Les Fleurs du Mal revision notes

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  • Created on: 05-06-16 20:27

Au lecteur

  • Baudelaire exploits and subverts any expectations the reader might have. The opening stanza harangues the reader (note the insistent first person plurals, including the reader) with a moralist's vocabulary that combines, and merges through simile, the abstractions of the spirit and the degradations of the flesh
  • The honest exposure of human hypocrisy brooks no contradiction, and is given a particular authority by the poetic form (line 5 is a straightforward example of metre supporting argumentline 8 is more complex in the way sound patterns accompany the syntax):
  • "Trismégiste" (a name normally associated with Hermes Trismegistus, Master of the Occult) transforms Satan into some evil alchemist-magician, capable of lulling humans with hypnotic spells 'sur l'oreiller du mal', dissolving all resistance.
  • The picture here is of a mankind that is submissive and pliant to the darker insincts of its nature. As you read Les Fleurs du Mal, the resononace of line 14 ('Aux objets répugnants nous trouvons des appas') will reverberate more than once.
  • The appeal of the squalid and the ugly is here attributed to satanic perversion - but there is of course a difference between this perverse indulgent wallowing and the asesthetic effort of transforming the repulsive into a poetic object. Or is there? The poem itself raises the question in lines 17-20, where Baudelaire succeeds in giving poetic expression to a sordid travesty of romantic and ****** love
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Au lecteur (2)

  • Lines 1-28 present an unremitting picture of fallen humanity, as terrifying as any sermon.
  • But, unlike the castigations of a preacher, it is not followed by a call to prayer, a command to repent or an assertion of faith in ultimate divine power.
  • Instead, the poet uses his rhetoric to push even beyond the extremes of evil already reached; examine the way in which he introduces 'Ennui', contrasting its isolation with the tendency elsewhere in the poem towards relentless lists (lines 1, 25, 29-32) and its misleading passivity with the bestial energy of other vices.
  • Why should 'l'Ennui', not traditionally one of the seven deadly sins, be identified not only as a vice, but as the worst of all vices? Why, despite its passivity, is it associated with violence and destruction (line 35): 'Et dans un bâillement avalerait le monde;
  • The celebrated conclusion makes it impossible for the reader to sit at a comfortable distance from both the poem and the book that it introduces.
  • Baudelaire throws out an aggressive challenge, calling for the shedding of hypocrisy, for a shared view of the human condition and for a preparedness to see the act of reading Les Fleurs du Mal as inextricably linked to mankind's deepest - if unpalatable - truths, not expressed or explored at an abstract, philosophical or theological distance but rather in the intimate space between the poet's bared soul on the page and the individual reader's fraternal conscience. 
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III - Elévation

  • The image of the poet as bird dominates 'Elévation'
  • Through this image, the poem provides the reader with a further expression of a Baudelairean commonplace; the topography and climate of both Spleen and Idéal.
  • Compared with the anguish and miseries of the everyday ('ces miasmes morbides', 'les ennuis et les vastes chagrins/Qui changent de leurs poids l'existence brumeuse'), the euphoric poetic vision offers bliss, the excitement of power ('sillonnes.../Avec une indicible et mâle volupté'), an intoxicating purity, freedom, peace and oneness with nature
  • How do you explain the use of the verb 'se pâme' in line 6? (to swoon)
  • The ecstatic clarity and power felt by the poet's spirit (or is it his intellect? - see 'les pensers' in line 17) or his whole body (sexual imagery in the second stanza) allows easy access to the meanings of the natural world communicated through the 'langage des fleurs et des choses muettes'
  • The poet is the interpreter of natural mysteries
  • After the confident, assertive rhetoric of personal achievement (line 1-8), the bold, self-addressed imperatives of lines 9-12, what do you make of the switch to the impersonal, slightly distanced 'Heureux celui.../Celui dont.../Qui...?' 
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VII - La Muse Malade

  • This sonnet has the distinction of containing the only grammatical error in Baudelaire's poetry: 'réfléchis' in line 3 should be feminine to agree with 'la folie et l'horreur' (as 'froides' clearly does)
  • For technical reasons the combination of vowel + mute e + written consonant (as there would be in 'réfléchies') was not allowable in strict French versification (except in a rhyme ending)
  • So Baudelaire allows prosodic rules to override grammar
  • But why didn't he use another construction altogether?
  • Why might it be thought appropriate to highlight such a clash of prosody and grammar in this particular poem? Maybe because of references to beauty and art e.g. Apollo - passion overriding reason
  • Baudelaire's sense of his own impoverished inspiration contrasts at once with the awe inspired by the phares of poem VI and yet parodoxically the sonnet belongs to the same vein of artistic creation with simultaneously bewails and dignifies the human condition
  • The tercets revert to the desire to return to some ancient pre-Christian harmony, specifically to the ample and full-blooded rhythm of its verses
  • The rhymes of the octet repay close study
  • Their phonetic complexity - which goes beyond the final rhyming syllable - contradicts (as indeed does the whole poem) the central theme of debilitated poetic inspiration
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X - L'Ennemi

