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The Flowers of
Study Guide by Course Hero
What's Inside
some as being the first modernist work of literature, The
Flowers of Evil foreshadowed the modernist movement that
would sweep the worlds of art and literature alike for nearly a
century after Baudelaire's death. Many 20th-century masters
j Book Basics ................................................................................................. 1
d In Context ..................................................................................................... 1
a Author Biography ..................................................................................... 4
of literature, art, and music have credited Baudelaire and The
Flowers of Evil as crucial to the creation of their masterpieces.
Like modernity itself, with its fragmentation and
overabundance of competing narratives, The Flowers of Evil
dives deep into mankind's literary, artistic, and philosophical
h Characters .................................................................................................. 6
k Plot Summary ............................................................................................. 8
c Poem Summaries .................................................................................. 20
g Quotes ........................................................................................................ 39
history, reinventing old symbols and sensibilities into
something completely new—and still fresh—more than 150
years after its publication.
Sometimes the title The Flowers of Evil (Les Fleurs du mal) is
traced to a passage written by the French author Honoré de
l Symbols ..................................................................................................... 42
Balzac (1799–1850), which separates humanity into those who
conform and those who live by opposition. Balzac describes
m Themes ...................................................................................................... 43
b Narrative Voice ....................................................................................... 46
such oppositional, potentially destructive individuals as "the
richly colored poisonous plant that fascinates children in the
woods ... the poetry of evil." Underlying the poems in The
Flowers of Evil is the idea that humanity has fallen from God's
grace and is controlled by an evil agent, variously
j Book Basics
characterized as Satan or the Demon. This evil agent is
responsible for the desires that grip mankind, and all human
activity—in particular, love and sex—is but the manifestation, or
flowering, of this fundamental evil.
Charles Baudelaire
d In Context
Drama, Religion
Shocking for its frank sexuality and religious blasphemy when
it was published (and subsequently partially censored by the
Modernity and Baudelaire's
French government), The Flowers of Evil is one of the most
important works of 19th-century poetry and arguably one of
While the mainstream art world continued to concern itself
the most important literary creations of all time. Credited by
with the classical past, Baudelaire sought to capture what was
The Flowers of Evil Study Guide
unique and heroic about his own era and to elevate it through
his art. He found himself at a moment when the old was rapidly
In Context 2
Literary Movements
passing away and the emerging new world required new ways
of being and understanding that had not yet been articulated,
Baudelaire's work can be thought of as belonging to four
let alone cemented into tradition. The word he used to
interrelated literary movements that flourished during his
describe this situation was modernité, from which we get the
lifetime or shortly thereafter. These movements are French
English word modernity.
symbolism, aestheticism, decadence, and modernism. The
forms and subject matter used by each of these movements
Baudelaire defined a mode of being appropriate to this
are reactions to the new modern society of Baudelaire's era
modernity in his notion of the aesthetics of the self. An
and beyond.
individual ought to seek to understand oneself as he does the
world, which requires adopting certain practices, positions, and
goals. The modern Baudelairian heroes are the dandy or
French Symbolism
flâneur, the alienated man of culture and leisure who walks the
city, observing but not becoming either the moneyed bourgeois
Baudelaire's poetry falls in line with the movement known as
class that spawned him nor the common crowd that flows
French symbolism. The French symbolist movement, generally
around him and on which he trains his gaze. The female
considered to cover the years 1840–1920, used poetic
counterpart—the only woman whose freedom approaches that
techniques that bridged the gap between Romantic poetry and
of the male dandy—is the prostitute. The poem "Allegory"
modernist poetry. Symbolist poetry uses symbolism to link two
shows the prostitute-as-modern-hero.
worlds: the external, actual world and the internal world of
perception, emotion, and experience. A sense of the mystical
The poems in "Parisian Scenes" are largely narrated from the
arises through the way that images of the external world are
point of view of the flâneur. These poems also record the
layered. In symbolist poetry, juxtaposition is used to create
change from the old to the new, both within the city setting and
tone within a poem. This tone defines the poem rather than any
as a way of being. The renovation of Paris at the hands of
clear message about the world. A core symbolist technique
urban planner Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann, which
used often in The Flowers of Evil is descriptions of synesthesia,
spanned more than two decades beginning around 1853,
the expression of one sense in terms of another sense. The
transformed the city's character completely. Baudelaire speaks
best expression of symbolist thought and technique is found in
directly to this transformation in his poem "The Swan."
Baudelaire's poem "Correspondences," which describes the
world as "forests of symbols" that are "echoes" from another
For Baudelaire, modernity's essence could be found in a new
realm, and which blend together, or correspond,
experience of and relation to the passage of time. The present
is the fleeting instant, continually swallowed by the future and
made into the past. This means that present time has an
aspect of the eternal or ancient to it, and it is infused with
nostalgia. This idea is conveyed in the many poems in which
Baudelaire describes the present using allusions to the
The aestheticism movement broke with the Victorian
classical or antique past, such as "Previous Existence" and "A
conception of art as a means of transmitting moral values. The
Voyage to Cythera." The notion of time as the "tireless
mainstream artist of the Victorian period, which spans the
gambler" destroying the present by "win[ning] / on every turn
years 1837–1901 (during the rule of English queen Victoria),
of the wheel" is especially evident in the poems "The Clock"
held that art's purpose was didactic. Art should teach its
and "The Enemy."
audience proper morals by presenting morally charged
situations that the audience could use as models for its own
behavior. Baudelaire and other aestheticists, in contrast, held
Baudelaire and Contemporary
that art was not about teaching morals but was rather a search
for beauty and the pleasure that such beauty could give.
Aestheticism was scandalous to many Victorians not just for its
embrace of experimentation and its embodiment of "art for
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The Flowers of Evil Study Guide
In Context 3
art's sake." In giving preference to aesthetic pleasure and
are in the previous century, however, and Baudelaire is
beauty, it rejected the moral code of the day. Aestheticist
considered by many to be the first modernist poet. The
themes are common in The Flowers of Evil, with many of the
defining characteristic of modernism is a break with tradition
poems expressing the search for beauty as a way to rise
and the embrace of innovation and experimentation.
above the boredom and burden of life. The degree to which
Nonetheless, modernist literature has certain specific
Baudelaire's ideology clashed with the dominant mores of his
characteristics, many of which appear in The Flowers of
day is evidenced by the 1857 obscenity trial and subsequent
Evil—written 50 years before the modernist period.
banning of six poems from The Flowers of Evil. One of the
poems banned after being found by the French government to
In seeking to describe his own era according to its own terms
be offensive to public morality, "Jewels," is a frank description
and in taking urban man's state of alienation as the norm,
of the speaker's sexual encounter with his lover.
Baudelaire takes a position that would become essential to
modernism. Poetic self-reflexivity or self-consciousness, in
which a poem exposes itself as poetry and explores how
poetry works, is another distinctly modernist mode that is first
found in Baudelaire's poetry. Baudelaire's focus on imagination,
The decadents, a group of artists who adopted this name in
subjective experience, and a collapse of stable reality into
the 1880s, considered Baudelaire to be the father of their
fragments that float between the inner world and the outer
movement. Decadent literature took a certain attitude in
world is a foreshadowing of core features of modernism. So is
response to the materialism, bourgeois capitalism, and
his obsession with the new, which he pursues both as literary
modernity of the era. In an 1881 essay, French writer Paul
form through innovation and remixing of older forms and as a
Bourget (1852–1935) explained decadence as an anarchy or
feature of experience or a way of being. American poet Ezra
disintegration that occurs within society when surplus, rather
Pound (1885–1972), one of the key figures of modernism in
than scarcity, becomes the norm. Decadence rebels against
poetry, could have been paraphrasing Baudelaire when he
the social order because adherence to this order is no longer
famously declared, "Make it new!"
necessary for continued survival, and therefore is not
meaningful. The decadent artist embraces individualism,
Baudelaire's revolutionary status in the world of poetry is
focusing on exploring and satisfying individual desires and
confirmed by another great modernist poet, the English writer
understanding one's own soul. Decadence's rejection of social
T.S. Eliot (1888–1965). Eliot praised Baudelaire for undertaking
norms appears from the point of view of mainstream society to
a "complete renovation" not only in his use of language but also
signal corruption, immorality, decay, and danger. Baudelaire's
in the philosophies and attitudes that his poems convey.
poetic forms and thematic concerns are decadent. His
contempt for dominant society, his attraction to the strange
and morbid and melancholy, and his constant search for the
mystic reality under the false surface of the ordinary world are
all elements central to the decadent movement. Decadence
Satan Trismegistus and
certainly appears in The Flowers of Evil in the poem "A Martyr,"
in which the speaker views a work of art and directly
In "To the Reader, " Baudelaire presents the character of Satan
addresses the drawing's subject, the beheaded, bleeding,
as an alchemist. The pseudoscience of alchemy was an
naked corpse of a woman. Avoiding any moral issues evoked
attempt to transform metals such as lead or copper into silver
by the apparent murder, the speaker almost seems jealous
or gold for the purpose of curing ailments or extending life.
that the beheaded woman is, in death, "Far from a scornful
Historically, alchemy was also viewed as a way to understand
world of jeering crowds / and peering magistrates."
the intentions of God by witnessing heavenly and earthly
processes. Because alchemists experimented with metals,
including liquid mercury, sulfur, and corrosive salts, they laid
the groundwork for the science of chemistry by discovering
mineral acids. Through the process of this pseudoscience,
Modernism was the dominant movement in literature and art
Satan transmutes the human creatures of God, leaching from
during the first half of the 20th century. The movement's roots
them their free will and perhaps coming closer to
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The Flowers of Evil Study Guide
understanding his enemy.
Author Biography 4
but with an old wolf's itch, / one who escapes his tutor's
monologues, / and kills the day in boredom with his dogs."
Richard Howard's The Flowers
of Evil
Richard Howard's 1982 translation renders the same lines as
"I'm like the king of a rainy country, rich / but helpless, decrepit
though still a young man / who scorns his fawning tutors,
wastes his time / on dogs and other animals, and has no fun."
Richard Howard's 1982 translation of The Flowers of Evil was
Additional Poems
Two editions of The Flowers of Evil were published while
Baudelaire was alive. The first edition, published in 1857, was
quickly censored for obscenity. The 1861 edition, which
Baudelaire described as a "mutilated" version of his book,
omitted the six poems banned by a French court for obscenity.
A third edition was published posthumously in 1868.
praised by the New York Times upon its release as "the first
genuinely readable Baudelaire in English." Indeed, it has
become the standard English translation of the text. As
Howard indicates in his Foreword, his goal was to produce a
rendering of The Flowers of Evil that faithfully conveyed the
mythology of the poetry. Instead of reproducing or imitating
the form or line-by-line meaning of the original French, Howard
chooses to play freely with language, form, and tone. His
translations are worthy poems unto themselves, original works
The six named sections that comprise the bulk of Richard
that nonetheless faithfully reveal what Baudelaire referred to
Howard's 1982 translation of The Flowers of Evil are followed
as "a perfect whole" of meaning in The Flowers of Evil.
by a seventh section, "Additional Poems." These additional
poems were added to the third edition of The Flowers of Evil,
published one year after the poet's death. Some of these
additional poems were first published in the final book
a Author Biography
Baudelaire released during his lifetime, 1866's Epaves (Scraps).
Early Years
Charles Baudelaire was born in Paris on April 9, 1821. Though
Baudelaire wrote the poems in The Flowers of Evil in French,
health issues cut his life short, Baudelaire's works and ideas
with tightly controlled rhyme and meter, a restricted
created a seismic change not only in the art and literature that
vocabulary, and often in accordance with poetic forms that
followed him but also in our understanding of what it means to
were antique in the mid-19th century. At the same time, in the
be an individual in a modern society.
original French, the poems share a consistency of style that
creates the effect that each poem is a fragment of
Baudelaire's elderly father died when the boy was six. His
Baudelaire's poet-self. Taken together, they create an
much younger mother's subsequent marriage to a rising
undoubtable expression of his unique voice.
military officer, Jacques Aupick, would have a significant effect
on the poet's life. The young Baudelaire was extremely close
Although various writers have translated individual poems into
with his mother, and this relationship would continue until the
English, there was no complete English version of The Flowers
poet's death. Baudelaire was expelled from high school, where
of Evil until English poet and critic Arthur Symons's
he was studying philosophy, for mischievous behavior. He
(1865–1945) translation in 1925, almost 70 years after The
completed his degree with a private tutor's help, but his plan to
Flowers of Evil was first published. Numerous translations of
study law at university went by the wayside as the 18-year-old
parts or the whole of the text have appeared since then.
found himself more interested in becoming a writer. This desire
Translation, especially of poetry, is an art, not an act of
involved spending a lot of time in Paris cafes with artists and
copying—as the vast differences among various translations of
prostitutes. It was around this time that Baudelaire contracted
the same work make clear. For example, in 1963, American
syphilis, the sexually transmitted disease that would wreak
poet Robert Lowell (1917–77) rendered lines 1–4 of "Spleen (III)"
havoc on his health for the rest of his life.
as "I'm like the king of a rain-country, rich / but sterile, young
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The Flowers of Evil Study Guide
Author Biography 5
Baudelaire's mother and stepfather, dismayed at the young
Poe, whom he admired and whose ideas about art, beauty, and
man's unemployment, poor health, and scandalously
original sin he absorbed. Throughout the 1850s, Baudelaire
irresponsible behavior, sent him on a sea voyage to India in the
published translations of Poe's work as well as critical studies.
summer of 1841. The ship never reached India, and Baudelaire
returned to Paris the following February. Although the trip did
not have the sobering effect his parents had hoped,
Baudelaire's experiences at sea and in the tropics would have
a profound influence on his thought and poetry for the rest of
The Writing and Reception of
The Flowers of Evil
his life.
Back in Paris, Baudelaire returned to pursuing a poet's life and
quickly squandered the sizable inheritance his father had left
him. Baudelaire's ideal of the modern hero, a dandy, meant
indulging in his taste for fine clothing and changing his hairstyle
often. He soon met the woman who would be one of his major
muses: Jeanne Duval, a dancer and courtesan from Haiti.
Baudelaire was immediately entranced by Duval, and their
tempestuous relationship would last for years. She was fond of
spending his money, while he liked to sketch her figure and
write about her.
Although the first edition text of The Flowers of Evil was
published in July 1857, Baudelaire had been working on some
of the poems since 1842. He worked closely to prepare the
texts with his publisher, Auguste Poulet-Malassis; the two men
developed a friendship that would last until Baudelaire's death.
Within a month, negative appraisals by the conservative media
brought the book to the attention of the Public Safety
department of the Ministry of the Interior. The Ministry made a
report declaring that the book violated laws protecting morality
and religion; 13 poems were provided as evidence. At the
subsequent trial, Baudelaire fought the charges, arguing that
other writers had written far more immoral things without being
Middle Years
censored and that his poems were designed to be taken as a
whole, providing the reader with a moral education by exposing
the horror of immorality. Regardless, six poems were banned,
During the early 1840s Baudelaire began to write the poems
and Baudelaire was fined. The book returned for sale with the
comprising The Flowers of Evil. In 1845 his first published poem
six poems removed. The trial increased Baudelaire's fame, and
appeared. This was "To a Creole Lady," a poem that describes
several contemporary authors wrote in praise of the poems.
a woman he met on his sea voyage and is included in The
The most respected critics of the day were enthusiastic about
Flowers of Evil. That same year, he announced his plan to
the collection. A second edition was published in 1861, which
commit suicide. His subsequent attempt failed. He began to
included 35 new poems and the section "Parisian Scenes."
translate the work of American author Edgar Allan Poe
(1809–49) and to experiment occasionally with drugs like
hashish and opium. Introduced to opium by his mistress
Jeanne Duval, Baudelaire would struggle with addiction to the
substance for years. The mid-1840s saw the publication of
Baudelaire's only novella as well as numerous essays and
important critical pieces in which Baudelaire presented his
theory of art. Late in the decade, Baudelaire was swept up in
the revolutionary fervor that was overtaking Europe. His
participation in the 1848 French Revolution that lead to the
removal of the French constitutional monarchy included his
attempts to incite the murder of his stepfather, General Aupick.
Later Years
In the 1860s Baudelaire exploited the reputation that his trial
had granted him as a "cursed poet," while he continued to write
and publish works of criticism and poetry, including the prose
poem, which would occupy his poetic output from 1862
onward. He saw it as a new form appropriate for the new
modernity. His lifelong financial troubles continued, and in
1864, he traveled to Belgium for work. From 1864 until 1866 he
lived in a hotel in Brussels. He gave a lecture series that failed
In the 1850s Baudelaire adopted a decidedly apolitical stance,
miserably and began to nurse a hatred for the country. On
describing his revolutionary fervor as a "frenzy." Eleven poems
March 15, 1866, Baudelaire collapsed from a stroke. The stroke
later included in The Flowers of Evil were published in 1851;
left Baudelaire with aphasia—the inability to speak. Until his
another 18 were published in 1855. Baudelaire had for some
death on August 31, 1867, the poet who had revolutionized
years been studying and translating the work of Edgar Allan
literature with his output was reduced to having no voice at all.
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The Flowers of Evil Study Guide
Soon after his death, Baudelaire's seven-volume Complete
Works, as well as several biographies, were published.
