Here is my favourite translation of the poem:

Nature is a Temple where we live ironically
In the midst of forests filled with dire confusions;
Man, hearing confused words, passes symbolically
Under the eyes of the birds watching his illusions.

Like distant echoes in some tenebrous unity,
Perfumes and colours are mixed in strange profusions,
Vast as the night they mix inextricably
With seas unfounded and with the dawn’s delusions.

And there are the perfect perfumes of the Flesh,
That are as green as the sins in the Serpent’s mesh,
And others as corrupt as our own senses,
Having the strange expansion of things infinite,
Such as amber, musk, benzoin and sweet incenses,
That seize the spirit and the senses exquisite.

translated by poet Arthur Symons 1857

another version:


In Nature’s temple living pillars rise,
And words are murmured none have understood,
And man must wander through a tangled wood
Of symbols watching him with friendly eyes.

As long-drawn echoes heard far-off and dim
Mingle to one deep sound and fade away;
Vast as the night and brilliant as the day,
Colour and sound and perfume speak to him.

Some perfumes are as fragrant as a child,
Sweet as the sound of hautboys, meadow-green;
Others, corrupted, rich, exultant, wild,

Have all the expansion of things infinite:
As amber, incense, musk, and benzoin,
Which sing the sense’s and the soul’s delight.

translated by F.P. Sturm, from Baudelaire: His Prose and Poetry, edited by Thomas Robert Smith (New York: Boni and Liveright, 1919)


La Nature est un temple où de vivants piliers
Laissent parfois sortir de confuses paroles;
L’homme y passe à travers des forêts de symboles
Qui l’observent avec des regards familiers.

Comme de longs échos qui de loin se confondent
Dans une ténébreuse et profonde unité,
Vaste comme la nuit et comme la clarté,
Les parfums, les couleurs et les sons se répondent.

II est des parfums frais comme des chairs d’enfants,
Doux comme les hautbois, verts comme les prairies,
— Et d’autres, corrompus, riches et triomphants,

Ayant l’expansion des choses infinies,
Comme l’ambre, le musc, le benjoin et l’encens,
Qui chantent les transports de l’esprit et des sens.

— Charles Baudelaire

The Vision of the White Horse 1798 Philip James De Loutherbourg 1740-1812 Purchased 1969