  • In lines 1-2, the poet describes his youth, implying a time dominated by suffering, alleviated only occasionally by the brilliance associated with youth in the earlier poem
  • The poet feels that he has harvested nearly all his creative ideas ('bien peu de fruits vermeils')
  • But the desire to be creative, however ironised, however tentative in its questioning, is still alive - as it was in 'La Muse Malade' ('Je voudrais qu'exhalant l'odeur de la santé/Ton sein de pensers forts fût toujours fréquenté')
  • Here in 'L'Ennemi', the poet recognises that, in order for a further 'season' to produce new poetic fruit, he will need to work hard (a recurrent Baudelaire theme, expressed here in very physical terms: 'il faut employer la pelle et les râteaux') - but, even so, does his creative soil contain sufficient nutrient to sustain 'les fleurs nouvelles' he dreams about?
  • It is impossible not to associate these flowers with the title of the book and both with the metaphor of poems as flowers
  • The answer to the poet's anxious questions remains open - unless one sees the rest of the poems in the collection as 'fleurs nouvelles' -the response within the poem is not so optimistic
  • The enemy of the title who has so far lurked unmentioned surfaces in the final tercet but the mystery of who or what it is is deepened rather than resolves
  • The logic of the seasonal metaphor might lead one to think that time is the main enemy, but the syntax of lines 12 and 13 suggests that 'le Temps' and 'l'obscur Ennemi' are different
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XIX - La Géante

  • Monumental authority, power, superiority: these attributes of the female figures in the preceding poems XVII and XVIII are pushed to hyperbolic extreme in 'La Géante', a surreal sonnet in which the poet imagines himself willingly subservient to a gigantic woman
  • Curiously, this 'jeune géante', despite her size, her 'terribles jeux', her hint of melancholy (lines 7-8), offers nothing but happiness to the poet (look at the matching similes in lines 4 and 14)
  • Given Baudelaire's notorious desire to shock, this poem shouldn't be taken that seriously
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XXI - Hymne à la Beauté (Yoojin's notes)

  • From the title, we expect something broadly religious and positive because it says “hymne”. 
  • Hymns are made to be sung so we expect a regularity in the form of the poem. 7 stanzas, 4 lines, alexandrines (almost 90% of Baudelaire’s poems).
  • Like a traditional hymn, there is a sort of a refrain, a recurring idea “Viens-tu”, “Sors-tu”, synonyms for Hell (abime, gouffre noir, etc…), “Qu’importe” (motif of the last couple of stanzas) !! In the last stanza of “Le Voyage”, Baudelaire quite deliberately cites himself “plonger au fond du gouffre, Enfer ou Ciel, qu’importe?”
  • Reference to classical image of Sirens of l’Odyssée, representing the image of fatal attraction and of irresistibility of Beauty.
  • Beauty can transform men (heroes), amphora a vessel containing wine
  • In a general and broader sense, there is some orientalism in the bijoux, parfum, ventre. Exotic aspect and orientalism quite characteristic of Baudelaire. 
  • Sensoriness, synaesthesia
  • Beauty is an eternal concept, absolutely stuck in the present. Baudelaire is trying to extract the eternal Beauty from the ephemeral surroundings. This is linked to the immortality of Baudelaire that will live forever through the beauty of his poetry.
  • Beauty as a transcending means to survive transience. (maybe in “d’un Infini que j’aime..”?). Enjambement to emphasize the image of opening the door. 
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XXI - Hymne à la Beauté (2)

  • The repeated questions (lines 1 and 9), seeking to locate the origin of beauty, introduce a moral dimension: the very asking of the question challenges the moraliser's contention that 'le Bien' and 'le Beau' are synonymous
  • For Baudelaire, the insistent answer, despite the consequences, is that the source of beauty is irrelevant
  • Lines 17-20 make it clear that Baudelaire is fully conscious of where his amoral search for beauty will lead; the two cameo images of the mayfly drawn inexorably to its death by the candle-flame (but revering the instrument of its death) and the mistress as tomb summarise the dynamics of the whole collection and act as premonitory warnings of what awaits
  • The prophecy launches the 'plot' and the last lines of the book remind us of its temporary fulfilment
  • Beauty is here defined in highly sensual and sexual terms
  • The female body ('ton oeil, ton souris, ton pied') can give the poet glimpses of the infinite, the Ideal, a realm of sensation and experience that is unknown
  • This glimpse cures - momentarily - the anguish of living in a 'univers...hideux' where time weighs heavily
  • Note the final description of Beauty in lines 26-27
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XXIII - La Chevelure

  • 'La Chevelure' is a poem of ecstatic response to animal charm, of intoxication which is at once physical and spiritual
  • The texture, perfume, colour, the rhythmic swaying of the hair all affect the poet's senses and provoke a tide of images which surges through the whole poem
  • Study the various metamorphoses which the hair undergoes ('toison...mouchoir...forêt...houle...océan' etc); the imagery is impressively movile, depending on metaphor rather than simile, and switching audaciously from one line to the next
  • The poem's shifting energy derives partly from the suggestive tensions within it: between future desire (J'irai...je plongerai...saura...sèmera') and the thirst for memories of the past; between the idea of escape and easy-flowing movement (notice the metrical stress on 'voguent...nage...houle') and the idea of peaceful shelter and refreshment ('alcôve... port... pavillon... oasis... gourde'); between images of land and sea; between light and dark.
  • Examine the use of evocative vocabulary, especially 'moutonnant...encolure...pavillon (two possible meanings - canopy/flag will give two different images)... crinière...'; and note the unusual juxtapositions ('amoreuse d'ivresse...féconde paresse...cheveux bleus'), lines of expressive rhythm (13, 19, 25), the lilting sound-echoes and subtle internal rhymes
  • This is a poem that will yield up more of its secrets with each reading, so rich is it in unsuspected patterns of sound, image and suggestion
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XXV - 'Tu mettrais l'univers entier dans ta ruelle