Characters 6
Throughout the text, Baudelaire emphasizes the separation of
Many important writers that came after Baudelaire have
indicated the importance of his work to their own. These
include the significant late-19th-century French poets
Stephane Mallarme (1842–98), Arthur Rimbaud (1854–91), and
Paul Verlaine (1844–96), writer Marcel Proust (1871–1922),
existentialist philosopher and writer Jean-Paul Sartre
(1905–80), and even Beat poet Allen Ginsberg (1926–97). To
this day, critics and lovers of poetry continue to engage with
Baudelaire's work; The Flowers of Evil is included in many
literature curricula in schools around the world. Over a century
after the poet's death, the work of Baudelaire continues to be
discovered, read, and celebrated.
mankind from God. In "Destruction," the speaker claims that by
following the desires that "the Demon" introduces into his
consciousness, he is lead away from "God's regard." The
speaker in "St. Peter's Rebellion" criticizes God for ignoring
humanity's suffering. "The Irremediable" describes mankind as
"fallen / ... far from the eye of heaven." Mankind's separation
from God is explicitly described in "Satan's Litanies," where the
speaker proclaims Satan the "Adoptive father to those an
angry God / the Father drove from His earthly paradise."
However, mankind experiences a painful and constant
yearning to be close to God, as the poem "Guiding Lights"
expresses. This poem describes the scenes of suffering
depicted in a group of famous paintings. The speaker then
addresses God directly, claiming that such art is humanity
crying out for God. It is "the best evidence / that we can offer
of our dignity, / this sob that swells from age to age and dies /
h Characters
Satan Trismegistus
Satan Trismegistus is alluded to with various names
throughout the text, such as Satan, the Devil, and the Demon.
Baudelaire believed that the world and mankind had "fallen"
from God's grace and that mankind was controlled by an
external evil force. By giving this evil force the name "Satan
Trismegistus," Baudelaire invokes Trismegistus, the legendary
originator of the protoscience of alchemy, which was
concerned with the purification of substances and the search
for an elixir of eternal youth. Satan's interference with
humankind is thus likened to an alchemical practice. Many of
the poems in the text are concerned with mankind's fallen
situation and humanity's close relationship with Satan and exile
from God. These include "Destruction," wherein the speaker
explains that a Demon fills him with "sinful cravings never
satisfied," and "Satan's Litanies," where the speaker praises
Satan as the "Adoptive father to those an angry God / the
Father drove from His earthly paradise."
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out on the shore of Your eternity!"
The Flowers of Evil Study Guide
Characters 7
Full Character List
First mentioned in "To the Reader,"
Satan Trismegistus is the demon or
devil that controls the thoughts, desires,
and ultimately the experiences of
mankind. Trismegistus is the name of
the legendary originator of alchemy, the
medieval pseudoscience who sought to
turn lead into gold and to discover the
substance that would grant eternal
The speaker of "Jewels" refers to his
lover as Antiope, the legendary queen
of the Amazons. In ancient Greek myth,
the Amazons are a fierce tribe of
female warriors. Some legends
describe how after the Amazons are
defeated in their invasion of Greece, the
Greek hero Theseus marries Antiope.
The speaker in "Travelers" says that
some of his companions travel because
they are fleeing Circe, a figure from the
ancient epic poem the Odyssey,
attributed to the Greek poet Homer and
written down c. 725–675 BCE. The
Odyssey recounts how the enchantress
Circe lures men to her island home with
her haunting singing; then she offers
them wine that turns them into pigs.
The speaker of "The Swan" compares
the displaced swan to Daedalus, a
figure from ancient Greek mythology.
Daedalus is best known for enduring
the death of his son, Icarus. To escape
their imprisonment on the island of
Crete, Daedalus, a skilled craftsman,
builds wings of wax and feathers. Icarus
falls to his death because the wax of his
wings melts when he flies too close to
the sun, contrary to Daedalus's
"Damned Women: Delphine and
Hippolyta" recounts the exchange
between two female lovers, Delphine
and Hippolyta, who have just made love
for the first time. Delphine is portrayed
as experienced, even predatory, in
contrast to Hippolyta's innocence. In
ancient Greek myth, Delphine is a halffemale, half-​serpentine monster.
In "Travelers," the voices luring the
traveler onward promise him he will be
reunited with Electra, a character from
ancient Greek drama. Electra and her
brother Orestes conspire to kill their
mother to avenge their father's death at
their mother's hands.
God is first mentioned in "Consecration"
as the "sovereign powe[r]" who orders
that the Poet be born into a world that
scorns him.
In classical Greek literature and legend,
Achilles is the heroic Greek warrior who
fights in the Trojan War. The Trojan
Women, a play by Greek dramatist
Euripides (484–06 BCE), recounts how
after Achilles kills the great Trojan
warrior Hector, Andromache's husband,
Andromache is passed to Achilles's son
Neoptolemus to be his concubine. The
speaker of "The Swan" describes how
Andromache, in the middle of her grief
over losing her home and family to war,
is "dragged off / to be the booty of
Achilles' son."
The speaker of "The Swan" directly
addresses Andromache, a figure from
ancient Greek and Roman literature. As
a result of the Trojan War, Andromache
experiences the deaths of her birth
family and her husband as well as the
destruction of her home, Troy. The
survivors of Troy later rebuild a replica
of their lost home, complete with a
replica river: the "false Simoïs" alluded
to in "The Swan." The speaker of "The
Swan" invokes Andromache to compare
her legendary loss and grief to his
sense of having lost Old Paris to the
extensive renovations of urban planner
Georges-​Eugène Haussmann
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The Flowers of Evil Study Guide
Paul Gavarni
In "Damned Women: Delphine and
Hippolyta," the virginal Hippolyta
experiences an awakening of
homosexual passion. She describes her
lust as a Fury's torch burning within her
blood. In ancient Greek myth, the Furies
are goddesses of vengeance. They are
depicted as having the horrifying
appearance of snake-​haired women.
The speaker in "The Ideal" expresses
disdain for feminine beauty as depicted
by the French painter Paul Gavarni
(1804–66), to whom he refers as
"anemia's laureate." The women in
Gavarni's art are "sallow blossoms,"
superficial and weak beauties who
cannot satisfy the speaker's desire for
an intensely passionate and ambitious
"rose" of a woman.
The great Trojan warrior of Greek
legend, Hector, is mentioned in "The
Swan." Hector is killed during the Trojan
War by the Greek warrior Achilles. His
widow, Andromache, to whom the poem
is addressed, marries Hector's brother
Helenus before being given to Achilles's
son as a concubine.
Helenus is mentioned in "The Swan." In
ancient Greek legend, Helenus is the
brother of Hector, the greatest of the
Trojan warriors. After Hector is killed by
the Greek warrior Achilles, Helenus
marries Hector's widow, Andromache.
In "Damned Women: Delphine and
Hippolyta," Hippolyta processes the
horror she feels after the loss of her
virginity through sex with another
woman, Delphine. In ancient Greek
myth, Delphine is a queen of the
Amazons, an all-​female tribe of
warriors. The theft of Hippolyta's girdle
is one of the 12 labors given to the great
hero Hercules to atone for the murder
of his family.
Plot Summary 8
Lady Macbeth
The speaker of "The Ideal" names Lady
Macbeth as an example of a woman
who fits his ideal. Murderous, ambitious
Lady Macbeth is a primary character
from English writer William
Shakespeare's (1564–1616) play
Macbeth (written 1606–07).
The speaker of "The Ideal" mentions
the sculpture Night, by enormously
influential Italian Renaissance artist
Michelangelo (1475–1564). The speaker
says his ideal woman could resemble
the androgynous "Night," who appears
heroic even as she sleeps.
The voices that lure the travelers
onward in "Travelers" speak directly to
Orestes, a character from classical
Greek drama. Orestes conspires with
his sister Electra to kill their mother to
avenge their father, whom their mother
had murdered.
The voices that lure the travelers
onward in "Travelers" promise a reunion
with Pylades. In classical Greek drama,
Pylades is the friend of Orestes, who is
condemned by the gods after
murdering his mother.
In "Travelers," the speaker describes
the various ways that mankind seeks to
evade the enemy, "Time." One way is to
engage in endless wandering, like the
Wandering Jew. The Wandering Jew is
a legendary figure who allegedly
wanders the earth after being
condemned to eternal life for mocking
Jesus Christ en route to his crucifixion.
k Plot Summary
To the Reader
Victor Hugo
"The Swan" is dedicated to the French
writer Victor Hugo (1802–85). Due to
the political conditions in France, Hugo
lived in exile from 1851–70. This may be
why Baudelaire dedicates this poem,
with its focus on the experience of exile
and loss, to fellow writer Hugo.
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The poet-speaker blames the "cunning alchemist" Satan for
filling humanity with vice. Humanity then follows this vice,
gladly, down to hell. The worst monster in the "squalid zoo" of
vice is Boredom, which "would gladly undermine the earth /
and swallow all creation in a yawn."
The Flowers of Evil Study Guide
Spleen and Ideal
Plot Summary 9
(Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens [1577–1640]; Italian artist,
engineer, and scientist Leonardo de Vinci [1452–1519]; Dutch
artist Rembrandt van Rijn [1606–69]; Italian artist Michelangelo
di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni [1475–1564]; French sculptor
Pierre Puget [1620–94]; French painter Antoine Watteau
[1684–1721]; Spanish artist Francisco Goya [1746–1828]; and
Though mocked and abused by humanity, the poet-speaker
French artist Eugène Delacroix [1798–1863]), the poet-speaker
knows God has set him "a place apart." His suffering will make
tells God these images each manifest "this sob that swells
him fit to "weave [his] mystic crown" of "primal" light, which
from age to age and dies / out on the shore of Your eternity!"
makes the world seem "only a mournful mirror, a darkened
This is the "best evidence" of humanity's dignity.
The Albatross
The Sick Muse
The poet-speaker addresses the mute, traumatized muse. It is
The poet-speaker is like the albatross, the giant bird who is
her "Christian bloodstream" that fills her with "horror, with
"monarch of the clouds" yet "exiled on the ground, hooted and
madness," while in the past, the "steadfast" and "copious
jeered." His strength and power limits him, like the albatross
Classical vein" kept her healthy.
who "cannot walk because of his great wings."
The Muse for Hire
The poet-speaker suggests to the unemployed muse that,
The poet-speaker urges his spirit to leave behind the "futile"
since she cannot find work inspiring artists, she hire herself out
and "dim existence" of the world and ascend in "flight,
to the Church or prostitute herself to a "tired businessman."
unchecked." Thus he will find happiness through understanding
the true nature of reality.
The Bad Monk
Back when "Christ was the Master," the poet-speaker, like the
other monks, sought Christ by "glorifying Death." He wonders
Nature is a "forest of symbols," messages that are the echo of
when his life will manifest the promises that Christ symbolized.
the infinite realm. These echoes blend into "deep and shadowy
unison," bringing pleasure to mankind who must decipher them.
The Enemy
'I Prize the Memory ... '
The poet-speaker explains that the tumultuous seasons have
damaged the garden of his life. He hopes for "new flowers," but
The poet-speaker longs for a bygone era when humanity lived
Time, "the hidden enemy," fertilizes itself by "feed[ing] on the
in power and pleasure, in harmony with the gods. Now, humans
blood we lose."
are ugly wretches who worship the god Utility. Despite this
situation, humanity still worships "sacred youth / ...
unconscious as a singing bird, / a flower, or the blue sky's
Artist Unknown
In an empty churchyard, the poet-speaker hears his heart
Guiding Lights
After describing a series of paintings by famous artists
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beating, "a muffled drum." He laments the beauty—the poetry
and the scent of roses—created in sorrow and left unnoticed.
The Flowers of Evil Study Guide
Plot Summary 10
Previous Existence
diabolical ambitions.
The poet-speaker once lived in a "majestic" castle by the sea
where he spent his days being fanned by naked slaves. The
slaves sought to understand "the secret torment" that made
him sick.
The poet-speaker imagines living "when primal Nature teemed
/ with monstrous progeny," and mating with a giantess. He
describes her body and emotions in terms of natural
Gypsies on the Road
The poet-speaker describes how the "prophet-tribe with
burning eyes" wanders toward death. Nature and the gods
respond, blooming and blessing the places where they pass.
The poet-speaker describes having sex with his "darling." She
is naked except for "her jewels," which make "jingling music ... /
Man and Sea
whose sound is a synonym for light."
Man and the sea are "implacable brothers and eternal foes,"
The Mask: Allegorical Statue in the Style
both full of secrets. The sea shows the poet-speaker his soul
reflected and sometimes relieves his mundane suffering.
of the Renaissance
The poet-speaker is shocked to discover the statue of a
woman he views has two heads. The "teasing glance" he
admires is "merely a mask," while the actual face is "contorted
Don Juan, the legendary figure known for his adventure and
in ... misery" with the burden of living.
seductions, enters the underworld by river. Those who know
him clamor for his attention, but he ignores them, watching the
The Punishment of Pride
Hymn to Beauty
The poet-speaker tells Beauty it doesn't matter if she comes
from Satan or God, as long as she "reveal[s] / the Infinite [he]
love[s] and [has] never known."
The poet-speaker describes how a Church father, full of
"Satanic pride," boastfully insults Jesus. He loses his reason
and goes mad.
By Association
Breathing his lover's fragrance, the poet-speaker is
transported by a vision of "some paradise." It is "an idle isle
where Nature grants to men / ... the rarest trees, the ripest
Beauty describes herself as an "unguessed sphinx" who
compels the poets to brood and to love. To enslave them, she
"freeze[s] the world in a perfect mirror: / the timeless light of
[her] wide eyes."
The Ideal
The Head of Hair
The poet-speaker addresses his beloved's hair. Its "tousled
current" transports his soul. Diving into this "ebony sea," his
"restlessness / will find a fruitful lethargy at last."
The poet-speaker rejects the "sallow" norms of beauty and
femininity, describing his ideal woman as a "rose ... red" with
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The Flowers of Evil Study Guide
Plot Summary 11
'Urn of Stilled Sorrows ... '
The Vampire
The poet-speaker addresses a woman as an "Urn of stilled
The poet-speaker curses his lover, for she has obsessed him.
sorrows." He worships her like she "were the dome of night
His attempts at suicide have not ended his "enslavement" to
itself," and esteems her for her "cold disdain."
'You'd Sleep with Anyone ... '
The poet-speaker chastises and celebrates his "Queen of
The poet-speaker cries to his lover that he longs for the
Sins" for her sexual indiscretion and unawareness, which
oblivion of "the abyss that is [her] bed." The title translates as
Nature gives her, perhaps, "to breed a genius."
Sed Non Satiata
'I Spent the Night ... '
Condemning his lover as a "slattern deity" for her evil sexual
The poet-speaker, sleeping beside "a gruesome Jewish
powers, the poet-speaker admits he prefers them to other
whore," dreams of his "cruel queen." Her "memory wakens
drugs for their ability to "slake [his] thirst." The title translates
[him] to love once more."
as "Never Satisfied."
Posthumous Regret
"Even When She Walks ... '
The poet-speaker tells a woman that after death she will regret
The poet-speaker describes "the sterile woman's icy majesty."
not knowing life's value.
She has a "strange symbolic nature where / angel and sphinx
As If a Serpent Danced
The Cat
The poet-speaker compares the cat he pets to his mistress.
Both have gazes "cold and deep ... / ... like a stab of pain."
The poet-speaker praises his beloved. The ship of his soul sails
on the "unfathomable sea" of her hair. When she walks, "it
looks as if a serpent danced / in rhythm to a wand."
Addressing his "heartless Amazon," the poet-speaker
describes their lovemaking as warriors' combat in Hell. He bids
her help him "keep our hatred's fire perpetual." The title
The poet-speaker tells his beloved she will one day be like the
translates as "Duel."
rotting corpse they once encountered.
The Balcony
De Profundis Clamavi
Recalling the "evenings on the balcony, pink mist / rising," and
The poet-speaker cries out to God, burdened by life. Time
the "endless kisses, promises, perfumes" they once shared, the
drags slowly in this world, a "wasteland naked" below the "cruel
poet-speaker pleads for the return of his "Mother of memories,
... / sun of ice / and darkness." The title translates as "Out of
absolute mistress."
the Depths I Cry."
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The Flowers of Evil Study Guide
Plot Summary 12
The Living Torch
Calling her the "moon of my life" and "Lovely dagger," the poet-
The poet-speaker praises his lover's eyes as a "living torch."
speaker urges his lover: "be what you will." Regardless of how
They "lead to Beauty" and "sing [his] soul's awakening." The
she acts, "each nerve of [his] trembling body cries: / 'Dear
poet credits the poem "To Helen" (1831) by American writer
Demon, with this I thee worship!'"
Edgar Allan Poe (1809–49) for inspiration.
A Phantom
Against Her Levity
During lonely, painful nights the poet-speaker remembers his
The poet-speaker describes his lover. Her "motley" mind
dead lover. Her jewelry adorned her body like a frame
prompts his cry, "all I loathe / is one with all I love!" Coyly he
completes a painting. Even "disrespectful Time" cannot erase
threatens her: "I'll inject / my venom into you!"
her memory.
'Suppose My Name ... '
The poet-speaker describes shame, hate, death, and fear to a
The poet-speaker tells his beloved that he writes his poems for
woman who embodies their opposites. She is "so radiant with
her. She has been "scorned / by all," yet his poetry will "make
life" that he requests her prayers.
[her] memory / echo the way archaic legends do."
