, accompanied by no less than 18 cellists.

We shall have beds full of subtle perfumes,
Divans as deep as graves, and on the shelves
Will be strange flowers that blossomed for us
Under more beautiful heavens.

Using their dying flames emulously,
Our two hearts will be two immense torches
Which will reflect their double light
In our two souls, those twin mirrors.

Some evening made of rose and of mystical blue
A single flash will pass between us
Like a long sob, charged with farewells;

And later an Angel, setting the doors ajar,
Faithful and joyous, will come to revive
The tarnished mirrors, the extinguished flames.


  1. Neither musical treatment approaches the gravid splendor of the words. I am imaging a treatment by Scriabin or Poulenc but most of all Olivier Messiaen. Baudelaire, his feet in shit and his eyes on the stars. Only the most decadent and vile of God’s creatures could rapture language– even with a translation–into the realm of ecstasis.

    • Unfortunately that particular translation doesn’t quite get across the sense of thunder in the third stanza. Another one has “One evening made of mystic rose and blue,/I will exchange a lightning-flash with you” – a great image but the forced rhyme grates (and elsewhere “wafted” is rhymed with “grafted”…eek).

  2. I do love Debussy and I liked his take on the poem, yet I wanted more from the experience than he was willing to give. Of course now I am also wandering what Cesar Franck might do with such luscious wordplay. I think the line you referenced is a special challenge. I would give you my version, but someone might accuse me of being disingenuous. I will listen to Babs.

  3. She is a revelation. You are right. Mea Culpa.

  4. I’m with Mr. Hastings on this one, Scriabin, Poulenc, of Messiaen.could have done amazing versions of this poem. I’m going to pretend they did.

  5. Thanks T. I do respect James, but I am so glad you see my point.
    Debussy would do much better to set Mallarme’ to music as Satie would be the perfect musical paramour for Valery.
    We will pretend together. I can hear my boys even as we speak.

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