  • The desanctification of the woman deepens in this poem; her animal cruelty is that of the heartless courtisane, the mechanical prostitute (note that 'ruelle' in line 1 refers ti the space alongside a bed)
  • But line 2 again makes Baudelaire's depiction of the femme-vampire (line 10) more subtle than the commonplace - she, like the poet, like the 'hypocrite lecteur', cannot escape
  • The woman has neither consciousness (lines 8-9) nor conscience (line 11), not even sufficient to react violently against the fact that, as his muse, she is instrumental in shaping the poet's genius (line 17)
  • The poet expresses a rejection akin to that expressed so bitterly by the mother in 'Bénédiction', but the woman is not aware if nature's hidden purpose
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XXVIII - Le Serpent qui Danse

  • Title privileges one of the many images in the poem: why choose the snake?
  • A poetic form developed in the Renaissance is the blason anatomique, a poem which lists and praises the bodily attributes of the mistress
  • Poem moves from skin to hair to eyes to gait to hair to body to mouth in a catalogue of the woman's beauties and their effect on him
  • The reader recognises echoes of earlier adulations: the scented hair as sea, and spur to euphoric imaginative adventure (La Chev), the deep coldness of the eyes (Tu mettrais..), the sinuous walk and the intoxicating kiss - analyse the contribution of similes
  • Thematic sameness is always refined by differences of form
  • This is the first poem of LFdM to contain within it lines of varying lengths (octosyllables and pentasyllables)
  • The rhythmic confidence, the conspicuous metrical variation line on line draw attention to the way in which the poetic form and its content (the swaying woman who walks 'en cadence') match perfectly
  • Rhymes exceed their usual musical colouring: 'profonde' shares three consonants with 'parfums' as well as rhyming with 'vagabonde'
  • Lines 9 and 11 echo each other throughout not just at their ends (the same is true of lines 18 and 20)
  • 'En cadence' appropriately enough inspires a rich correspendence in 'serpent qui danse'
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XXIX - Une Charogne

  • Poem is notorious for its evoction of a rotting animal carcass and its cruel reminder to the poet's companion of her own mortality
  • But alongside the descriptions of the loathsome, the deliberate provocatins of the genteel reader, there lie deeper reflections on the role of art in the face of transcience and death
  • The ironic contrast between the term of endearment 'mon âme' uttered as the poet urges his mistress to remember what they saw on 'ce beau matin d'été si doux', and the pornographic suggestions of the second stanza sets in motion the play of registers on which the poem depends, as well as preluding (and making more vicious) the later comparison of carcass and mistress
  • The play of registers is at one level a poetic tour de force, a response to a challenge, a bold mingling of the 'acceptable' vocabulary of verse (lines 2,4,14,21-22,25-28,39-41) with the insalubrious prose of realism (lines 5-8, 15-17, 33-36)
  • At another level, it relates closely to Baudelaire's central ambition to transmute baseness into gold through poetry, or, as the collection's title implies, to cultivate the beautiful from man's evil condition
  • Indeed, the image of the carcass opening out 'comme une fleur' is a further echo of the title
  • Note the ways in which simile and metaphor are used as key ingredients in the process of transformation that takes place between lines 13 and 32 (not lines 33-36 which revert brutually to the real world eyed through the gaze of a scavenger)
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XXIX - Une Charogne (2)

  • The point is not simply that the images of water, wind and grain purify the impure, but also that the very evocation stills that which was all movement, preserves and gives form to that which disappears
  • Lines 29-32 stress the difference between the transcience of material forms and the miraculous resurrection achieved through the combination of art and memory
  • Given that the major part of the poem (lines 1-36) is recollection ('Rappelez-vous l'objet'), isn't it possible to see the description as the poet's own completion of an 'ébauche lente à venir'?
  • This self-reflective reading prepares the way for the dramatic last stanza in which the poet vaunts his power to immortalise his love, to redeem the bodily decay of his mistress through those very same poetic means he has used to idealise and preserve the decomposing remains of the animal
  • Matter decays but creations of the mind live on
  • Would it matter to the woman who was the 'étoile de (ses) yeux'and the 'soleil de (sa) nature'?
  • What significance would you give the use of the vous form of addressed, a form not used in any other poems from XXII-XXXIX?
  • The poet's voice in 'Une Charogone' is at its most confident - confident of his posterity and confident (indeed almost vengeful) in his attitude towards the woman
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XXXI - Le Vampire

  • The title reminds us of the 'buveur du sang du monde', the demonic, cruel courtesan muse of poem XXV; the repeated 'Toi' of the opening stanza takes us back to the previous poem - but contrast the descriptive addition, 'l'unique que j'aime', with the plaintive litany of lines 1-11, and the invocative in prayer with the curse of line 12
  • Study the insistent analogies used by the poet to stress his dependence of the woman: in the light of La Chevelure, what is surprising about the image of the carcass and vermine?
  • The second half (lines 13-24) of the poem (norice how the unusual rhyme scheme helps to define the two equal 'movements' in the poem) reveals with a poignant honesty the truth that the suffering is generated by the self
  • 'Je suis de mon coeur le vampire' memorably capturs the same idea in a later poem, 'L'Héautontimorouménos'
  • Self-humiliation is an inescapable part of the poet's being (and shared by the 'hypocrite lecteur'?); but so is the self-awareness displayed here and it is in this 'conscience dans le Mal' that some relief and glory will be found (see 'L'Irrémédiable')
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XXXVI - Le Balcon