Semper Eadem
Addressing an "indulgent lady," the poet-speaker recalls how
The poet-speaker tells his lover she can't understand that his
once, by moonlight, she confessed her despair.
moodiness is just "the ordinary pain / of being alive." He longs
to "sink / into the silent fiction of [her] eyes," the "only lie that
comforts [him]." The title translates as "Always the Same" or
Spiritual Dawn
"Never Changing."
The poet-speaker tells his "Beloved Goddess," that "fallen man,
who suffers and dreams on," sees the eternal in the sky. For
him, her "lucid image" is the "phantom" who "triumphs like the
immortal sun!"
The Devil asks the poet-speaker to choose his favorite part of
his lover's body. He replies that her form, which fuses his
senses, is too harmonious to be divided.
Evening Harmony
The poet-speaker describes the evening harmony of flowers,
'What Will You Say Tonight ... '
violin, and sky as a "languorous waltz that casts a lingering
spell!" His heart burns with his beloved's image.
The poet-speaker's "long-since-withered-heart" is renewed by
his beloved's "sudden grace." She is "the Guardian Angel,
Madonna, and the Muse," whose "spirit dances like a torch."
The Flask
When an old flask of perfume is opened, a "returning soul" may
leap out. In this way, the poet-speaker will "testify" after his
death to how his lover's "virulence" poisoned him.
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The Flowers of Evil Study Guide
Plot Summary 13
The poet-speaker tells his lover that no drug equals her poison,
The poet-speaker dreads the coming winter, which will
which compels his dreams and "infects / [his] soul until it sinks
"repossess [his] soul / with rage and outrage, horror,
/ unconscious on the shores of death!"
drudgery." He begs his lover to "be the fleeting warmth / of a
sumptuous autumn or a setting sun."
To a Madonna: Ex-voto in the Spanish
The poet-speaker addresses a "dangerous woman" whose
eyes and mood change like the sky and seasons. He wonders
if his love will "discover pleasures sharper than iron and ice"
when her "killing frost" comes.
The poet-speaker will build "an altar hidden in the heart of [his]
despair" for his mistress. He will clothe her in his poetry and
pierce her heart with swords of sin. An ex-voto is "a votive
A cat in the poet-speaker's mind addresses him. Looking
within, he finds the cat's eyes watching him.
offering" that expresses a vow or desire.
Song for Late in the Day
The poet-speaker hopes the "blessed sorcery" of his lover's
The Fine Ship
The poet-speaker tells a young woman, "I want to paint your
beauty for you / in which the woman merges with the girl."
touch will "explode ... / this black Siberia" within him.
The poet-speaker compares courageous, fierce Sisina to
Invitation to the Voyage
Diana, Greek goddess of the hunt. Sisina, however, is kind and
loving, too.
The poet-speaker asks his beloved to "imagine the magic / of
living together ... / ... where even the landscape resembles you."
He repeats "all is order there, and elegance / pleasure, peace,
and opulence."
To a Creole Lady
The poet-speaker knows a graceful lady who lives on an island.
Should she ever come to Paris, she would enslave the poets
The Irreparable
The poet-speaker, a "fallen warrior," asks a "lovely witch" if she
can destroy "implacable Remorse." He has seen "a creature
made of light / defeat Satan himself," but fears "No creature
made of light will come to [him]."
"more humbly than [her] blacks."
Moesta et Errabunda
The poet-speaker asks a lady if she, like him, seeks to escape
the city and travel a "virgin sea" to a faraway "fragrant
paradise." This paradise is so far, the speaker wonders, "what
Conversation (One Side)
plaintive cries can ever call it back." The title translates as
"Grieving and Wandering."
The poet-speaker tells Beauty, "scourge of souls," that his
heart is "mauled by women's weapons." He asks her to eat
what remains.
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The Flowers of Evil Study Guide
Plot Summary 14
despair." The subtitle refers to German composer Ludwig van
Beethoven (1770–1827).
The poet-speaker tells his lover he will come "from the
shadows" while she sleeps to caress her like "a snake crawling
/ round an open grave." Thus he will use fear to control her.
The title refers to "an evil spirit that lies with people in their
The poet-speaker tells his lover one day her "gorgeous body"
with its "unconsecrated head" will be thrown out with the
garbage while wolves howl and "the coven gathers."
Autumn Sonnet
The poet-speaker tells his lover to "Stay / lovely and keep still!"
His heart's "secret pact with Hell" will remain hidden as "Love in
ambush" waits to destroy them.
A Fantastic Engraving
Death rides his "apocalyptic nag," who "trampl[es] Infinity with
reckless hooves!" Bearing a "flaming sword," he "inspect[s] his
domain," the "unending graveyard" of history.
Sorrows of the Moon
The poet-speaker describes the moon as a sleeping woman.
Should a tear fall, the poet will catch it "like a shard of opal"
and hide it within his heart, far from the sun.
The Happy Corpse
The poet-speaker urges the crows and worms to eat his
"soulless body." He wants a grave in rich soil where he may
"sleep in peace."
Cats, too proud to be Hell's messengers, are transformed into
sphinxes when they sleep. Their loins are magic and their eyes
full of "golden specks like infinitesimal sand."
Owls, meditating "like alien gods," teach humanity "to shun ... /
motion and commotion." Becoming "impassioned by passing
shadows" leads to man's undoing.
The Pipe
The poet-speaker's pipe describes how it relieves his master's
despair: "I wrap his soul in mine ... / within a blue and fluctuating
thread" of smoke.
Music: Beethoven
The poet-speaker describes how "Music often takes [him] like
a sea." He sets sail over the waves, knowing a wreck is coming,
though "dead calm" shows in "the looking glass / of [his]
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The Cask of Hate
The poet-speaker describes the infinite nature of hatred, which
"cannot even drink himself to death."
The Cracked Bell
The poet-speaker's soul is a cracked bell, whose lament
sounds like the final breath of a dying soldier.
Spleen (I)
While the poet-speaker is at home playing cards on a gloomy
February day, the surroundings reflect his grim, uncomfortable
Spleen (II)
Like a graveyard or an old boudoir, the poet-speaker is full of
secrets. Death will come, but only after "Boredom ... / gains the
dimension of eternity."
The Flowers of Evil Study Guide
Plot Summary 15
Spleen (III)
The Irremediable
The poet-speaker is like "the king of a rainy country," sickly and
A series of images of torment and chaos symbolize
bored by everything. Even his alchemist cannot help him, for
"irremediable Fate, / proving how consummately / Satan
the waters of oblivion fill his veins.
consumes his own!" Within the heart burns the "graceful torch
of the Devil," which is "our solace and sole glory— /
Spleen (IV)
When the weather is oppressively gloomy, Dread defeats
consciousness in Evil."
The Clock
Hope, whose funeral occurs within the poet-speaker.
Time, symbolized by the "Impassive god" of the clock, steals
happiness and urges remembrance. The Now is always already
past. "The law" deems that "Time, that tireless gambler,"
always wins.
The poet-speaker complains of his discontent to the forest, the
ocean, and the night, each of which mirrors his spiritual
Craving for Oblivion
Parisian Scenes
Parisian Landscape
The poet-speaker tells his mind to lie down and give up. He
asks the avalanche to "entomb" him.
The poet-speaker joyfully describes his "garret view" between
the city and the "blue eternity" above. Nothing will stop him
from his "almost carnal joy" of "drawing the sun from [his]
Alchemy of Suffering
The alchemist devil makes the poet-speaker a "Midas in
reverse," who turns gold to iron and heaven to hell.
heart" and "persuading Paris to become a South."
The Sun
In this "cruel season" the poet-speaker searches the city for
Sympathetic Horror
inspiration. He praises the sun for "ripening" verses,
"persuad[ing] the lame to dance," and "command[ing]" plants
The poet-speaker describes how nature reflects and embodies
to grow. The sun, like the "poet's will," makes "the fate of all
his torment and suffering.
things vile ... glorified."
Heauton Timoroumenos
To a Red-Haired Beggar Girl
Describing himself as "a dissonance / in the divine accord," the
The poet-speaker watches a girl beg for kitchen scraps. He
poet-speaker describes how he torments himself: "I am ... /
praises her tattered beauty and imagines her in the position of
hangman and victim both!" He is "doomed" for eternity "to
a rich woman.
laugh—but smile no more." The title references the play SelfTormentor by Roman dramatist Terence (c. 195–c. 159 BCE).
The Swan
The poet-speaker walks through newly renovated Paris, and
memories of the old town flood him. His memory of a swan,
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The Flowers of Evil Study Guide
filthy, escaped from its cage, and looking "as if [it] were
castigating God!" serves as an emblem of exile and loss. This is
Plot Summary 16
the first of a series of poems dedicated to French writer Victor
The poet-speaker is jealous of the gamblers for being
Hugo (1802–85).
"ravenous to prefer / pain to death, and hell to nothingness!"
The Seven Old Men
Dance of Death
Seven identical, hostile, ancient men pass the speaker on the
The poet-speaker describes Death as a woman, whose
street. His dread sends him fleeing home to contemplate these
"hunger ... / compels [her] to our human carnival." He criticizes
"monsters" who seem to have "eternal life!"
ignorant humanity for scorning ever-present Death.
The Little Old Women
Love of Deceit
The poet-speaker derives a secret pleasure as he trails the
The poet-speaker admires a young woman dancing, not caring
"little old women" of Paris, imagining these forgotten, wizened
if her beauty is only superficial: "What if you are stupid or
crones as they were in the beauty of their youth. This poem
indifferent? / Mask or sham, your beauty I adore."
ends the series dedicated to Victor Hugo.
Blind Men
'I Have Not Forgotten ... '
The poet-speaker remembers the shabby little house where he
The poet-speaker, unnerved by blind men, compares their
and his beloved once shared "long silent meals" elegantly lit by
"infinite dark" to "the eternal silence."
the sun.
In Passing
'You Used to Be Jealous ... '
The poet-speaker, passed in traffic by an attractive woman, is
The poet-speaker pities the dead. Neglected by the living, they
reinvigorated by their brief eye contact. It signals a shared
are left to bear the seasons and their sorrows alone. Should his
knowledge that they "might have loved" one another.
childhood nurse return to life to behold him, he wouldn't know
how to console her as she wept.
Skeleton Crew
Observing anatomical drawings of the human body, the poet-
Mists and Rains
speaker laments how humanity is condemned to suffer and toil
In the cold, rainy seasons, the poet-speaker's soul "spread[s]
even after death.
her raven wings" while the heart, frozen, is "Filled with dead
and dying things." All is still, except for the shadow when
Twilight: Evening
making love.
When evening comes, the "foul demons in the atmosphere" go
Parisian Dream
to work. "Whoredom invades," gambling and thieving
commence, and the soul is most prone to leaving the body.
In the poet-speaker's dream-world, "from within / each thing
was luminous!" and full of "the silence of the Void." Waking
returns him to the "curse of all [his] cares."
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The Flowers of Evil Study Guide
Twilight: Daybreak
Plot Summary 17
Flowers of Evil
When day comes, "the air is tremulous with escaping things, /
and Man is tired of writing, Woman of love." Paris, "old drudge
rubbing its eyes," begins its daily labors again.
"The Demon" fills the poet-speaker with "sinful cravings never
satisfied." Leading him away from God into "the vast / barrens
of Boredom," the demon then "hurls" at the speaker "open
wounds ... / and all Destruction's bloody bag of tricks!"
The Soul of the Wine
A Martyr: Drawing by an Unknown
Wine urges humanity to imbibe, promising happiness. Wine
hopes that man will drink so that "the poetry born of our love
will grow / and blossom like a flower in God's sight!"
A drawing of a beheaded young woman sprawled naked on a
bed "reveals love's darker side." The poet-speaker urges the
Ragpickers' Wine
corpse to "sleep in peace," for the lover who murdered her "will
be constant too, / and faithful unto death."
A group of drunken ragpickers is transformed before the poetspeaker's eyes into a triumphant army "march[ing] in glory past
a cheering mob!" He notes that wine "rules by what it gives, as
true kings do."
The poet-speaker is "chosen ... among all men" to "sing the
secrets" of Lesbos, the island of lesbian love. He rejects
The Murderer's Wine
traditional morality and mourns the death of "virile Sappho, the
lover and the poet" of the island.
The murderer confesses he killed his wife out of "True Love."
He is always thirsty, but now he is happy, for he is free to drink
until he dies.
Damned Women: Delphine and
The Solitary's Wine
The poet-speaker praises "my Bottle," the best remedy for "the
worshipful poet's ever-thirsting heart." He asks his bottle for
"pride, the beggars' treasure," exclaiming, "we shall be as
Lover's Wine
The poet-speaker urges his lover to "mount the wine and set
off" with him for "the Paradise of [his] dreams!"
Hippolyta chooses to continue being Delphine's lover though
she knows such wickedness will doom her. Delphine tells her
love and morality cannot coexist. Hippolyta, horrified by her
own emptiness, longs for annihilation in Delphine's arms. A
poet-speaker urges them to continue their chosen path toward
hell: "flee / the infinite you bear within yourselves!"
Damned Women
After describing lesbian romance, the speaker expresses love
and pity for lesbians, "for [their] unslaked thirsts, / and for the
love that gorges [their] great hearts!"
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The Flowers of Evil Study Guide
Plot Summary 18
The Two Kind Sisters
Eros and the Skull: An Old Colophon
The poet-speaker asks Death and Debauch, "two friendly girls"
Eros (romantic love) sits atop Humanity's skull blowing
who give "terrible pleasures and appalling treats," when they
bubbles, which release souls as they pop. The skull begs Eros
will ruin him.
to stop playing with its "very flesh / and blood" in this "callous, /
ridiculous game." A colophon is "an inscription at the end of a
The Fountain of Blood
The poet-speaker feels his blood "slaking the thirst of every
living thing / and dyeing all the world of nature red." Wine helps
this "wasting fear," but love merely "drains away [his] blood for
whores to drink!"
Saint Peter's Denial
Noting God's indifference to human suffering, the poet-
The poet-speaker praises a prostitute who "worships pleasure"
He expresses a desire to leave this "world where action is no
and gives her body as a gift which "pardon[s] ... all infamy." She
kin to dreams."
speaker addresses Jesus, pointing out how God betrayed him.
will die with a pure soul.
Abel & Cain
Even She Who Was Called Beatrice By
Many Who Knew Not Wherefore
The speaker describes the blessings of the Race of Abel and
the suffering of the Race of Cain. Urging a reversal, he
implores the Race of Cain to "Rise up ... / and cast God down
A cloud of imps calls the poet-speaker an "artistic sham" for
upon the earth!"
his "attempts to interest eagles [and] ... / even flowers and
fountains in his ranted woes." He cannot ignore this mockery
when he realizes his beloved is participating.
Satan's Litanies
Calling Satan the "Adoptive father to those an angry God / the
Metamorphoses of the Vampire
Father drove from His earthly paradise," the poet-speaker
praises Satan for the powers with which he helps mankind.
A boastful female vampire sucks the poet-speaker dry and
then becomes a pus-filled sac. When day comes, there is
nothing left of her but a piece of trash, "the wreckage of a
A Voyage to Cythera
The poet-speaker goes to Cythera, the island home of
Aphrodite, Greek goddess of love. There he finds his own body
hanging from a tree, being ripped apart by wild animals. He
asks God to help him bear the sight of his "body and [his] heart
without disgust."
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The Death of Lovers
The poet-speaker imagines the death he will share with his
lover. An angel will come unlocking doors, "bring[ing] / the
tarnished mirrors [of their minds] back to life."
The Flowers of Evil Study Guide
The Death of the Poor
The poet-speaker praises the "Angel of Death," who unburdens
the living. Death is "the famous inn all guidebooks recommend
/ where we can count on lodging for the Night" and "the mystic
granary of heaven, / purse of the poor and our inheritance."
The Death of Artists
The poet-speaker addresses death, who compels artists to
make art. Filled with a "fatal longing," artists "sob" with their
hope "that Death as it fills the sky like another sun / will make
the flowers of their devising bloom!"
Day's End
The poet-speaker describes the poet's relief at death's
coming. Day is like "insolent, noisy Life" which "squanders
itself," while night, with its "replenishing darkness," is like death.
A Strange Man's Dream
The poet-speaker dreams he is dying. Full of hope, he enjoys
the pain of "wrenching free from the usual world." However,
death is nothing more than a "terrible dawn" that leaves the
disappointed speaker "waiting still." The dedication refers to
French writer, caricaturist, and photographer Nadar
Travelers search the world for the delights of their
imaginations, but find only "the boring pageant of immortal sin."
However, their lust for the new compels them onward, fleeing
Time, beyond death. The dedication refers to French writer
and photographer Maxime Du Camp (1822–94).
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Plot Summary 19
The Flowers of Evil Study Guide
c Poem Summaries
The Flowers of Evil has 131 titled poems that appear in six titled
sections. There is also one titled poem that precedes the six
Poem Summaries 20
"hypocrite reader" is also self-condemnation, for in the closing
line the poet-speaker calls the reader his "alias" and "twin."
sections. For the purpose of summary and analysis, this guide
addresses each of the sections and a selection of the poems.
This poem is told in the first-person plural, except for the last
stanza. There, the poet-speaker switches to the first-person
singular and addresses the reader directly as "you," separating
To the Reader
the speaker from the reader. His tone is cynical, derogatory,
condemnatory, and disgusted. Perhaps even more shockingly,
he issues a strong criticism to his readership, yet the poet-
The first two stanzas describe how the mind and body are full
of suffering, yet we feed the vices of "stupidity, delusion,
selfishness and lust." Our moral hesitation or "scruples"
amount to little in the face of such "stubborn" sins.