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XL - Semper Eadem

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XLIV - Réversibilité

  • Reversibility is a theological notion which holds that the virtue attained through the goodness done by some is communal to all and that, likewise, the evil done by some becomes the guilt of all; in other words, there is a transfer of grace and fault
  • As invariably he does with theological terms, Baudelaire changes the context
  • When he asks insistently whether his perfect mistress has experienced the suffering that he knows so well, the questions hide a further one: does she sense some transfer of his suffering to sully her angelic bliss?
  • The answer to this question might shed light on the de profundis of the last stanza, where the issue would then be: can the transfer be reversed so that his spiritual health can be repaired through the gift of her prayers?
  • The power of this poem lies in the disturbing contrast between the shining and ritualised addresses to the mistress and the longer, deeply personal evocations of suffering that intervene between the repeated lines
  • Note the very particular comparison between the fearful heart and the piece of paper screwed up before being thrown away (a common experience for a poet); such images shock by their appeal to the everyday
  • In all these dreadful evocations, there are of course pictures of a general despair suffered by the poet but there are also specific echoes of the earlier cycle
  • Note 'la secrète horreur du dévouement' of line 19 (self-sacrifice)
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XLIV - Réversibilité (2)

  • The Biblical allusion is to King David, for whom a young woman was provided on his deathbed in an attempt to rekindle the King's vitality - a transfer of physical health that Baudelaire's 'ange' could have certainly achieved
  • But, while making this compliment to her physical beauty, the poet gives ultimate prominince to her spiritual power (lines 24-25)
  • Notice how, in this cycle so far, the poet has sought to achieve a balance between flesh and spirit: in 'Semper Eadem', the poet finds the illusion of refuge in the woman's eyes on her body (c.f. 'à l'ombre de vos cils' with the 'à l'ombre de ses seins' of La Géante)
  • In poem XLI, the poet refuses to fall into the trap laid by his demon by denying the most ****** suggestion of the query and responds with an idealisation of the woman's body
  • The verse-form repeats that of 'Le Balcon' but the contrast between the poems is devastating
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XLVIII - Le Flacon

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XLIX - Le Poison

  • The word poison, already used in 'Le Balcon' to describe the woman's breath and, significantly, in 'Le Flacon', attached to the memory of his love, was commonly used in the 19th century to refer to any harmful (and often addictive) potion or substance e.g. opium
  • Wine and opium both have transformative power
  • Intoxication changes the hovel into majestic architecture; opium extends the infinite
  • But the first is plainly illusion, and the second offers a spiritual plentitude that is ironically full of 'plaisirs noires et momes'
  • In this passionate galanterie, neither equals in power the effect produced on the poet by the woman's eyes and kisses
  • In the wake of the valedictory poem, the emphasis on the particularising 'yeux verts' gives a further clue that a new love cycle has begun
  • But just as 'Semper Eadem' mitigated the change from one cycle to another through its startling title, so here 'Le Poison' replays the closing image of 'Le Flacon', suggesting sameness, and also sustains the theme of vertigo (line 19)
  • Memory has been proposed as a bulwark against the threat of extinction, but memory itself can be vertiginous (Le Flacon)
  • In 'Le Poison' the present replaces the past, memory as theme disappears, and both vertigo and oblivion are welcomed as the ecstatic experiences produced by the woman's 'poison'
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XLIX - Le Poison (II)

  • The poet abandons himself, as he did in the closing lines of 'Semper Eadem'
  • He ironises on the effect of wine and opium, but is there not also a more frightening ironic awareness in his apparent adulation of the woman's power?
  • Look at lines 13-15: the refreshment implied by the image of eyes as lakes is thrown into doubt both before the image by the 'poison qui découle' and afterwards by the suggestion of sea-water in 'gouffres amers'
  • In a rather different context, we have already found this open-eyed, perversely heroic collusion with death and the darker forces; it will not be for the last time
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L - Ciel Brouillé

  • Poet is engaged in a descriptive challenge of the changeable qualities of the mistress
  • He uses, almost as a tool of exploration, the analogy between woman and weather
  • Her eyes, so definitively green in 'Le Poison', take on the changing colours of the sky
  • But it is an unusual sky, pale, lacking in intensity and its warmth diluted - a white cloud-barrier to the 'inaccessible azur', reducing the ideal-seekers to tears
  • How do you interpret the 'mal inconnu qui les tord'?
  • The third stanza suggests a further analogy
  • The difficulty of description is related to the woman's ambiguity
  • She is neither the tropical sunlight of the first mistress, nor the dawn-like brilliance of the second; but the muted, dappled, mist-laden landscape which mingles sun/rain, passion/tears
  • Study the alternation of woman and climate, idea and image in the final movement
  • If the love relationship is measured according to the progress of the seasons, one can take the positioning of this poem to be significant
  • The 'brumeuse saisons' might refer either to spring or autumn - whatever, winter lies ahead
  • The 'plaisris plus aigus que la glace et le fer' will be prophetic in an unexpected way
  • The verse form consists of rhyming couplets allocated to separate quatrains
  • Another formal curiosity is the use of masculine rhymes throughout, rather than alternately
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LIII - L'Invitation au Voyage (Yoojin's notes)

  • The woman kind of fades through out the poem. In the last part, the woman is presented through what the poet does = very Baudelaire like how the woman like an object.
  • Dedicated to Marie Daubrin with whom Baudelaire had a very strange relationship. With her, he was the least sexist. As if he’s correcting himself in “mon enfant, (non), ma sœur”. Sœur shows that he’s trying to regard as an equal.
  • Invitation au voyage is either invitation of voyage to death of to pleasure (voyage a cythère)
  • Religious connotations, deep blue.
  • Baudelaire very well acquainted with the Bible, Arthurian legend, classical legend.
  • “ciels” in this plural form is a specific term in Arts rather than “cieux”. 
  • Meter: pairs of pentasyllables followed by a single hectasyllable.
  • Refrains pairs of hectasyllables.
  • Unusal regularity: not written in free verse but not alexandrines either.
  • Most people are used to the alexandrine as the default meter. We can notice that this poem is different merely by looking at the poem and hearing it.
  • Use of the “vers impairs” odd number of syllables means that there is a stress on one certain word because there isn’t any middle caesura.
  • The lines are less self contained units (you don’t know when they end because there isn’t a clear middle caesura), they run into each other creating the musicality of the poem.
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LIII - L'Invitation au Voyage (2)

  • The poem combines the theme of escape to an ideal country with that of a lover's plea
  • The gentle musicality of the poem is the result of careful artistic choice: the sonorous rhymes (often rich or drawn close by short couplets) which have loosely disseminated echoes throughout the whole poem; the fluid run-on lines; the shifting but never jerky rhythm; the alliterations and assonances (lines 11-12, 18-20, 29-31) and the restful, reassuring refrain
  • The alternating verse-form (long stanza, short refrain) helps to make this a two-toned poem
  • The address of the first line suggests a calm, almost platonic love-relationship with the woman - there is evidence elsewhere in the poem to suggest also that the woman is capricious?
  • Landscape reminds that woman's mood is changeable ('Alternativement tendre, rêveur, cruel')
  • Note the different emphases in each stanza (the flattery of the first, the mixture of the sensual spiritual persuasions in the second, the rich sleepy indolence and the celebration of the woman as a universal queenly figure in the third); the varying qualities of light as the poem unfurls; the changing tenses and the significant development from 'Songe' to 'Vois', the two inviting imperatives
  • The appealing abstractions of the refrain play their part in the invitation; their very repetition smoothes away all fears of the strange 'là-bas' which, by the end of the poem, has become warmly familiar
  • Note the idealised abstract qualities ('ordre, beauté, luxe, calme, volupté')
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LXII - Moesta et Errabunda

  • 'Sad and wandering' in the feminine: the title refers to Agathe, the third named of the 'héroïnes secondaires' 
  • The adjectives immediately distinguish her from the aggressive (if tender-hearted) Sisina, the divine Françoise and the aristocratic, confident 'dame créole'
  • On the other hand, they draw her into a closer affinity with the essential melancholy of the poet
  • She is Parisian; she knows the suffering and moral ugliness of the city
  • The poem reveals the mensonge of the genteel sestet of the sonnet that precedes it: the 'vrai paus de gloire' contains the 'immonde cité' and 'la boue' as well as the 'antiques manoirs' and the 'ombreuses retraites'
  • Rather than suggest a journey from the 'pays parfumé' to the 'bords de la Seine', the poetic imperative is to urge the reverse and to regret the 'paradis parfumé'
  • Amongst these secondary heroines, the poet seeks a soul-mate
  • Agathe's qualities attract the poet, provoke in him the major themes of the journey, the lost paradise, a sense of exile, the possibility of recall through poetry
  • She also inspires a poem whose form (five-line stanzas with first and last lines more or less the same) has been used once in each of the principal love cycles - 'Le Balcon' and 'Réversibilité'
  • All three of these poems seek to establish a special intimacy between poet and woman
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LXII - Moesta et Errabunda (2)

  • The poem moves from a paradise distant in space (1-20) to a paradise distant in time (21-30)
  • The celebration of 'amours enfantines' is unique within LFdM: notice how it stems from a disgust with 'l'immonde cité'
  • Nostalgia for a lost childhood
  • Note the variations within the formula of repetition, not so much variation in wording as variation in punctuation and context
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LXVI - Les Chats (Yoojin's notes)

  • All of the alexandrines have a caesura at the hemistich which gives the impression of a rocking movement, creating a trance like consciousness, characteristic of the baudelairean rhythm.
  • Originality of structure: in contrast to the classic sonnet which opposes the unity of meaning of the two quatrains with the two tercets, Baudelaire opposes the first quatrain to the first tercet, and the second quatrain to the second tercet in meaning.
  • First quatrain (cats are presented as sedentary and confined to the house) VS First tercet (all the while remaining static “allongés…”, thematic aexpansion “au fond des solitudes”)
  • Second quatrain (“ténèbres”) VS Second tercet (lexicon of light “étincelles”, “étoilent”)
  • Effect: reveals double nature of the cat: homebody yet savage, domesticated yet untameable, 
  • Despite his attraction for darkness, he maintains his independence.
  • His difficult position in maintaining the attraction for silence, solitude and independence gives him the power to be in communion with the superior truths, inaccessible to mortals.
  • The combination of title and first words in this sonnet promises another exploration of the link
  • In fact, this expectation is disappointed: the cats and the 'amoureux' are joined by the 'savants', the cats are praised in line 3 but undermined by the unromantic adjectives of line 4
  • These same adjectives also reflect ironically on the 'amoureux' and the 'savants' (to which group does the poet belong?); the 'mûre saison', suggestive at first sight of experienced wisdom, now evokes the more banal physical disadvantages of age
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LXVI - Les Chats