In the third through fifth stanzas, the poet-speaker describes
the cause of our depravity and its effects on our values and
actions. The third stanza invokes the language of alchemy, the
ancient, esoteric practice that is the precursor of modern
chemistry. Satan Trismegistus is the "cunning alchemist," who
becomes the master of our wills. As "the things we loathed
become the things we love," we move toward Hell. We seek our
pleasure by trying to force it out of degraded things: the
"withered breast," the "oldest orange."
speaker avoids totally alienating his reader by elevating this
criticism to the level of social critique. He is speaking to the
modern human condition, which includes himself and everyone
else. The English modernist poet T.S. Eliot (1888–1965), who
felt that the most important poetry of his generation was made
possible by Baudelaire's innovations, would reuse this final line
in his masterpiece, "The Waste Land" (1922).
Satan Trismegistus appears in other poems in the collection.
This is a reference to Hermes Trismegistus, the mythical
originator of alchemy. Alchemy is an ancient philosophy and
pseudoscience whose aims were to purify substances, to turn
lead into gold, and to discover a substance known as the
"Philosopher's Stone," which was said to bring eternal youth.
Connecting Satan with alchemy implies that he has a
transformative power over humans. The language in the third
stanza implies a sexual relationship with Satan Trismegistus.
The sixth stanza describes how this evil is situated in our
This reinforces the ideas in the first two stanzas that we
physical anatomy. A "demon demos," a population of demons,
participate willingly in our suffering and damnation. Although
"revels" in our brains. Our very breathing is the flow of the
raised in the Catholic Church, as an adult Baudelaire was
"Lethe in our lungs." In ancient Greek mythology, deceased
skeptical of religion. However, he was not the
souls entering the underworld crossed the river Lethe, the river
Satanist—worshiper of evil—that some have made him out to
of forgetfulness. This caused them to forget their past lives.
be. In his correspondence, he wrote of a lifelong obsession
with "the impossibility of accounting for certain sudden human
In the seventh stanza, the poet-speaker says that if we are not
actions or thoughts without the hypothesis of an external evil
living lives of crime and violence, it is because we are too lazy
or complacent to do so. He uses the metaphor of a human life
as cloth, embroidered by experience. Buckram is a type of stiff
The themes and imagery of this opening poem appear as
cloth. Enterprise is the positive character trait of being eager
repeated ideas throughout The Flowers of Evil. These include
to undertake new, potentially risky, endeavors.
sexuality, the personification of emotions or qualities, the
depravity of humanity, and allusions to classical mythology and
The final three stanzas speak of the creatures in the "squalid
alchemistic philosophy. The imagery of a human life as
zoo of vices." Boredom, which "would gladly undermine the
embroidered cloth is an allusion to the three Fates, who appear
earth / and swallow all creation in a yawn," is the worst of all
in Greek mythology beginning in the 8th century BCE. These
these "monsters." The poet-speaker accuses the reader of
spirits were three old women, and their task was to spin the
knowing Boredom intimately. Still, his condemnation of the
cloth of each human life—as well as to determine its ending by
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The Flowers of Evil Study Guide
cutting the thread.
Poem Summaries 21
shocked to find that the statue of a woman he is admiring has
two faces: the contrived beauty of "subtle coquetry" and the
Spleen and Ideal, Section
authentic beauty that weeps from the burden of life.
As the poems continue, the tone of adoration and praise
begins to mix with resentment and an awareness that beauty
and love are always less than ideal. This reversal is striking in
"Carrion" as the speaker describes to his beloved how one day
The first few poems in "Spleen and Ideal" explore the poet's
situation and the task he faces. "Consecration" and the "The
her body will become a rotting corpse. "De Profundis Clamavi,"
Latin for "Out of the Depths I Cry," reconfigures an important
Catholic prayer to express the speaker's existential despair
over the meaninglessness of life.
Albatross" convey that the poet's special nature means he is
The downward slide in the speaker's emotions and the tone of
misunderstood and mistreated. At the same time, he is
increasing darkness continues from here, often expressed
destined to rise above to fulfill his divine mission. He must
through motifs of autumn and day's end. The speaker becomes
elevate himself as in his poetry he elevates the particulars of
more concerned with his own pain and frustration than with the
the finite world to the level of the infinite. This theme is
beauty he finds in the outer world, which begins to reflect his
underscored in "Elevation." The speaker urges his soul upward
inner despair. A series of poems, "Sorrows of the Moon," "Cat,"
to claim the happiness of understanding "the language of
"Owls," "The Pipe," and "Music" each center on a single entity,
flowers and of all mute things." The fourth poem,
describing its function with respect to the poet's situation and
"Correspondences," explains the relationship between the
the situation of humanity itself.
finite and the infinite that it is the poet's task to uncover. The
poem introduces the concept of synesthesia, the intermeshing
With the four titular Spleen poems, the section reaches a place
of the physical senses, which is the mark of the infinite upon
of complete preoccupation with ennui, self-destruction, and
the finite.
death. The speaker is aware that he is condemned by his very
nature. "The Irremediable" describes man's singular "solace"
The next few poems explore the relationship between the epic,
and "sole glory" as the inward light granted him by the Devil,
bygone past and the present. In "I Prize the Memory ... ," the
which creates "consciousness in Evil." The final poem, "The
speaker reminisces about the era when humankind was in its
Clock," expresses the speaker's despair at the relentlessness
full glory, before man began to worship the god Utility. In "The
of Time, man's always victorious adversary.
Enemy," time is presented as the great adversary through the
metaphor of a garden passing through various seasons. Time
puts pressure on the poet to complete his mission. It undoes
not only each individual's life but also the collective existence
of humankind.
The poems in "Spleen and Ideal" explore the modern human
condition using a framework of duality. The title of the section
"Artist Unknown" explores the loneliness of the artist. The next
refers to two opposing poles or modes of being and
few poems, "Previous Existence," "Gypsies on the Road," and
perception. Spleen is the limited, finite manifestation of the
"Man and Sea," explore how the self and the Other mirror one
dark emotions and of the separation of the self from the Other
another as do the finite and the infinite. "Impenitent" and "The
and from the infinite. The spleen, a body organ, was once
Punishment of Pride" explore how man's fall from grace is
thought to be responsible for a melancholic or depressive
achieved through his own hubris, or arrogance.
temperament. In contrast, ideal is the effusive mode of praise,
Next comes a cycle of poems that explore the nature of
beauty and romantic love, often through the lens of the
speaker's ideal of beauty. In "Beauty," beauty herself explains
that she is "made to prompt all poets' love" and she "freeze(s)
the world in a perfect mirror." In "The Mask," the speaker is
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adoration, joyful presence, and the merging of the self with the
Other and the Infinite. Each poem in the section can be plotted
somewhere along the spectrum that runs from Spleen to Ideal.
Many of Baudelaire's poetic innovations were taken up by the
The Flowers of Evil Study Guide
Poem Summaries 22
modernist movement, whose heyday ran from the late 19th
in the poem "The Irreparable." Poems like "Semper Eadem"
century through the mid-20th century. Beside the fact that the
express the need to remedy this ennui, whether through sex,
poems explore the condition of mankind within modernity, a
art, or ultimately, death.
number of elements in this section are distinctly modernist.
Many of the poems explore the meaning of poetry and art as
A wealth of allusions (references) to classical and ancient art
well as what it means to be a poet or artist. This speaks to the
and myth gives the poems their own mythic quality. In poems
modernist idea that artistic and literary form can express ways
like "The Mask," which uses art and myth to express individual
of knowing and understanding life. Reflexivity, the self-
subjective experience, Baudelaire expresses the precarious
conscious mirroring of poetry and the poet within the poem is a
nature of human existence. This is further underscored by the
modernist device found in "Consecration," "Elevation,"
emphasis on the external forces—Satan, Time, and Death, for
"Sorrows of the Moon," "Beauty," and other poems.
example—which always constrain the individual. Even though
the outer world is made to mirror the speaker's inner
These poems embody Baudelaire's modernist conviction that
subjectivity, this reflection is ultimately insubstantial, fleeting,
art exists for its own sake, to create beauty that gives
and illusory—something the modern poet-speaker of these
pleasure—not to teach the reader a moral lesson. This idea is
poems is well aware of. In "Man and Sea," the speaker
made explicit in "Hymn to Beauty" when the speaker
describes how the eternal battle between the individual finite
addresses Beauty personified: "Who cares if you come from
Man and the infinite Sea sometimes pauses, giving way to a
paradise or hell, / appalling Beauty ... / if only your eyes, your
brief solace for Man: "his heart / [is] sometimes diverted from
smile or your foot reveal / the Infinite I love and have never
its own dead march / by the tides of that untamable
known?" Another very modernist characteristic of the poems is
their lack of "representational verisimilitude." That is, they are
not concerned with representing reality in a familiar way. The
speaker's awareness exists in the bygone eras of antiquity as
Spleen and Ideal, Consecration
much as in Baudelaire's present, and abstract qualities such as
beauty, horror, and boredom are personified—made into
agents capable of acting with intention.
As much as the poems express features of the human
condition, they are also intensely centered in individual
subjective experience. The reader is invited into the speaker's
imagination and given passage through his emotional
landscape as well as made witness to his deepest desires and
fears. This subjectivity is characteristic of the aestheticism and
decadent literary movements that Baudelaire was part of as
well as of the modernism that followed.
A primary feature of this inner landscape is ennui, a French
term that is rendered in the English as boredom. Ennui is the
hallmark affliction of modern man. It is world-weariness, a
despairing detachment from life, whose root is
meaninglessness. In a society of plenty, the need for individuals
to ensure group survival by adhering to tradition and the
dominant social order recedes. Thus the modern individual is
free to seek his own pleasure and self-understanding and his
own understanding of life rather than accept received
This poem describes the entrance of the Poet into the world,
his reception by other people, and his divinely mandated task.
The first five stanzas describe the Poet's mother's reaction to
his birth in the form of reported speech. She curses God and
the "paltry pleasures of the night" that have brought her this
"stunted freak" to raise. She vows that she will use hatred to
impede his progress since she cannot outright kill him. Her
hateful scheming shows how she is "blind / to operations of
the eternal plan."
The next two stanzas describe how the Poet is cared for by
the Angel or Spirit that "attends his pilgrimage." Because of
this protection, the Poet sees divinity in the world around him
and engages with nature intimately, "happy as a bird." The next
two stanzas describe how people in general abuse him,
attempting to provoke him into suffering "since he offers no
meanings from tradition and authority. This freedom can be
experienced positively, as in "The Ideal" and "Invitation to the
The following four stanzas describe the attitude of the Poet's
Voyage," but it can also bring on the despair of ennui, as seen
wife. She publicly declares that she will trap him with his
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The Flowers of Evil Study Guide
Poem Summaries 23
adoration for her, "as if a sparrow trembled in [her] fist," and
closing lines, in which the Poet describes "mortal eyes" as "a
then destroy him for the sport of it.
mournful mirror, a darkened glass," alludes to a famous
passage from the biblical Book of Corinthians. This passage
The rest of the poem describes how the Poet rises above this
lyrically describes the limited ability to see and know that is
abuse by turning toward heaven and his heavenly visions. He
characteristic of the human situation on earth. The passage
thanks God for the suffering that is his destiny, because it
reads, "For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face
"prepares / the strong in spirit for divine delights!" He
to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I
acknowledges that he must encompass all of
am known." It is the Poet, Baudelaire suggests, who has the
experience—even suffering—if he is to "weave [his] mystic
ability, more than anyone else, to transcend the darkness that
crown," which must be connected to "all time, all space." His
glazes over humanity's spiritual sight.
material will be the "pure light" that can only be imperfectly
reflected in "mortal eyes," which are "a mournful mirror, a
darkened glass."
Spleen and Ideal, The Ideal
This, the second poem in the book, carries on the task begun
in the text's opener, "To the Reader." Together, these two
In the first stanza, the speaker expresses his rejection of a
poems delineate the world of the text. Baudelaire, in his
certain ideal standard of femininity. He is out of step with the
defense at the trial over the charges of blasphemy and
age as he is bored by such "insubstantial" women—these
immorality leveraged at The Flowers of Evil, argued that the
"belles in curlicues" whose worth is in their carefully cultivated
poems are to be taken together as parts of a unified whole. "To
physical appearance and demeanor. In the second stanza, the
the Reader" and "Consecration" describe the two emotional
speaker links such women to French artist Paul Gavarni
poles of the text—the vice-driven, pleasure-seeking, ennui-
(1804–66), who depicts them in his work. They are "sallow," or
suffering mode and the blessed transcendent mode. These
sickly pale, "blossoms." The ideal woman for his own dark,
two modes correlate with the two metaphysical poles of the
deep heart is more like a red rose—intense and powerful,
text's world. "To the Reader" describes Satan as the driver of
beautiful but thorny. He wants someone who resembles
human experience, resulting in bodies and minds tormented
ambitious, murderous Lady Macbeth, a character in the tragic
with "stupidity, delusion, selfishness and lust." "Consecration"
play Macbeth (written 1606–07) by English playwright William
describes a segment of this world, that of the Poet absorbed in
Shakespeare (1564–1616), or the androgynous, unique woman
his task. He is apart from the Satan-mired masses; an Angel or
depicted in Night, a sculpture by Italian artist Michelangelo
Spirit guides him toward his special destiny. It should be noted
that suffering is a core feature of both emotional and
metaphysical poles. In "To the Reader," the masses spur their
own suffering gladly, "the way a beggar nourishes his lice." This
contrasts with the Poet's conception of suffering as a gift,
which he speaks in prayer in "Consecration": "Thanks be to
God, Who gives us suffering / as sacred remedy for all our
sins, / the best and purest essence which prepares / the
strong in spirit for divine delights!"
In his 1863 essay, "The Painter of Modern Life," Baudelaire
wrote that the longing for the ideal preoccupies the unsatisfied
mind. An art critic as well as a poet, Baudelaire wrote in
response to the Salon of 1846 exhibition, "Thus the ideal is not
the vague thing, that boring and intangible dream which swims
"Consecration" is full of Christian references, but they are
on the ceilings of academies; an ideal is the individual taken up
recast within a narrative that centers around the Poet. He has
by the individual, reconstructed and returned by brush or
some Christ-like qualities, but he is neither Christ nor Savior
scissors to the brilliant truth of its native harmony." For
nor Saint. His heavenly reward is for him alone—he is "apart,"
Baudelaire, art (and beauty) arose where the specific,
and his task concerns the creation of a transcendent beauty
temporal, and current merged with the universal and
that envelops all poles of experience and existence. The
transcendent. This theory of art holds that it should merge two
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The Flowers of Evil Study Guide
Poem Summaries 24
sets of elements: the specific, temporal element and the
"jewels." The "insolent harmonies" of their "jingling music"
universal, transcendent element. Additionally, Baudelaire
captivate the speaker because of their synesthetic quality:
rejects the restriction of the quality of epic to classical and
they are "objects whose sound is a synonym for light."
ancient themes, insisting that the present too has its own
quality of being epic, which the artist should seek and
In the next three stanzas, the speaker watches his lover as
emphasize. Each of these ideas is brought to play in "The
they begin to have sex. Like a spectator, he describes her body
moving, comparing her to a swan and calling her body "that
fruit on my vine." Finally, in stanza 6, the speaker admits that
French artist Paul Gavarni, a contemporary of Baudelaire, was
his lover's charms have succeeded in erasing his detachment.
known for depicting ordinary people of his day. Baudelaire
He can no longer be "aloof" or "serene." Even though he has
uses Gavarni's depictions of women as emblems of incomplete
become completely engrossed in the act of sex, his description
beauty, implying that Gavarni fails to highlight the epic quality
in stanza 7 remains that of the detached observer: "I saw a
of the present. They are anemic and shopworn—weak and so
boy's torso joined to Antiope's hips." The final stanza uses
familiar as to be dull, lacking in the boldness, inventiveness, and
imagery of light and fire to express the resolution of the sex
depth that define Baudelaire's aesthetic ideal, both as it applies
act. Orgasm is compared to a lamp that has gone out and then
to art and to women. His ideal, by contrast, is red, suggesting
to the "dying coals" in the fireplace. The intermittent play of the
intensity and passion as well as blood. Italian Renaissance
light of the glowing coals repeatedly "flush[es] that amber-
artist Michelangelo's sculpture Night, although a depiction of a
colored flesh with blood," suggesting the lingering currents of
woman, exudes exaggerated androgyny or even masculinity.
desire that fill the bodies of the speaker and his lover after sex.
This is attributed both to the sculpture's muscular anatomy and
contorting posture. This points to a commonality in the
aesthetic positions of Michelangelo and Baudelaire. Like
Baudelaire, whose poetry draws on antique and Classical
sources to evoke atmosphere and themes that are thoroughly
This poem was one of the poems banned in 1857 by a French
modern, in his art Michelangelo creates a synthesis between a
court and ordered removed from all editions of The Flowers of
new kind of individual, psychological intensity and the elements
Evil. The court ruled that the book, and the six banned poems
of classical or antique art that his contemporaries were
in particular, were obscene and harmful to public morality. Part
of Baudelaire's defense was the argument that some of his
contemporary writers had written more scandalous things
Baudelaire's desire for a "flower of the South" refers to a then-
without censure. The court was not convinced, and this poem
popular idea about the opposition between Northern (Nordic)
and five others were omitted from the text until 1949.
and Southern (classical) cultures and the art they produced.
This distinction was popularized by French-Swiss writer
In his essay "The Painter of Modern Life," Baudelaire rejects
Germaine de Staël (1766–1817). It held that the North embodied
the natural as the root of beauty, claiming that the beautiful
the uncertainty and unreality of dreams and imagination, while
results from logical calculation. He goes on to link morality and
the South embodied naturalism, with its qualities of clarity,
aesthetics, claiming that evil arises naturally, but art produces
precision, and intensity.
good. This idea helps explain the significance of the women's
bejeweled body in the poem. She has deliberately kept on her
adornment instead of presenting herself fully naked to her
Spleen and Ideal, Jewels
lover. Indeed, for Baudelaire, adornment, in the form of makeup
and fashion, was central to what a woman is (or ought to be). A
woman should have "a magic and supernatural aura ... she must
In this poem, the speaker gives a detailed description of sex.
The first two stanzas explain how the speaker is captivated by
his "darling," who has removed her clothing but left on her
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create a sense of surprise, she must fascinate; idol that she is,
she must adorn herself, to be adored." This was a necessary
part of fulfilling the female function, which was to master the
hearts and minds of men. The jewels in the poem do just that,
evoking all manner of sensory and cultural associations for the
The Flowers of Evil Study Guide
In this poem, there is an external movement between the
Poem Summaries 25
compared to "a stately tomb."
characters, running from foreplay through the consummation
of the sex act. The speaker's internal shift is linked to this
The alchemist he employs has no trouble creating gold but
external movement as well as paralleled in the language of the
cannot "purge the impure substance from his soul," which
poem. At first, the speaker has an attitude of detachment,
sickens the king. Blood baths, the ancient Roman remedy for a
watching his lover and evaluating her movements distantly. He
weak constitution, are of no avail. The young king's
even admits that it is the jewels, the "objects," which attract his
estrangement from his own life is part of his very body as "no
interest, not any emotional feeling for her. His description of
blood but brackish Lethe seeps" through his veins. In classical
her movements is reminiscent of a critique of an art piece: "the
Greek mythology, newly dead souls entering the underworld
incorporation of candor into lust / gave new charms to her
crossed the river Lethe, whose waters brought forgetfulness
metamorphoses." At last, the speaker admits that his lover's
and oblivion.
body has succeeded in securing his emotional participation in
the sex act. His soul is "dislodg[ed]" from its "rock-crystal
throne / of contemplation."
However, his language continues to suggest depersonalization;
In this poem, the speaker describes an emotional and spiritual
even when he has penetrated his lover, he sees them together
condition of ennui. Ennui is the subject of many of these
as if from another vantage point outside his body: "I saw a
poems; one of its primary emblems or symbols is the spleen,
boy's torso joined to Antiope's hips." The reference to Antiope,
the bodily organ that ancient physicians attributed as the
a queen of the all-female Amazon warrior tribe in Greek
cause of a melancholic or depressive character. Ennui is the
mythology, suggests that he, now "a boy," is understating the
death of spiritual vitality in the presence of material
power his lover has wrought over his body and soul. In the very
overabundance. It is sometimes thought of as a side effect of
last stanza, the depersonalization reaches its high point but is
science and technological progress, which remove the sense
applied to both characters. All references to the speaker and
of mystery from life, as well as the need to struggle for
his lover are now absent; there is only the image of a lamp and
survival—both of which tend to create meaning. Ennui is not
coals in the fireplace. This linguistic shift evokes the merging of
just boredom; it is the absence of any feeling, save for an
self and other, the disappearance of the ego with its individual
anguished awareness of the meaningless and tedium of life.
perceptions, concerns, and beliefs, that can temporarily arise
Baudelaire, who was a keen observer of his era as well as a
as a result of ecstatic experiences such as lovemaking.
lifelong depressive, felt that ennui was endemic to modern life.
Here, as in other poems in The Flowers of Evil, ennui is signaled
by certain motifs: imagery of gloomy weather (the king
Spleen and Ideal, Spleen (III)
presides over a rainy country); death related-imagery (his bed
is a tomb); and the reference to the river Lethe.
Baudelaire creates a unity between the past and the present
by yoking the modern experience of ennui to an allegory about
a feudal king. The allegory is full of anachronistic
The speaker describes his ennui—his bored, despairing
symbols—images that evoke a prior age. Alchemy, the
detachment from life—by comparing himself to "the king of a
pseudoscientific practice of manipulating substances in search
rainy country." The poem elaborates on the nature of ennui
of that which would bring unending youth, was founded on the
through extended description of this imagined king.
idea that material substances have spiritual characteristics. A
This young king is "helpless, [and] decrepit," and "has no fun,"
despite his copious privileges and the numerous amusements
available to him. The "royal invalid" cannot be distracted from
his profound boredom, neither by the fool or jester employed
to amuse him, nor by the attractions of the "ladies in waiting."
His state of living death is underscored when his bed is
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major occupation of alchemists was the quest to turn
lead—thought of as being the least spiritually perfect
metal—into gold, which possessed spiritual perfection. Viewed
in this way, alchemy is an apt metaphor for the spiritual malady
of ennui. With the increasing use of the scientific method in the
18th century, alchemy—as a practice and as a mystical way of
viewing the world, transmitted from practitioner to practitioner
The Flowers of Evil Study Guide
Poem Summaries 26
for centuries—progressively lost credibility. Like the ennui-
some other poems in The Flowers of Evil demonstrate
plagued speaker of this poem, alchemy itself may be
supernaturalism, the mode of being where man's self is
considered a casualty of the modern drive for progress.
ecstatically united with a universal presence, this poem (like
others) explores the ironic mode.
The use of allusions to a past era appears throughout the
collection. The expression of the speaker's internal state with
This consciousness engages in self-sabotage, causing man to
an anachronistic allegory suggests a fusion or unity between
do things that frustrate his most fundamental needs and
the past and the speaker's present era. The use of this
desires, his attainment of an ideal state. At the same time, man
technique is understood in light of Baudelaire's definitions of
is aware that he is self-sabotaging, yet this awareness does
modernity and of art. In "The Painter of Modern Life,"
not keep him from being powerless to stop. This is why
Baudelaire defined modernity as "the transient, the fleeting, the
Baudelaire referred to mankind as "homo duplex," or divided
contingent." Continuing, he expresses its place in art: "It
man. A key aspect of this ironic consciousness is that the self-
[modernity] is one half of art, the other being the eternal and
sabotage results from the individual's pursuit of his own desire.
the immovable."
The Angel is drowning because it sought to satisfy its "love of
chaos"; the ship was seeking a passage through the same ice
Spleen and Ideal, The
that has now trapped it. Choice is not important here. That is
why it is a matter of fate, which is "irremediable"—there is no
remedy, no safeguard, and nothing to be done about the
situation. This idea is expressed in another poem in The
Flowers of Evil, "Destruction" ("Flowers of Evil" section), where
Satan is described as the air the individual breathes: "each time
In the first part of the poem, the first stanza presents the
situation of being fallen from the heavenly realm to the
"Stygian morass," the swampy, hellish confusion of the world
below. Four examples follow. They are emblems, or physical
symbols, that embody the experience of being fallen: an
"Angel, unwary pilgrim" struggling not to drown in a current; a
"wretch" trapped in a witch's den, futilely seeking escape; a
"soul in torment" descending into a gloomy cave populated by
monsters; a ship that was pursuing a channel but has been
trapped in ice. The speaker then declares that each of these
emblems are representations of "irremediable Fate." This fate
is the total destruction of all entities that are in the fallen world,
which is Satan's realm.
The second part of the poem asserts that the sole light in the
I swallow, [the Demon] fills my burning lungs / with sinful
cravings never satisfied."
The ironic consciousness is Satanic in nature and takes place
in Satan's realm, the world that is described as the "Stygian
morass." In ancient Greek legend, the souls of the dead had to
cross the river Styx (one of five underworld rivers, including
Lethe, the river of forgetfulness) upon entering the underworld.
The second part of the poem describes the structure of human
consciousness and in so doing explains the existence of this
ironic, Satanic consciousness. The human heart beholds itself
as if in looking into a mirror of itself. This mirror is dark except
for one light—the trembling, "pale star" of Satan. Baudelaire's
original French words are phare ironique, infernal: an ironic,
hellish lighthouse. Man cannot help but follow its signals as
they are the only available guide, yet all the while man knows
he is destined to wreck.
"dark mirror" of the human heart is the "pale star" of the Devil.
This "ironic, infernal beacon" is the evil that is the root of
human consciousness.
Parisian Scenes, Section
Baudelaire's theory of literature and human nature is based on
two fundamental qualities: irony and supernaturalism. These
are two aspects or modes of human consciousness. While
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The Flowers of Evil Study Guide
"Parisian Scenes" opens with the poet discussing his task in
"Parisian Landscape," this time in the context of place. There is
an intimate connection between the garret view, which puts
Poem Summaries 27
"Gamblers," the speaker observes the whores and artists in a
casino. He envies their frenzied exchange of commodities,
which protects them from the nothingness and the approach
of death, which he himself feels. Death then appears as a
woman in "Dance of Death."
him between the city below and the infinite sky above, and his
Midnight finds the speaker admiring the beauty of a dancing
task of achieving harmony between himself and the world. In
girl, not caring if it goes deeper than the surface or is just
"The Sun," the sun that descends into the city becomes a
"Mask or sham" in "Love of Deceit." The poems then plunge
simile for the poet's consciousness. As it shines upon each
into personal memory with "I Have Not Forgotten ... " and "You
thing impartially, "the fate of all things vile is glorified." The
Used to Be Jealous ... " The movement of deep night is
concept of elevating what is degraded or vile carries into the
mirrored by a movement into deep winter with "Mists and
next poem, "To a Red-Haired Beggar Girl." The gaze of the
Rains," and the speaker at last falls asleep. The reader is
poet dresses a poor girl begging for food in a rich woman's
invited into the speaker's sleeping mind in "Parisian Dream." He
finery, then bids her to continue begging naked. Like the poet,
is disappointed to wake from the fantastic world of his dream
the beggar girl is a scavenger, depending on found scraps for
where "neither sun nor moon appeared, / and no horizon paled
sustenance (and meaning). In "The Swan," the poet strolls
/ to light such wonders—from within / each thing was
through Paris, then undergoing extensive renovations. As he
moves inward into a reverie of allegorical memory, the image of
a swan he once saw outside a now-demolished poultry market
Night turns toward morning, and the poet's gaze flickers over
takes on the weight of myth and becomes a symbol for all who
the various scenes of Paris waking in "Twilight: Daybreak." The
are exiled and have suffered loss.
soul remains in the body, and vice retreats. The final image is
of Paris personified as a laborer: "dingy Paris—old drudge
The next few poems are borne of the poet's habit of studying
rubbing its eyes— / picks up its tools to begin another day."
"the charming refuse of humanity." He observes the
grotesqueness of the people that move through Paris's streets.
In "The Seven Old Men," the poet is deeply unsettled when he
sees seven hostile, hideous old men appear one by one. In
contrast, he takes delight in imagining the beauty at one time
The concept of the flâneur, which embodies Baudelaire's
possessed by the "travesties [that] were women once," the
theory regarding how art arises from ordinary perception, is
elderly, forgotten, and crooked-framed subjects of "The Little
especially relevant to the poems in "Parisian Scenes." In his
Old Women."
essay "The Painter of Modern Life," Baudelaire describes the
In "Blind Men," the poet is once again disturbed by the close
connection he senses between these blind men's "infinite dark
/ and the eternal silence." Caught in a roaring swarm of traffic,
time stands still when a moment of eye contact between the
speaker and a statuesque woman passing by takes on deeper
meaning in the poem "In Passing." This moment, filled with "the
grace that beckons and the joy that kills," suggests the
mode of observation and creation practiced by an artist of his
acquaintance, M.G. (the French journalist Constantin Guys, c.
1802/05–92). The German literary critic Walter Benjamin
(1892–1940), in his writings on Baudelaire's work, used the
word flâneur to describe an individual who practices the mode
of perception and creation that Baudelaire attributes to M.G.,
and from which the poems in "Parisian Scenes" seem to arise.
possibilities of connection that might have been but will never
Baudelaire writes that M.G. exists "perpetually in the spiritual
be. In "Skeleton Crew," the speaker contemplates whether the
condition of the convalescent," who "like the child, enjoys to
fate of humanity—eternal toil and suffering—can be seen by
the highest degree the faculty of taking a lively interest in
looking at the body. These musings begin with his viewing
things, even the most trivial in appearance." The convalescent's
anatomical drawings from a medical text.
nearness to death means he "breathes in with delight all the
With "Twilight: Evening," the threshold of night, with all its
dangers, draws near. Darkness wakes vice to go to work, and
fate is stronger and more apt to tear the soul from the body. In
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spores and odours of life ... he remembers and passionately
wants to remember everything." Similarly, the child "sees
everything as a novelty; the child is always 'drunk.'" Art,
The Flowers of Evil Study Guide
Poem Summaries 28
therefore, begins with a keenness of perception—a way of
example of this transcendence is found in "The Little Old
seeing the world that is particularly open, alert, and interested.
Women," when the speaker describes the way the elderly
This is evident in "Parisian Scenes," where even a glimpse of a
women move along the sidewalk: "Whether they mince like
person in traffic ("In Passing") is grabbed and recorded by an
marionettes or drag / themselves along like wounded animals,
eager mind.
/ they dance ... / sad bells on which a merciless Devil tugs."
Baudelaire continues, declaring that the artist's "passion and
his profession is to merge with the crowd." He operates like "a
mirror as vast as [the] crowd ... a kaleidoscope endowed with
consciousness," reflecting in every moment "a pattern of life, in
all its multiplicity, and the flowing grace of all the elements that
Parisian Scenes, Parisian
go to compose life." In "To a Red Haired-Beggar Girl," the
sighting of a young woman scavenging for food becomes a
meditation on poverty and beauty that finds grace in squalor:
"queens in velvet buskins take the stage / less regally than you
wade through the mud / on your wooden clogs," the speaker
The poet-speaker explains the necessity of having living
quarters that are suitable for his task. In order to write poetry
as he should, he "must sleep / hard by heaven" so he may hear
Art, then, consists of "things seen [which] are born again on
the songs of the "belfries" in his dreams. To this end, he
the paper, natural and more than natural, beautiful and better
resides in a garret above the city. The poem describes this
than beautiful, strange and endowed with an enthusiastic life,
view, linking it to the poet's task.
like the soul of their creator." In the process of artistic creation,
the perceptions stored in the artist's memory "are classified
ordered, harmonized, and undergo that deliberate idealization,
which is the product of a childlike perceptiveness ... acute and
These poems are bound together by their rootedness in the
speaker's psyche. This is what gives the images that pass
before his eyes meaning. The raw material of the speaker's
external perceptions is idealized, as Baudelaire describes it,
within the speaker's mind. In "In Passing," a woman glimpsed
while the speaker walks through a crowd becomes the
embodiment of feminine power and the symbol of romance's
capacity to reinvigorate: "Lightning ... then darkness! Lovely
His view affords him sight of the various levels of the city: from
"the workshops and their singing slaves" down below to the
tops of buildings and the "blue eternity" above.
He is gladdened by the sight of the lights that come with night:
the "first star," the "first lamp," and the moon.
Winter will not distract him from his work; in his quarters, he
will shut out the cold weather and set to "dreaming of alluring
distances ... / of everything in Idylls that's inane!" Even "a
revolution down in the street will not / distract [him]" from his
task. The last four lines describe the poet's task: it is a "carnal
joy" to create, through words, a harmonious alignment between
himself and the beautiful world, both natural and man made.
fugitive / whose glance has brought me back to life!" The
scenes of the street are filtered through the speaker's
imagination, which collapses duality and multiplicity, reconciles
opposites, and enmeshes the past and the present. This
meaningful collapse of multiplicity is especially evident in "The
The poet-speaker evokes the image of Paris as a fleet of ships.
Seven Old Men." Here, the sight of seven old men passing
Positioned above, he is the captain, but his is a journey of the
before the speaker creates a sense of supernatural dread:
creative imagination—the seeking, through poetry, to
"Was it some vile conspiracy, or just / coincidence that made a
"persuad[e] Paris to become a south." His captain's seat is his
fool of me? / To the seventh power ... / this sinister ancient
room positioned above the city at the boundary of the infinite
reproduced himself!"
blue beyond and the workshops with their singing slaves
This raw material of everyday life is thus made to transcend
the mundane and to assume the weight of allegory or myth. An
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below—images that evoke sea journeying. This is the poet's
journey, another elaboration on the poet's task. The task was
first described in its religious or theological aspect in
The Flowers of Evil Study Guide
"Consecration," the opening poem to "Spleen and Ideal." This
mode was the patient bearing of suffering so as to be able to
Poem Summaries 29
Parisian Scenes, The Swan
experience "divine delights" and to connect with and transcend
all the duality of the earthly realm. The journeying of "Paris
Landscape" is another of these modes in which the poet's task
is approached.