  • The second quatrain maintains the association between the three groups in a first line that replays line 1 of the poem - what is the causal link between lines 5 and 6?
  • In Greek mythology, Erebus is the son of Chaos and the husband of Night: what is the effect of this sudden elevation of the cats to a mythic role?
  • How seriously can it be taken, especially since it is not easy to reconcile 'coursiers' with 'sédentaires'? Consider too the (temporary) ambiguity of line 7 where the 'pris pour' could mean both 'mistaken for' and 'appointed as' (Line 8 eliminates the first reading)
  • Irony creates a certain distrust in the reader
  • The tercets take the cats further away from the gentle house companions of lovers and sage
  • The hyperbole of 9-11 which turns the cats into symbols of deep contemplation is tempered by the clear-eyed realism of 'Ils prennent...les nobles attitudes' and 'Qui semblent s'endormir'
  • These are, after all, only cats imitating sphinxes and the sphinxes themselves only appear to sleep an eternal sleep
  • It is in the final tercet that irony disappears - dematerialising in the darkness, the cats sparkle with electricity and the tantalising, hypnotic glare of the eyes lures the poet. the 'amoureux', the 'savants' and the reader back into their own mystical contemplation
  • These last three lines are an excellent example of a taut phonetic block that coincides with both formal and semantic blocks: analyse the fertile display of sound patterns
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LXIX - La Musique

  • Music breaks the silence of cats, owls and pipe-smoking rêverie
  • The enchantments of rhythm excite the non-rational side of the poet's nature, luring him away from contemplative serenity and stirring within him a concert of emotions
  • Music acts as an invitation to the poet: it takes hold of him and launches him on a journey towards the ideal, moulding itself to his sensations and emotions and intensifying them
  • Notice how the elements normally thought of as stimulating (mist, night, storm and even the 'immense gouffre') are welcomed as stimulants
  • At these times, music becomes a passive reflection of the poet's own anchored spirit and despair
  • Negative tone of the broken, verbless last sentence dispels the euphoria of all that precedes
  • How well does Baudelaire sustain the three-fold analogy between music, sea and emotions?
  • In this sonnet, as the title might suggest, rhythmical movements and moods are of particular importance
  • He exploits the unusual alteration of two very different line-lengths (and alexandrine and the pentasyllable, pair and impair
  • Note how he accentuates the changes and fluctuations of mood: the matching sense of expansiveness in lines 3 and 5; the sonorous swell, impelled by alliteration, of line 7; the prolonged run-on effect which precipitates the poeme into a precarious ride over the 'gouffre' in line 11-13; and the final, halting sentence
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LXXIV - La Cloche Fêlée

  • The cosiness of the opening scene is relief after the somewhat manic fantasies and ironies of the previous poems
  • Bittersweet memories are magically recalled in the protective warmth of the winter fire, mingled with, and indistinguishable from, the sound of bells
  • The reassuring harmony of the scene is enhanced by the way in which phrases are given their own careful tonality
  • Look at the sound patterns, noting the need to pronounce the ending of 's'élever' so that it rhymes with 'hiver' (a so-called rime normande)
  • The theme of memory has so far always signalled a more positive mood in the poet (e.g. 'le vin de souvenir' in 'La Chevelure', the 'mère des souvenirs' in 'Le Balcon' and 'le souvenir enivrant' of 'Le Flacon'
  • Yet here 'les souvenirs lointains' do not produce a poem of time conquered or love preserved; they disappear as smoke
  • Instead, the second stanza focuses on the church bell, its full throated resonance impinging on the rêverie - this bell is clearly not that of the title
  • There is a certain envy in the description of lines 5-8
  • There is a suggestion that the poet himself does not possess those qualities attributed to the 'cloche au gosier vigoureux'
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LXXIV - La Cloche Fêlée (2)

  • The switch to overt introspection ('Moi, mon âme est fêlée') coincides with the switch from octet to sestet
  • In another respect, this sonnet recalls the earlier sequence (poems VII-IX) in which the poem lamented his muse
  • Line 10 alludes to his creative ambition which is expansive even in his moments of despair (a central point that needs stressing), but his poetic voice, as flawed as his soul, cannot always (the 'souvent' is important) match the 'bruit des carillons qui chantent dans la brume'
  • Study how the battlefield scene relates to the second quatrain
  • The combination of three couplets in the sestet is very unusual - what is the effect?
  • The poem ends in a series of delaying precisions, each adding one more suffocating detail to the anguish and each taking the reader further away from the safety and comfort of the first stanza
  • What is the full significance in terms of the overall metaphors (poet = cracked bell = dying soldier) of the closing 'immenses efforts'
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LXXV - Spleen (Yoojin's notes)

  • In Baudelaire’s Epilogue for Fleurs du Mal; “every enormity flourishes as might a flower”.
  • Spleen is like an “ennui” of the city (how the French viewed the English industrial society, unpleasant,etc..). In this poem, we can find this aspect too; “la ville”
  • Pluviôse: Republican calendar to get rid of the religious connotations of the traditional calendar. It can also seem that a poem about feeling blue is also filled with political statements (reminding the comfortable bourgeoisie of the time of the guillotine.)
  • Germinal is a title of political statement because it is a revolutionary month. This one word is doing so much work because has a lot of depth.
  • Leakey: “Baudelaire’s pun on ‘fleurs’ is rather more subtle than the obvious one on ‘mal’, but on reflection it seems clear that the two senses he has in mind can only be the following: his poems may be considered a product of evil, and in that sense to ‘flower’ from it; at the same time, like flowers, they are adornments of evil.
  • Or to put it more fully: his poems are ‘flowers of evil’ first of all by virtue of their depiction or illustration of the evil from which they derive; but secondly also, by showing that even a product of evil may be beautiful like a flower, and that true poetry, by definition, beautified whatever it may come into contact with.”
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LXXV - Spleen (2)