The speaker begins by addressing Andromache, a character
Duality is embedded in the poem in two ways. It is seen first in
from Roman poet Virgil's (70–19 BCE) epic poem Aeneid
the tension between the modern and the bygone. It is also
(written c. 30–19 BCE), who has come to symbolize loss and
seen in the various suggestions of permeability where duality is
exile. Her home is destroyed in war, and in a famous scene
breached. In lines 9–12, as the poet describes his pleasure in
from the Aeneid, she grieves in front of a replica. Like
the view of the sky from his rooms (allowed by the visual
Andromache, the speaker's home has been changed: "Old
permeability the window brings), the description of what he
Paris is gone." As he walks through the newly renovated city,
sees includes the timeless natural phenomena as well as the
the speaker remembers what used to be there. In detail, he
man-made emblems of modernity. He refers to his poems as
describes a memory of a swan he saw outside of a poultry
eclogues, a classical form fallen out of common use, devoted
market. Escaped from its cage, dragging itself through the
to the depiction of the pastoral, or idealized and rural.
urban filth, the swan took on mythical qualities for the speaker
However, the poem is set in a room in Paris—a contradiction
and even seemed to be "castigating God" for its displacement
that creates a tension. When the seasons shift to winter, he will
from its natural habitat.
create spring within his imagination by sealing the permeability
between himself and the outside world by shutting the window.
In the second part of the poem, the speaker contrasts the
There, plunged completely in the alternate pastoral of his
changing face of his city with his unchanging sadness.
imagination, the room's darkness will be illuminated by his
Recalling the image of the swan, he addresses Andromache
dreams of the impossible and the ideal—the "Spanish castles"
once more, before presenting a series of images that remind of
he will build. This is a French idiom referring to the impossible,
him the "great swan in its torment, / silly, like all exiles, and
the historical inability of the French to enter tightly held
sublime, / endlessly longing." He tells of a black woman who
Spanish territory. Permeability suffuses the last lines of the
longs for her home in Africa, and of orphans and all those
poem as the intellectual activity of creating poetry is described
whose irrecoverable losses destine them to lives of sorrow.
in terms of the sensual and bodily.
The exile the speaker feels is his "mind's exile," and memory is
a horn that makes him "think of prisoners, / of the
It is not merely the creation of poetry the speaker describes
shipwrecked, the beaten—and so many more!"
when he speaks of "fastening the springtime to [his] will" and
"drawing the sun from [his] heart." These tasks are also
necessary to remedy the deep discontent that suffuses the
poem by implication. A clue that there is something more than
meets the eye in the poet's optimistic, all-embracing tone is the
Baudelaire dedicated "The Swan" to his contemporary, French
title. "Parisian Landscape" devotes more than half of its
writer Victor Hugo (1802–85). Public and private
description to a place that is not Paris, not even part of the
correspondence reveals a complex relationship between the
external world. It is rather the world of imagination and
two writers, characterized by envy as well as admiration.
metaphor. It is the home of the spleen filled or the
Baudelaire wrote scornfully of Hugo's talents yet sent him a
discontented longing for the elsewhere of Spanish castles—of
draft of "The Swan" along with a letter explaining his intention
what is not. His longing to make Paris into a "South" is a
in the poem. Both men participated in the Revolution of 1848,
longing to shift his consciousness of Paris, to steer his
but when the forces of autocracy triumphed with the
consciousness rather than have it be subject to the external
establishment of the Second Empire government in 1851, Hugo
city, the seasons, the pressures of life. With great subtlety,
went into exile. He would not return to France for nearly 20
Baudelaire has thus built a poem that exhales joy and
years. Baudelaire dropped his political pursuits and remained in
acceptance on a foundation of ennui, lack, and longing.
Paris, where he witnessed the new government's extensive
razing and rebuilding of the ancient city, which he describes
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The Flowers of Evil Study Guide
Poem Summaries 30
and responds to in "The Swan." His dedication of "The Swan"
transcend past, present, and future, elevating the experience
to Hugo is a nod to Hugo's condition of political exile, which
described in the poem to the level of myth and epic.
adds yet another layer of meaning to the poem's exploration of
all forms of exile, grief, and loss.
The reference to Daedalus is another mythological allusion.
Daedalus makes wings held together by wax so he and his son
The poem, considered by many to be the first truly modernist
Icarus can escape from their imprisonment on an island.
work of poetry, is full of allusions to classical myth and legend.
Daedalus warns his son not to fly too high or the wax will melt.
Andromache, to whom the poem is addressed, is a character in
The boy, exhilarated in flight, forgets his father's warning and
legends about the Trojan War between Greece and Troy.
flies so high the wax melts and he plunges to his death. In "The
Andromache is married to Hector, the great warrior and son of
Swan," the allusion to Daedalus builds on the atmosphere of
the Trojan king. During the war, the Greek warrior Achilles kills
loss while also serving as a cautionary tale about the dark side
all of Andromache's blood family and then her husband,
of the heady rise of progress.
Hector. After a time living as the concubine of Achilles's son,
Andromache marries Hector's brother Helenus. They live
In this poem, the central symbol of the swan loses its
together in a city built to be a replica of destroyed Troy. The
traditional symbolic associations with beauty, gracefulness,
replica city even contains a replica of the river that ran through
and romantic fidelity. Instead, it is presented in the context of
Troy, the "mimic Simoïs" Baudelaire alludes to. Baudelaire's
confusion and filth; the image is disjointed and unsettling rather
description of Andromache "crouching blindly over an empty
than graceful. The swan, ripped from its home as it is ripped
grave" refers to a scene in which she is found grieving at the
from its symbolic associations, becomes the opposite of what
empty tomb set up to honor Hector in the city built to be a
it was: not a creature in nature, but an exile lost in the city; not
replica of Troy.
a symbol of love, but the embodiment of futile resentment over
the injustice of fate.
The profound renovation of Paris that happened during
Baudelaire's lifetime meant, to many, not the arrival of progress
and sanitation but rather the destruction of old Paris. The
Wine, Section Overview
construction and changes brought many Parisians a sense of
loss and exile in their own city—a sense that Baudelaire evokes
powerfully in this poem. For the multitudes whose homes and
businesses were part of the more than 50 percent of buildings
that were razed, the loss (and exile to the edges of the city)
was not just cultural but sentimental.
After the Revolution of 1789, the city of Paris underwent rapid
change in concert with the rise of a wealthy new bourgeoisie
class and advancements in technology. In 1853, four years
before the first copy of The Flowers of Evil was published,
French civil servant Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann was
given the job of remaking Paris as a modern city in the style of
London. The city then was characterized by ancient
neighborhoods of narrow, twisted, dark alleys and the
ramshackle signs of rampant poverty. Under Haussmann's
direction, over the next 17 years the old neighborhoods
disappeared. Haussmann's Paris—modern Paris—or, the
"replica" Paris suggested in "The Swan," with its wide
boulevards for easy commerce and riot control, rose up like an
emblem of the new modernity. By yoking this modernization of
Paris to classical myth and the archetypal experience of loss
and exile, Baudelaire creates a poem whose boundaries
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In the section's opening poem, "The Soul of the Wine," wine is
the speaker. It is personified as an agent with the capacity to
act and influence humans but with its own feelings, hopes, and
desires. In the opening lines, wine addresses humanity with
compassion: "Dear mankind— / dear and disinherited!" After
expressing gratitude for the work humanity does to make wine,
wine encourages humanity to drink. It promises to give "light
and brotherhood," "happiness," strength, and amorous desire.
In the final stanza, wine calls poetry the offspring of its love
affair with humanity. Wine hopes man will drink and tend to this
poetry, that it may "grow / and blossom like a flower in God's
In the second poem, "Ragpickers' Wine," the speaker describes
seeing an army of drunken ragpickers marching through the
filthy streets of Paris, "reeking of sour wine." Their passing
becomes elevated by the magical quality of the speaker's
perception. Suddenly "arches of triumph rise" and "bugle-calls
and battle-cries and drums" are heard. These social outcasts
The Flowers of Evil Study Guide
then "march in glory past a cheering mob!"
Poem Summaries 31
This drunkenness, so glorious and ebullient in "Ragpickers'
Wine," is pushed to its limits in "The Murderer's Wine." This
In "The Murderer's Wine," a man confesses that he has just
poem's speaker is a man who not only suffers deeply despite
murdered his wife, has an unquenchable thirst for wine, and is
his addiction to wine, he also has no moral compass.
happy because he is now free to die drunk and unconscious. In
Everything he speaks of is inverted, the opposite of what it
"The Solitary's Wine" the poet-speaker addresses wine fondly
claims to be: the "True Love" he speaks of is suffering
as "my Bottle," with its "long green curves," as if it is a woman.
intensified, the very reason for murder; the amorous meeting
He praises wine for being the "remedy" that speaks to his
he promises his wife is an ambush that ends with her death;
heart. In the last poem, "Lovers' Wine," the speaker urges his
the happiness he claims is the freedom to die, alone and
lover ("my sister") to mount the wine with him as if it were a
unconscious, renouncing even the thought of an afterlife. While
horse. Thus they will ride together to "the far mirage," the
the desperation in "The Solitary's Wine" is less nihilistic, it still
"Paradise of [his] dreams!"
reeks of delusory and dangerous pride. In particular, the
speaker echoes the same claim made by the tempter who
In this group of poems, wine is the symbolic starting point for
an exploration of some very fine lines within the human psyche.
convinces Eve to eat the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden,
thus engineering mankind's fall from grace and expulsion from
paradise: "give us pride / that makes us winners—we shall be
as gods!"
The section explores the distinction between imagination as
This feverish, proud delusion gives way in the final poem to a
creative perception that renders the ordinary as more than
vision of delusion that more resembles the ecstatic
ordinary and imagination as delusion, between judicious
imagination. The speaker compares himself and his beloved to
comfort for the suffering in life and nihilistic self-destruction.
angels fleeing, yet whatever they are fleeing will still be there
In the opening poem, wine itself waxes lyrical, making grand
claims of help and happiness toward suffering mankind, citing
itself as the offspring of God and man and the progenitor of
poetry. The immediate contrast offered by the following poem,
"Ragpickers' Wine," makes the reader question the
trustworthiness of the claims made by wine. Wine's
because they are moving toward only "the far mirage." Wine's
transport is an illusion unless it is a transport into death, but in
the moment where "the air is splendid" and the sky
"magic—divine"—the moment ripe with the promise of
intoxication without its poisonous actuality—none of that
intoxicatingly sweet love letter to humanity gives way suddenly
to the blunt, unsettled atmosphere of urban filth and confusion
that opens "Ragpickers' Wine." The scene opens onto a
Wine, The Murderer's Wine
"muddy labyrinth ... / teeming with unruly, sordid types,"
carrying bags of trash and loaded on wine.
The speaker's tone is ironically tongue-in-cheek as he
describes how the ragpicker performs great deeds and grows
In this poem, the speaker confesses to the reader that he has
drunk "on his own boasts." The ragpicker and his companions
murdered his wife. He claims to be happy for having done this,
exist on the fringes of Parisian society; they are society's
but remarks upon his unquenchable thirst for wine, "wine
discards, living on that which the moneyed classes throw away.
enough to fill her grave ... / which means a lot of wine." The
However, they are utterly transformed by wine, invested with
murderer pushes his wife down a well when she meets him for
the dignity, pomp and circumstance, and heroism of a
what was to be a romantic encounter. He explains that he had
triumphant army returning home. This transformation is
to kill her because he loved her too much and that love is a
recounted in full sincerity; the ironic tone of a few stanzas
source of suffering. Complaining that "Nobody understands,"
earlier has vanished. It is as if drunkenness itself has infiltrated
he asserts that he is different from the other drunks who don't
the poem, bending its tone and imagery in the direction of
feel, suffer, or love deeply like him. He celebrates his freedom
to engage in drunken self-destruction now that his wife is
gone. "Dead drunk" on the ground, he won't "know / or care"
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The Flowers of Evil Study Guide
Poem Summaries 32
when a passing wagon "crushes [his] guilty head." The poem
"Destruction," establishes that "the Demon" instigates the
closes with the exclamation, "To Hell! / with Hell! Good
appetites and desires that find their expression in sex and
riddance, God!"
romance. The passions are inherently destructive to the soul,
for their pursuit "leads [one] out of God's regard ... / out to
where the vast / barrens of Boredom stretch infinitely." In the
next poem, "A Martyr," the speaker contemplates a work of art
that viscerally illustrates the destructive nature of romantic
The speaker, the murderer, holds a dark view of humanity,
passion. The drawing shows a young woman's naked, headless
freedom, happiness, and love. Declaring that humankind is
corpse bleeding onto a bed while her head sits on a nearby
completely insane, he confesses both to the murder of his wife
stool. The speaker imagines she has been murdered by her
and to his own desire for self-annihilation. The poem explores
lover because she could not satisfy his lust while living.
how his inability to withstand life arises out of his very nature.
The next three poems, "Lesbos," "Damned Women: Delphine
The images of a wine-filled grave and a shroud made of wine
and Hippolyta," and "Damned Women," focus on female
are tightly connected. The speaker imagines that his constant
homosexuality as a phenomenon that lies outside of morality.
thirst will be satisfied by the amount of wine it would take to fill
In "Lesbos," the speaker is "chosen ... among all men / to sing
his wife's grave. A few stanzas later, he declares that on bad
the secrets" of this island where women love women. The
nights, "wine [can] make a shroud." A traditional funeral custom
speaker in "Damned Women" expresses his love and
is to bury the deceased wrapped in a piece of cloth called a
compassion for lesbians, characterizing them as "Virgins,
burial shroud. In certain cultures, a bride's veil is later reused as
demons, monsters, martyrs, all / great spirits scornful of
her burial shroud. Shroud also has a more general meaning as
reality." However, the speaker in "Damned Women: Delphine
"that which covers up or hides something." Wine both covers
and Hippolyta" has a more condemning attitude, urging these
his wife's body like a burial shroud, and it has the effect of
two lovers to continue along the path toward hell they have
hiding (shrouding) his sense of thirst.
chosen through their homosexuality.
Here, thirst is a metaphor for the murderer's tendency to feel
In "The Two Kind Sisters," the speaker describes how the
too much—much more so than the "numbskull" drunks he
"friendly girls," Death and Debauch, plant the seeds of suffering
knows. It is his own sensitivity and vulnerability that arouse in
through desire in his soul and then offer the remedy. They are
him the excessive "True Love" for his wife that has
the cause of the "wasting fear" described in the next poem,
necessitated her death. The speaker claims his wife's death
"The Fountain of Blood." In this poem, the speaker describes
has brought him happiness and freedom because their
his sensation that his blood is spurting out of his unwounded
relationship was suffering and bondage. However, this freedom
body, "dyeing all the world of nature red."
is the freedom to die drunk in the road, to obliterate his painful
awareness. It is his contemplation of this prospect that makes
Death and Debauch then reappear in "Allegory," depicted as
him happy, for he has rejected not only morality but also life
powerless to harm the lovely prostitute that is the poem's
itself—and even the prospect of an afterlife, as the last line
subject. She is "Sterile" and "virgin" because she offers her
makes clear.
beautiful body as "a noble gift."
The next three poems contrast with "Allegory," exploring the
Flowers of Evil, Section
ways that the speaker is damned. In "Even She Who Was
speaker's beloved joins in with the "imps" who created the
Called Beatrice By Many Who Knew Not Wherefore," the poetworld to mock the poet's artistic efforts. In "Metamorphoses of
the Vampire," a vampire-like woman boasts of her power to
enslave and condemn men as well as angels. She then
changes form, first to an emblem of disgust and then to a
symbolic representation of sad emptiness. In "A Voyage to
The 12 poems in this section are a thorough exploration of
"love's darker side" ("A Martyr"). The opening poem,
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Cythera," a note of hope falls flat when the speaker finds that
The Flowers of Evil Study Guide
Poem Summaries 33
the lover's paradise of ancient myth is no longer what it was.
Eros are very much like "flowers of evil." Another symbol with
Aphrodite, Greek goddess of love, no longer presides over the
the same meaning is found in the poem "A Voyage to Cythera."
island; instead, it is barren but for a hanging corpse, castrated
This is the hanging, castrated, half-devoured corpse the
and half-consumed by wild animals. The speaker recognizes
speaker beholds and recognizes as himself on the island that
the corpse as his own and prays to not feel disgust. The last
was supposedly the lover's paradise.
poem, "Eros and the Skull," is a symbolic representation of the
way that love's games have the power to annihilate fragile
human souls.
Flowers of Evil, Damned
Women: Delphine and
A certain worldview underlies not only this section but also all
the poems in the text. It is encapsulated in the metaphorical
title, "Flowers of Evil." In short, all that is particularly human, or
beautiful and compelling in this world—as well as all that is
not—is the blossoming or manifestation of what can be called
"evil." This philosophy emerges in a few key poems in this
This poem describes what passes between two women after
they have sex for the first time. In the first six stanzas, "Wildeyed" Hippolyta contemplates her loss of innocence to the
The opening poem, "Destruction," accounts for the existence
more experienced Delphine. Delphine, like a "lioness ...
of desire, which is the foundation not only of man's distance
watch[ing] her prey," searches the face of her victim for
from God but also of self-destruction and ennui. The "Demon"
evidence Hippolyta has enjoyed their lovemaking.
who "tags along" sowing "sinful" desire in the speaker is
ubiquitous, like the air the speaker breathes. That is to say,
there is no escaping this demon's influence. Furthermore, it is
human nature to pursue desire to its end: the wasteland of
ennui. In this wasteland, the pervasive sense of
meaninglessness functions as a mirror that helps mankind to
understand that it is self-destruction—the pursuit of
desire—that has landed him in his predicament.
In the closing poem, "Eros and the Skull," Baudelaire uses
allegory to revisit this same idea. The "Demon" from
"Destruction" is recast as the personification of Eros, the
Greek word for romantic or sexual love. This is the same
demon in a different form; as the reader is informed in
In stanzas 8 through 10, Delphine compares their intercourse
to "kisses ... light as ... May-flies / which graze the great
transparent lakes at sunset." By comparison, a male lover
would leave her like the broken earth after it has been
ploughed by oxen. In exchange for one loving glance, Delphine
promises Hippolyta can have "an endless dream" in her arms.
In stanzas 11 through 14, Hippolyta declares her love for
Delphine but wonders if their lovemaking is morally wrong.
Although she still lusts for Delphine, she is plagued by "Pangs
of dread" and horrifying visions. Nonetheless, she vows to
continue loving Delphine, "even if my choice becomes a trap /
laid for me, and the onset of my doom."
"Destruction," this trickster demon disguises himself in various
In stanzas 15 through 19, Delphine chastises Hippolyta for
ways, sometimes appearing as a beautiful woman. In this final
thinking that love and morality coexist. "You cannot please two
poem, Eros is a bubble-blowing trickster perched atop a skull,
masters in this world!" she huffs. Delphine suggests
the emblem that represents humanity. Eros blows these
sardonically that Hippolyta soothe her conscience by allowing
bubbles to amuse himself, but their position of arising from
herself to be mutilated sexually by "some stupid boy."
humanity's skull suggests they might be mistaken for the
individual human's own impulses, thoughts, and feelings.
In stanzas 19 through 21, Hippolyta is seized by horror: "There
However, they are the work of this "Monster Murderer," the
is emptiness / inside me—and that emptiness is my heart!" She
title the skull uses to address Eros. The bubbles are beautiful
asks Delphine to hold her so she can "annihilate" herself and
as they rise and beautiful as they shatter, but they are made of
"find the solace of a grave."
humanity itself—its soul, flesh, and blood. These "bubbles" of
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The Flowers of Evil Study Guide
Poem Summaries 34
In stanzas 22 through 26, an unidentified speaker's comments
(which she attributes to a male) that sex and romance can be
appear as a monologue addressed to the two women. Delphine
conducted in a moral manner. Her positions are so extreme
and Hippolyta should pursue their path to hell by continuing to
and exaggerated that Delphine, instead of mounting a plausible
pursue their romance. He says the "harsh sterility" of their
defense for female homosexuality, is made into a caricature of
lovemaking "rattles [their] flesh like an abandoned flag." He
an evil, insane lesbian.
bids them to "flee / the infinite" within themselves by going
forth into their chosen exile in the wilds.
Rebellion, Section Overview
This poem was not one of the six banned by a French court in
1857 for obscenity that offended public morality, although it is
sandwiched between two poems that were banned. Like
"Lesbos" and "Damned Women," the subject matter of
"Damned Women: Delphine and Hippolyta" is sex and romance
between women. However, the speakers in "Lesbos" and
"Damned Women" hold a positive or at least sympathetic view
of lesbian relationships. While Baudelaire rejected the
commonly held idea of his day that art ought to teach morality,
"Damned Women: Delphine and Hippolyta" upholds 19thcentury sexual norms, portraying lesbian relationships as
immoral, unnatural, and spiritually harmful. This perhaps
explains why it escaped censorship.
This section's three poems all deal with motifs and themes
drawn from the Christian tradition. In the first poem, "Saint
Peter's Denial," the speaker begins by berating God for his lack
of appropriate response to human suffering. The speaker even
claims that human suffering gives God pleasure: "Like a tyrant
gorged on meat and wine, He sleeps— / the sound of our
blasphemies sweet in His Ears." The speaker then begins to
address Jesus. He relates the story of Jesus's crucifixion,
emphasizing the suffering Jesus must have felt. He claims that
God laughed at Jesus as Jesus was crucified. The speaker
then asks Jesus to recall the "wonder-working days" before
the crucifixion when Jesus was "on fire with valor and with
As she assesses the morality of her sex with Delphine,
hope." He asks Jesus if he doesn't feel remorse. In the last
Hippolyta is terrified by visions of being called to join an army
stanza, the speaker expresses his disgust for "a world where
of ghosts under a blood-colored sky. These ghost-armies
action is no kind to dreams." He expresses a longing for a
represent those women who choose to have sex with other
violent death and remarks that Peter, Jesus's disciple in the
women, rejecting their purpose and duty to satisfy male lust
New Testament, is right to deny that he follow Jesus.
and bear offspring. Baudelaire thus implies that female
homosexuality is a chosen behavior that erases a woman's
humanity. Hippolyta realizes that her heart—the symbolic and
literal center of her being—has disappeared. Lesbian sex, the
"dreadful feast" which "foul[s] the night," is contrary to the
natural order. This concept is reinforced by the speaker who
appears at the end of the poem to condemn the women.
Lesbian sex can never bring satisfaction; instead, it consumes
its victims with ever-stronger desire that literally burns away
the body and soul, leaving only a "frantic shad[e]" where a
person once was.
Lesbian sex is described positively by Delphine, who compares
it to the flitting of winged insects on a lake. However,
Baudelaire draws her character in a way that undermines the
validity of her point of view. She is described as a predator who
has made Hippolyta her victim. Delphine describes
heterosexual sex as inherently violent and recoils at the idea
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The second poem, "Abel & Cain," moves back to the Old
Testament story from the Book of Genesis. The poem has a
repetitive structure, with the speaker in one stanza addressing
the Race of Abel, in the next the Race of Cain. The speaker
addresses Abel encouragingly, noting that "God is pleased"
and urges him to enjoy the benefits of this favor. In contrast,
the speaker describes the suffering and condemnation of the
Race of Cain. In this part of the poem, the structure continues,
but the positions of Abel and Cain are reversed. The speaker
condemns the Race of Abel, implying that his downfall will
come, and urging the Race of Cain to "Rise up ... / and cast
God down upon the earth!"
In the final poem, "Satan's Litanies," the speaker offers a
prayer of petition and praise to Satan. He praises Satan as the
wronged party in the drama between God and Satan; he is the
"Prince of exiles, exiled Prince." After each description of
The Flowers of Evil Study Guide
Satan's nature or abilities, the refrain is repeated: "Satan, take
Poem Summaries 35
monarch in the French Revolution of the 1790s.
pity on my sore distress!" Satan is the "Adoptive father to
those an angry God / the Father drove from His earthly
In "Saint Peter's Denial" and "Satan's Litanies," the injustice
paradise." In the last section, titled "Prayer," the speaker prays
borne by Satan and Jesus both is highlighted; the speaker
that his soul will encounter Satan beneath the Tree of
sees both as recipients of God's unfairness. Humanity,
Knowledge—the tree whose fruit earns humanity its expulsion
similarly, has been wronged by God—cast out of Paradise and
from the Garden of Eden.
abandoned to the world below—and so humanity has much in
common not just with Jesus, but also with Satan. However, in
the very situation of being wronged, rejected, and expelled,
there lies the strength for the remedy: in "Satan's Litanies," the
speaker declares that Satan, though "wronged, / yet rises ever
In these poems, the speaker takes a position that is easily
stronger from defeat." Similarly, in "Cain & Abel," the Race of
regarded as blasphemous. There is a reversal of the usual
Cain is urged to "Rise up" and "cast God down upon the earth!"
order of esteem and petition: God is criticized and cursed while
God should be made to experience the rejection that humanity
Satan is praised and invoked as the healer of human suffering.
and Satan both experience. Otherwise the world is a rotten
The speaker's sense of injustice lies behind this reversal.
place, "where action is no kin to dreams" ("Saint Peter's
Such injustice is particularly evident in the poem "Abel & Cain,"
where the discrepancy in the treatment of the two lines of
humans (according to the story from the biblical book of
Rebellion, Satan's Litanies
Genesis) is sharply evoked through the simple, repetitive
structure. The poem may be read as an allegory for the
inequality that marked the France of Baudelaire's day. The
races of Abel and Cain correspond, in this reading, to the
moneyed bourgeois class and the common people, many of
whom suffered greatly from poverty.
In a two-part litany, or recited formal prayer, the speaker
makes a petition (request) to Satan and lists his attributes.
Baudelaire was positioned between these two classes and
Satan, "Prince of exiles, exiled Prince," remediates human
thus had a unique perspective on both. The stepson of a
suffering and bestows love, bliss, and hope. The speaker
general, Baudelaire's family had money, and he was given a
praises Satan for his thorough knowledge of what is hidden
large inheritance as a young man. However, he squandered his
both within individuals and in the physical, earthly realm. He is
money and struggled with debt his entire adult life. Additionally,
the "Adoptive father" to man, whom God has rejected and
part of his process of artistic creation involved walking through
exiled from "His earthly paradise." This praise is issued in
the city, mixing with the flow of humanity and observing,
couplets (pairs of lines), each of which is followed by the
particularly, the ways of the common people. Such observation
refrain, "Satan, take pity on my sore distress!" The poem
is emphasized in the section "Parisian Scenes," in which many
concludes with a prayer that departs from this repetitive
poems describe the wretchedness of the lives of the people
structure. "Glory" is given to Satan, who has been ejected from
Baudelaire observed.
heaven but continues to "dream in taciturn defeat" from his
position in "the Pit." The speaker asks Satan to grant his soul
In "Cain & Abel," the speaker's anger at this inequality is
an audience beneath "the Tree / of Knowledge" when at last
expressed as a desire for violence. "Saint Peter's Denial"
Satan returns to paradise.
shows that the anger is directed at God for creating and
supporting such a situation, but in "Cain & Abel," the anger is
also directed at the favored Race of Abel, who will have to
suffer where once they prospered easily. The idea that their
suffering could right the scales of inequality, which would
When the book was first published in 1857, some
restore the balance to society, is reminiscent of some of the
readers—including certain friends and supporters of
ideas that drove the common people to overthrow the
Baudelaire—were angered by content they felt was
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The Flowers of Evil Study Guide
Poem Summaries 36
blasphemous. The French government charged the poet with
Knowledge. Like the Satan in the biblical book of Revelations
blasphemy and indecency. Baudelaire lost the subsequent trial,
and in English poet John Milton's (1608–74) epic poem
and the court ordered that six of the book's poems be
Paradise Lost (1667), Baudelaire's Satan is also rejected by
removed. Perhaps surprisingly, "Satan's Litanies" was not
God and thrown out of Paradise.
among the banned. The banned poems were those that
contain erotic content deemed harmful to public morality.
He is thus in the same fallen position as humanity with respect
to God but with a crucial difference: he possesses the
There is no consensus among critics about Baudelaire's
omniscience and power that bely his heavenly roots. He is a
personal theological beliefs. After a stroke late in life left him
"God betrayed," but still, crucially, a god—one who operates on
aphasic—unable to produce speech—the only words the poet
the principles of opposition and chaos. He is not God the
could manage to speak were the syllables Cre nom, part of the
Father, the distant Creator in faraway heaven, but rather the
blasphemous oath "Sacre nom de Dieu!" (Sacred name of
god who attends continually to human life in all its imperfection
God!) Shortly before his death, Baudelaire received the Last
and messiness, irony, suffering, and glory. He is present,
Sacraments from a priest.
relatable, and accessible—which may explain why the speaker
of the poem petitions Satan for aid instead of making a
It is understandable why poems like "Satan's Litanies" would
traditional petition to God, Jesus, or the Virgin Mary.
earn accusations of blasphemy. The poem is a pastiche of two
important Roman Catholic prayers, the "Kyrie Eleison" of the
Mass and the "Glory Be" of the Rosary. Like a parody, a
pastiche imitates another work or genre but without parody's
Death, Section Overview
mocking intent. In reconfiguring these two Catholic prayers,
Baudelaire achieves an effect that is all the more shocking for
being presented in a familiar form. The poem may be
blasphemous, but a close analysis reveals that its speaker is
not necessarily expressing devotion to what is wicked and
The six poems in this section explore the concept of death
from various angles. The first three poems, "The Death of
Lovers," "The Death of the Poor," and "The Death of Artists,"
While Christian theology uses Satan to account for the
describe how death has a different meaning and is in fact a
existence of evil in the world, the Satan presented in this poem
different experience for each of these three archetypes. In
is more complex. Satan is involved in the pursuits of self-
"The Death of Lovers," the speaker uses a romantic, optimistic
interested mankind. Examples of this given in the poem include
tone to describe to his beloved their shared death. Their minds
the search for knowledge, the preservation of life, the impulse
are mirrors that have become dirty in life, and they are trapped
for power and domination through warfare and exploitation of
by their bodies and their limited ability to perceive, understand,
natural resources, and the need for comfort and hope even
and connect. Death is a process of cleansing and liberation; it
when that requires embracing delusion and denial. Satan is the
is even a kind of resurrection: "an Angel, unlocking doors, / will
agent that inserts an element of disruption or chaos into
come, loyal and gay, to bring / the tarnished mirrors back to
human consciousness. The fruit borne of this interference may
be morally good, wicked, or somewhere in between—like
humanity itself.
In "The Death of the Poor," this theme of death as an unlocking
or revelation continues with the addition of the idea that death
Satan's close connection to the human race is explained as
is a consolation and a balm for the weary. "What else
well as evoked by the phrase Prince of exiles, exiled Prince.
consoles?" the poem begins; it closes by describing death as
This is a figure of speech known as antimetabole, closely
"the open gateway to the unknown God!" In "The Death of
related to chiasmus, where one phrase is followed by another,
Artists," the speaker addresses death personified as a "grim
identical but for the reversed word order. As recounted in the
Caricature." Death is the "idol" that artists worship. They create
biblical book of Genesis, humanity is exiled from God's
their art for Death, seeking to create works that approach the
heavenly paradise when Adam and Eve, the first humans,
splendor, power, and depth of Death. "Day's End" adopts the
acquire knowledge by eating the fruit of the forbidden Tree of
poet's perspective. Life and death are like day and night, and
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The Flowers of Evil Study Guide
Poem Summaries 37
the weary poet longs for the "replenishing darkness" of the
tormented by Satan and tricked into bringing suffering upon
sleep that is death.
oneself, as expressed in the poem "Destruction," man's
position in life is not painted very favorably in The Flowers of
In "A Strange Man's Dream," the speaker shares a dream that
Evil. Death is the resolution, the ideal remedy for all of these
conveys his anxiety that death might not bring the relief and
problems. This is at the heart of the philosophy of this text; the
the newness that he thinks it will. The final poem, "Travelers,"
only doubt comes in the form of "A Strange Man's Dream." The
describes how those who are true travelers "leave for leaving's
worst-case scenario, presented here, would be that death
sake," pursuing the "mysterious allure / ... that Chance
brings nothing new with it. This dream is pushed aside,
arranges in the clouds." However, they are disappointed
however, and "Travelers" ends the text with its certainty that
because, though they travel the world over, they see but
Death is the pilot through the Unknown that can bring
various forms of the same old tiresome thing: "though
something truly different: the new.
destruction came in many forms, / we were too often bored,
the same as here." Through travel they learn that the world is
"Tiny and monotonous," and that people are but "oases of fear
in the wasteland of ennui," or boredom. In the final section,
Death, Travelers
Death is addressed as the admiral of the traveling ship. The
plural speaker urges Death to take them onward, past the
destruction of their selves, so they "can plunge / to Hell or
Heaven—any abyss will do— / deep in the Unknown to find the
This eight-part poem begins with the image of a child perusing
maps, "satisfy[ing] his hunger for the world." Using the firstperson plural "we," the speaker describes embarking upon a
sea journey. Many of his companions are fleeing something,
In this final section, the dominant archetypes, themes, and
These travelers are seeking "huge / and fluctuating and
motifs that have threaded the entire text reappear and provide
obscure delights" they have glimpsed in their imaginations.
closure. The artistic impulse and task; the plight of the
common man in the street; the complications of romantic love;
the passage of time through day and night; the allusions to
classical mythology and legend; the frustrations of ennui and
the search for consolation; the poles of joy and suffering; the
but "only those who leave for leaving's sake / are travelers."
In the second section, the speaker elaborates upon the
travelers' "Preposterous quest! whose goal cannot be known."
The travelers are continually fooled by mirages that, from a
distance, appear to be paradise or fulfillment.
dreaming self and the waking self; the motifs of sea, ship, sun,
Sections 3 to 6 show an exchange between the travelers and
sky; and the reflection of the inner subjective world in the outer
the "stay-at-homes," who request stories of faraway wonders
world of nature are all invoked and attached firmly to the idea
that they may "forget the prison of [their] days." The travelers
of death.
respond that "though destruction came in many forms," during
This grounding in death brings resolution but not an ending. As
expressed in "Day's End," life is "insolent, noisy," and
"squanders itself." It fatigues with its senseless irritation; it
beats the soul with shame, disgust, and horror, as expressed in
"Travelers." Effort brings frustration and despair, as "The Death
of Artists" makes clear. Worst of all, it is shot through
constantly with ennui, the bored dissatisfaction that comes
from having too much of what doesn't satisfy. As the opening
their travels, "[they] were too often bored, the same as here."