  • The 'spleen' poems do not feature until near the end of the collection
  • Pluviôse, the name given by the French Revolutionary calendar to a month that corresponds to a period from 20/21st January to 20/21st February, is here transformed into some malevolent host serving darkness and chill to the dead and death to the living
  • The poet's presence is located next to the 'voisin cimetière'
  • Decay reigns - compare the scrawny cat trying to find a place to rest with the creatures evoked in 'Les Chats' - what do the state of the cat and the attic room tell you about the poet?
  • The wind in the high gutters becomes the wail of a dead poet whose spirit - like the cat - searches for refuge (look at the stress pattern and internal rhyme both of which highlight 'erre'
  • The 'triste voix' echoes the 'voix affaiblie' of 'La Cloche Fêlée': the inevitable voice of poetry?
  • The bell heard is no longer the 'cloche au gosier vigoureux' but the heavy-toned 'bourdon', a lamentation rather than a call to worship
  • The pervasive dampness touches everything: the log on the fire, the clock, the mouldly pack of cards and, in the past, even their owner
  • Comment on the weird cacophony generated in lines 8-10
  • How do you interpret the final, narrowed focus on the two playing cards - JoH and QoS
  • Love reappears in the form of the macabre, trivialised recollection of two faded aristocrats
  • The sonnet consists essentially of apparent description, with the poet's presence being discreetly hinted at in the 'voisin' and 'Mon chat', the mode evoking the inner sense of spleen
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LXXVI - Spleen II

  • The absent 'je' of the first Spleen poem asserts its presence immediately in a line that stands alone in its hyperbole
  • Memories now become the measure of past time, not a protection against its disappearance
  • There is a sense of overburden, of a mind in which imaginative riches have turned to clutter
  • Notice the way in which the comparisons of lines 1-7 are comparisons of degree
  • But not only of degree (stressing difference): what associations (stressing similarity) are attached to the objects found in the 'meuble à tiroirs'? Who or what are the 'morts' of line 7?
  • Lines 8-14 repeat in reverse order and in broad terms the imagery of lines 2-7, moving from comparisons of degree to direct metaphorical identification (although lines 6-7 contain both)
  • The 'cimetière' in the engraving, the 'voisin cimetière' of the last poem, have invaded his being
  • The memories within him are eaten away like corpses in a cemetry - destroyed by remorse
  • Unusual form of analogy between worms and remose in lines 9-10
  • The 'meuble à tiroirs' is matched by the 'vieux boudoir', itself a reminder with its 'odeur d'un flacon débouché' of 'Le Flacon'
  • But what is the essential difference between the scent bottle in 'Le Flacon' and that of line 14?
  • Compare too the bloodless 'pastels plaintifs et les pâles Boucher' (an 18th century artist) with the search for the 'rouge idéal' in 'Le Flacon'
  • These pictures are alone in breathing in the once powerful scent, trying to recapture, like the playing cards in Spleen I, some amour défunt - but the love cycles are in the past
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LXXVI - Spleen II (2)

  • The gap after line 14 indicates change, even if the rhymes remain essentially the same to the ear from lines 11-18
  • Comparison of degree remains however (Rien n'égale)
  • It is curious how measurement plays such a role in this poem, as if the sense of excess and extreme dejection has provoked an obsessive need to define difference through measurement
  • But the comparisons of degree are made to look cumbersome by the brilliant conclusion of 'boiteuses journées' or the provocative juxtaposition of 'ennui, fruit' - suggestive
  • Time, like snow, like 'ennui', produces a featureless, endless landscape
  • The poet - addressing himself as 'matière vivante' but petrifying immediately - replaces snow with sand, and sees himself as a forgotten victim of time, a 'vieux sphinx ignoré' - self image
  • What are the implications for the poet's creativity of the closing couplet?
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LXXVII - Spleen III

  • The stucture of this poem is extraordinary; it begins begins with the simplest, assertive form of comparison, 'Je suis comme', and then draws a portrait of the king
  • The climate of spleen is rain (the snow an desert mists of Spleen II are unusual)
  • If the poet can be master of this 'pays pluvieux', he might conquer spleen
  • But even as its king, he will still suffer from an incurable world-weariness
  • The normal distractions (notice how his dying subjects are assimilated with these distractions) no longer work
  • Bawdy songs fail to amuse and the courtisanes fail to titillate
  • Not even savage slaughter can appeal to his cruel ******
  • The very list of the failed attempts to relieve spleen emphasises its power
  • At what level does the comparison of poet and king continue to operate throughout the poem?
  • Which of the details strikes the most resonant chord?
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LXXVIII - Spleen IV

  • This poem depicts a one-sided battle between Spleen and Hope taking place in the poet's spirit
  • Any hope of overthrowing the tyranny of depression is futile (see the failures of Spleen III) and soon crushed, leaving the poet prey to Anguish
  • Trace the structural development of the poem: the movement from the vague and trailing 'ennuis' of line 2 to the ruthlessly specific 'Angoisse' of line 19; from the indeterminate 'esprit gémissant' to the acute personal reference of 'mon âme' and 'mon crâne'; from the claustrophobic impressions of the outside world to morbid inner hallucinations
  • How are these developments interrelated and drawn together, and how does Baudelaire create the sense of a tightening circle similar to 'La Cloche Fêlée' and Spleen I?
  • What part do the repetetive time clauses (lines 1-12) play in the build-up of atmosphere?
  • Stanza 4 breaks the cumulative tension with a hubbub of revolt; by what means (look at the choice of vocabulary, its positioning, the effects of rhythm, and the grammatical function of this stanza) is the sudden protest of bells suggested?
  • What makes the final stanza, in contrast to the last one, so emphatic and fatal?
  • Study the different forms of imagery which combine to make the poem so impressive
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LXXXIII - L'Héautontimorouménos

  • The title is a Greek word meaning 'self-torturer'
  • The poem is dedicated to J.G.F., possibly the female victim of lines 1-12
  • These first three stanzas stand alone, a frenzy of ****** that uses the future tense to provoke terror in the woman - the theme seems to be recurrent and irrepressible
  • But the difference in this poem is that the poet becomes devastatingly conscious of his own obsession
  • It is this moment of awareness that cuts short the arousal provoked by the woman's suffering 
  • Study the various images to convey the poet's very deliberate attempt to escape from ennui
  • The imagined sadistic pleasure does not survive the shaft of self-awareness
  • In this context of cold brutalisation of the woman, images of the promised land (line 3), the sea journey ('La Chevelure') and the prospect of military glory seem parodies of the euphoric evocations of earlier poems
  • The 'divine symphonie', the Ideal, is flawed by the poet's own imperfection
  • And since the Ideal is a state of soul necessarily including the poet's consciousness, it cannot logically be attained
  • This realisation stems from the 'vorace Ironie/Qui me secoue et qui me mord'
  • The ironic view is that which refuses to be dupe to the mensonge (whilst embracing it at times - see 'Semper Eadem'), or to the promise of the Ideal - and the ironic eye is always vigilant, analysing the self even at its moment of apparent ecstatic loss
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LXXXIII - L'Héautontimorouménos (2)

  • As we have seen, the poet is compelled to seek the Ideal, at the same time recognising the futility of his search
  • In that sense, the poet is not only the torturer of the woman but his own torturer
  • The images of nature as mirror are now drained of any possible consolatio: self-awareness is itself an instrument of torture
  • The source of suffering is not outside the self but within: contrast line 25 ('Je suis dans mon cœur le vampire') with the use of the same imagery in the poem 'Le Vampire'
  • How do you explain the 'rire éternel'?
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LXXXIV - L'Irrémédiable

  • The structure of the poem is uncomplicated: a first part in which lines 1-28 give five symbolic example of what is revealed in both the title that precedes and the summative stanza that follows (lines 29-32); and a second part (lines 33-40) which veers towards a more thought provoking conclusion, namely that, even if the human condition is incurable and even if our consciousness intensifies suffering, at least that lucidity assures a certain consolation and nobility
  • The five 'emblèmes nets' are nightmarish symbols of 'l'irrémédiable', all more or less commonplaces of Romantic iconography: the entrapment in Hell, the fallen angel drowning in blackness, the lunatic prisoner, the sublime terror of the descent into a monstrous void, the ship frozen in polar seas
  • What are the recurrent details in these elements of a 'tableau parfait'?
  • The last two lines of the sumative stanza seem resigned and banal in their recognition of the Devil's efficiency
  • In the dramatic unfolding of the poem, how do you justify this rather lacklustre dénouement of part one?
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LXXXIV - L'Irrémédiable (2)

  • The gap between parts one and two is the space in which the truly important theme emerges
  • The symbols tell us little that is new, but it is the act of reflecting on the symbols that spurs the conclusion
  • Contemplation of the self (the 'tête à tête') is both 'sombre et limpide', 'sombre' because of Man's fallen state, but 'limpide' because of his clear-sighted awareness of that state
  • The heart is its own mirror
  • Study the image of the mirror or reflections, looking back at lines 19-20 of 'L'Héautotontimorouménos' and lines 13-14 of 'La Musique'
  • Notice how the use of the image becomes progressively introspective
  • But introspection leads to truth; it offers a gleam of light, however tentative, to contrast with the pictures of total blackness that dominated part one
  • The star trembling at the bottom of a well may be a futile guide, an inverted lighthouse who ironically illuminates only itself - but as a symbol of human consciousness trapped within evil it represents Man's 'soulagement et gloire uniques'
  • What is the relationship between the poem and the two poems that precede it (Alchimie de la Douleur and L'Héautotontimorouménos)?
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LXXXV - L'Horloge

  • The very last poem of the Spleen et Idéal section focuses appropriately enough on the passage of time and ends with the frightening closure: 'Meurs, vieux lâche! il est trop ****!'
  • It is a temporary finale that will demand comparison with the ultimate closure in 'Le Voyage'
  • The theme of passing time and memory is not new to the collection
  • In 'L'Ennemi', we were told 'le Temps mange la vie' 
  • In 'L'Horloge', the 'injurieux viellard' speaks, obsessively reminding us of every second's passing
  • The opening stanza shows the image of seven knives sinking into the sacrificial victim's heart - now we are all victims
  • What are the implications of the sylphide (a spirit of the air) metaphor?
  • In the following stanzas, study the rhythm, the stress-patterns, the use of enjambement and rejets, sentence structure and examine how they contribute to a growing sense of panic
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