Spurred onward by a relentless desire to find what they sense
in their imaginations, the travelers cross the world but are met
only with various manifestations of "the boring pageant of
immortal sin." They describe the sickness of humanity they
have encountered the world over, concluding that "the least
stupid, Ecstasy's elect," are those who drugged their pain with
poem to the text ("To the Reader") attests, of all the horrors of
The travelers share what they've learned in Section 7. The
life, Boredom or ennui is the worst, as it "would gladly
world is "Tiny and monotonous," and humans are merely
undermine the earth / and swallow all creation in a yawn." Cast
"oases of fear in the wasteland of ennui," a word that refers to
out by God, as expressed in the section "Rebellion," constantly
a despair born of a pervasive sense of meaninglessness.
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The Flowers of Evil Study Guide
Poem Summaries 38
Nonetheless, the travelers' strategy against humanity's
Electra and their friend Pylades to avenge his father's murder
"tireless adversary, Time," is to keep following the seductive
by murdering his mother. Condemned by the gods, Orestes's
voices that lure them ever onward with promises of "the magic
punishment is to be pursued around the world by the horrific
harvest that [they] hunger for!"
female creatures known as the Furies.
In Section 8, the weary travelers urge Death, the captain of
However, while inhabiting the epic mode, "Travelers" also
their ship, to "Put out to sea!" They ask Death to help them
inverts its conventions by infusing them with a critique of
"plunge / to Hell or Heaven—any abyss will do— / deep in the
humanity and an atmosphere of cynical disillusionment. The
Unknown to find the new!"
paradoxical quest starts with wonder but yields only bad news
about human nature. Instead of renewing the hero through
expanded insight, this hero's journey merely wearies.
Baudelaire is in effect creating a modern myth, exploring the
modern predicament of mankind. The use of archetypes and
Travelers is one of the most complex, and certainly the
symbolic personifications of abstract entities (the child, the
longest, poem in the collection. The poem opens with the
traveler, the stay-at-home, Time, and Death) as characters
image of a child engrossed in maps, dreaming of the wonders
elevates the poem to the status of myth, allowing it to speak to
the world holds. Immediately, a jump in time and mood
the universal as well as what is particularly modern.
introduces tension. It is as if the child is propelled into the
future to recall the travels that the body of the poem will allude
It is not until the poem's end that the true nature of the conflict
to. Such a jump involves themes and motifs that characterize
is fully revealed. At last, when the finite sea becomes the
the poem and the text as a whole. Time is a powerful "tireless
signifier of the infinite abyss, the reader learns that the ship
adversary," who spins "Fortune's fatal wheel." There is a duality
that moves the travelers is the human soul. Death, the ship's
between imagination and reality and between expectant bliss
captain, steers the ship until overtaken by the antagonist Time,
and disillusionment or ennui.
who constantly seeks to thwart the ship's progress until it
succeeds in doing so. The impossible goal of the ship's
Time then jumps back to where the child, now grown, embarks
preposterous quest is none other than that which is
upon the journey he imagines in the first stanza. Although the
resoundingly, shockingly, invigoratingly new, in the sense of the
poem is delivered from the first-person plural "we," it is this
unknown and unfamiliar. What the soul seeks is so new that it
child who is the hero and protagonist of the poem. He is not a
does not even exist in the world of the living.
specific child but an archetypal symbol of the individual human.
In many ways, "Travelers" revisits the ideas that opened the
The allusions to Greek mythology throughout the poem signal
text in the poem "Consecration"—although from a very
that this poem operates in the modes of myth and epic. In
different point of view. Both poems take the archetypal child,
Greek poet Homer's Odyssey (9–8 century BCE), as the hero
cast as poet or traveler, as their hero. The poet-speaker in
Odysseus returns home from the Trojan War, he lands on the
"Consecration" is on a spiritual quest filled with adversity. He
island inhabited by the enchantress Circe, who is mentioned in
thanks God for his suffering as it gives him the ability to
"Travelers." She traps men with wine and song and then turns
transcend all and thus fulfill his quest: "if I am to weave my
them into pigs. Odysseus remains as Circe's lover until Circe
mystic crown / I must braid it into all time, all space." This
sends him on his way with instructions to visit the underworld
crown is made of "primal rays" of light whose intensity would
before returning home. In another episode from Odyssey,
blind mortal eyes. It encompasses the entire known world and
which is also recounted in a poem by English poet Alfred Lord
transcends it, encompassing what is beyond as well. In the last
Tennyson (1809–92), Odysseus and his men visit the island of
two stanzas of "Travelers," the traveler chorus tells Death their
the Lotus Eaters. Those who eat the lotus become so blissfully
"hearts are filled with light." Having experienced all the world
drugged they must be dragged off the island and chained to
and its darkness, as light-filled beings they are ready to move
the ship to continue their homeward journey. A third reference
beyond the world to continue their quest. The light imagery
positions the poem's hero as Orestes, whose story is
here recalls the light imagery at the end of "Consecration." The
recounted in a play by Greek dramatist Aeschylus (c. 525/24
mystic crown made of all space and all time is recast as the
BCE–456/455 BCE). Orestes conspires with his devoted sister
abyss beyond the world that encompasses both heaven and
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The Flowers of Evil Study Guide
hell. The Flowers of Evil thus comes full circle.
Quotes 39
"Under an Angel's unseen tutelage
/ the outcast child ... / will
g Quotes
recognize in all he eats and drinks
/ golden ambrosia and nectar of
"Satan Trismegistus subtly rocks /
the gods."
our ravished spirits on his wicked
— Narrator, To the Reader
— Narrator, Spleen and Ideal, Consecration
Although the young poet-speaker is cursed by his very mother
for being different, he is protected and blessed by heavenly
beings. Instead of falling into the darkness of the world's
Throughout the text, Satan appears as the director of human
hatred and suffering, the child falls under the spell of nature. In
effort. In this line, Baudelaire uses the image of Satan as an
discerning the spiritual essence within nature, the child
alchemist and a lover, acting upon humanity through both
complies with his divinely ordered task as poet.
modes. Trismegistus is the legendary founder of alchemy, an
antique pseudoscience involving the separation of substances
into their pure forms. Satan is the master alchemist who can
separate the human will and replace it with his own. Our spirits
"Thanks be to God, Who gives us
are "ravished" by him, as if entranced under a romantic spell,
suffering / as sacred remedy for
and we submit our bodies to this satanic intercourse. The
all our sins, / ... which prepares /
image emphasizes how completely humanity is controlled by
this force of evil.
the strong in spirit for divine
"I speak of Boredom which ... /
dreams of hangings ... / Reader,
you know this squeamish monster
— Narrator, Spleen and Ideal, Consecration
Baudelaire presents the poet-speaker, who appears in many of
well, / —hypocrite reader,—my
these poems, as a blessed being whose work is spiritual.
alias—my twin!"
takes his suffering as spiritual training, preparing him for his
Scorned, mocked, and abused by everyone he knows, the Poet
appointed task of creating poetry that both embraces and
— Narrator, To the Reader
Baudelaire ends this first poem in the collection by accusing
the reader of being a hypocrite full of ennui, the despairing yet
transcends all particulars.
"In all those sallow blossoms who
detached existential boredom that Baudelaire believes is
could find / one rose to reconcile
symptomatic of modernity. The startling criticism is softened
my red ideal?"
somewhat by his assertion that he and the reader are the
same. Thus the criticism of the reader becomes a self-criticism
as well, but even more, it becomes an indictment of the age.
— Narrator, Spleen and Ideal, The Ideal
Modernist poet T.S. Eliot (1888–1965) used this final line in his
1922 masterpiece "The Waste Land."
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Using the metaphor of flowers, the speaker evokes the gap
The Flowers of Evil Study Guide
between society's ideals of femininity and beauty and his own.
The woman who can open the speaker's heart is complex and
bold as well as capable of causing pain or harm, like a rose's
thorns. Her beauty is unique and tied to her character, unlike
the innervated, submissive belles who are worshipped for their
"Calmly I watched, with a certain
Quotes 40
"A Form, an Idea, a Being / out of
the Blue—and fallen / into a
Stygian morass / far from the eye
of heaven."
— Narrator, Spleen and Ideal, The Irremediable
detachment at first, / as the
The speaker describes the fallen state that is common to all
swanlike arms uncoiled, and then
that exists or lives in the earthly realm. Baudelaire's belief in
the legs."
concept of the separation of the ideal from the imperfect
original sin and the fallen state of mankind, as well as the
particulars of the world (here represented as a "Stygian
— Narrator, Spleen and Ideal, Jewels
morass," a hellish and chaotic swamp), are assumptions
underlying the entire work. These ideas account for the role of
the Devil as the engine of mankind and the motifs of duality or
The speaker describes having sex while maintaining
binary opposites, which are core features of The Flowers of
detachment. The body of his lover is described as an object,
separate from him, whose form and movement he observes.
Baudelaire's attitudes toward women would be called
misogynistic today. However, the speaker's detachment even
during sex with his love exemplifies the mode of being of the
dandy, Baudelaire's ideal modern man.
"I shall be / committed to that ...
carnal joy / of fastening the
springtime to my will, / ... /
"I'm like the king of a rainy country,
persuading Paris to become a
rich / but helpless, decrepit though
still a young man."
— Narrator, Parisian Scenes, Parisian Landscape
— Narrator, Spleen and Ideal, Spleen (III)
One of the book's most ebulliently optimistic poems reveals
the underlying and ever-present displeasure and
The speaker describes his chronic sense of meaninglessness
dissatisfaction, or spleen, through its description of the poet's
or ennui allegorically, through the affliction of this imaginary
task. Locked in his dark attic room through the winter, he will
king. Throughout the collection, gloomy weather is a motif that
overcome the gloomy weather and his inner gloom by writing
signals suffering or distress. Baudelaire's decrepit young king
poetry. This poetry will give expression to his longings for what
symbolizes not only the speaker's spiritual condition but also
is not: the sun, the springtime, and the South, with its warmth
the spiritual condition of ennui, which is the particular affliction
and clarity. By rendering a world in words where the
of humanity in the modern age. The jaded, weary boredom that
imagination is the only law, the poet can regain a sense of
can only afflict those few wealthy enough to afford leisure in
power and meaning.
earlier eras has become the norm in an age marked by material
abundance and individualism.
"A swan ... broken out of its cage, /
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The Flowers of Evil Study Guide
... / white feathers dragging in the
Quotes 41
sun our bodies know as love!""
uneven ruts, / ... / drenching its
enormous wings in the filth / as if
— Delphine, Flowers of Evil, Damned Women: Delphine and
in its own lovely lake."
Inexperienced, guilt-ridden Hippolyta confesses to her
— Narrator, Parisian Scenes, The Swan
experienced lover Delphine that she will continue being her
lover, even though she feels to do so will damn her soul.
Delphine makes this sharp reply, chiding Hippolyta for thinking
The powerful image of a displaced, awkward, confused swan
wandering about in the heart of filthy, narrow old Paris
becomes a symbol for all "those who lose what never can be
found / again—never!" Because the swan is actually an exile
from his home that has suffered loss, this symbolic connection
that love and morality are compatible. Delphine says that love
and morality are opposing forces and cannot intersect. If
Hippolyta cannot accept this fact, she must live without love or
else submit her body and spirit to the destruction of a
heterosexual relationship with a man.
is not a metaphor (comparison of two unlike things), but rather
an example of metonymy (comparison of two related or
congruent things). Baudelaire inverts the traditional meanings
of the swan symbol—beauty, grace, love—and connects it to a
series of powerful emblems of exile and loss, including the
speaker's sorrow over the demolition and renovation of Paris
"Who gave to Death, your oldest
paramour / a child both lunatic and
and the grief of Andromache and Daedalus of classical myth
lovely—Hope! / Satan, take pity on
over lost homes and loved ones.
my sore distress!"
"What happens, after that, / is no
— Narrator, Rebellion, Satan's Litanies
concern of mine: to Hell / with
A microcosm of the entire poem, this excerpt is one of a series
Hell! Good riddance, God!"
of couplets that praise and describe Satan, followed by the
repeated refrain, which petitions him for help. By personifying
and linking Death and Hope, Baudelaire describes the
— Narrator, Wine, The Murderer's Wine
corporeal and psychic limits of the world he has created in The
Flowers of Evil. Satan, as master of disruptive and disordering
The murderer is happy: he has just pushed his wife into a well
forces in the fallen earthly realm, has coupled with the ultimate
and now he is free of the pain of "True Love." He is also free to
disruption, Death. The offspring of this union is the absurd
drink as he wishes. He describes his plan for the evening of
hope that blinds reason and subdues mankind enough to
getting "dead drunk" and passing out in the street where he
propel humanity onward through a life that is inevitably marked
can be unconscious when a wagon crushes him to death. The
by suffering, struggle, and futility.
speaker's death wish is not connected to any desire for a new
experience or some sort of preferable afterlife. Rather, it
signals a despair so pervasive that it becomes spiritual nihilism.
"Preposterous quest! whose goal
cannot be known / but, being
""Whoever hopes to force into
nowhere, can be anywhere; / only
accord / day and darkness, ... / will
our hope is inexhaustible, / and
never warm his ... flesh / in that red
Man pursues repose until he
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The Flowers of Evil Study Guide
Symbols 42
l Symbols
— Narrator, Death, Travelers
By presenting a series of paradoxes, this stanza expresses the
tragic and futile irony—in Baudelaire's own sense of the world,
as a mode of consciousness—of the human situation. The
travelers keep moving onward because they are looking for the
Synesthesia is an actual neurological experience, but
experience Baudelaire would call supernaturalism, a state of
Baudelaire uses it as a poetic device. The experience of
pure presence where one transcends one's separate self. The
synesthesia occurs when information from the five senses
travelers know that this is not something that can be found by
blends or overlaps. Synesthetes may hear a color or see a
moving around on the surface of the globe, yet they cannot
sound. Many of the poems in The Flowers of Evil contain
stop searching nor hoping and believing that they are always
synesthetic imagery. Baudelaire uses synesthesia as a
about to find it.
symbolic device to represent the aspect of reality that is
transcendent and infinite. In the poems, synesthetic imagery
reflects the speaker's immersion in this aspect of reality.
"Death, old admiral, up anchor
Synesthesia is also a manifestation of Baudelaire's philosophy
regarding life and art.
now, / this country wearies us. Put
out to sea! / ... the waves and
Synesthetic imagery in The Flowers of Evil consists of the
layering of sense-impressions that are dislocated from their
winds are black as ink, / our hearts
normal mode. This imagery metaphorically suggests a level of
are filled with light."
thus creates an atmosphere of the mystical or the
awareness or reality beyond ordinary perception. Baudelaire
transcendent using only descriptions of normal, everyday
— Narrator, Death, Travelers
The idea that there exists a transcendent or perfect realm that
In the final section of the book's final poem, the speaker urges
is imperfectly approximated by the sensory world goes back to
Death, here personified as the captain of the ship on which the
the Greek philosopher Plato (428/427 BCE–348/347 BCE).
travelers make their voyages, to pilot the ship onward. The
The application of this idea to literature, and particularly its
fallen world, full of "the boring pageant of immortal sin," is
expression through the symbolism of synesthesia, is an
signified by the color black. It lacks meaning and interest for
innovation of Baudelaire and the other poets of his day who
the travelers though they have journeyed from one end to the
are now known as the French symbolists.
other. The travelers' hearts are full of light because they
anticipate Death carrying them onward to the other side of life.
In using synesthetic imagery, Baudelaire affirms his rejection of
There, ferried by Death out of the world of the living, they will
the didactic, or teaching, function of art as well as his rejection
find what they have sought all along: the profoundly new, which
of the dominant morality of his era. For Baudelaire, art and life
they imagine will remedy their ennui (detached, weary
both should be about the exploration of the self and the nature
of reality. His poems thus lack any one clear message about
how the world is or how humans ought to behave. Instead,
synesthetic imagery creates a luminescent haze around the
ordinary. Uncertainty, transformation, and beauty are thus
emphasized. This affirms the importance of seeking and
questioning divine mystery.
Synesthetic imagery is central to Baudelaire's famous theory
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The Flowers of Evil Study Guide
Themes 43
of poetics, known as his theory of correspondences. This
natural habitat. In the swan's situation, the speaker sees the
theory is both explained and demonstrated in the poem
fate of all exiles, which is the fate of humanity itself: separated
"Correspondences." The poem begins with a description of
from God and the infinite and thrown to the world below to
how "messages" are sent to humanity from "Nature's temple"
suffer with the knowledge of this separation.
as we move through the "forest of symbols." This forest of
symbols is a place where "the sounds, the scents, the colors
correspond." However, this interrelationship is an "ech[o]" that
reaches us from "somewhere else."
The Sea
The poem's third stanza offers examples of these
correspondences, characterized in the second stanza as a
"blending ... / into one deep and shadowy unison." This imagery
includes "odors succulent as young flesh, / sweet as flutes,
and green as any grass." These mixed sense-impressions or
correspondences are the manifestations of "infinite things."
They thus create "raptures" in the mind and on the level of
sensory pleasure.
Many of the poems use the sea to represent the infinite within
the finite. The sea becomes the vehicle whereby the individual
may have the experience of the infinite or at least a semblance
of such experience. "Previous Existence" details how the sea
expresses infinitude within the world. The speaker describes
how "Solemn and magical the waves rolled in / bearing images
of heaven on the swell" and bringing with them "sovereign
The infinite or spiritual is "echoes" in the world below. These
music." In "Man and Sea," the speaker describes how man "will
echoes are what mankind can grasp through his senses, thus
contemplate his soul as in a glass" by observing the sea's
providing some experience of the infinite. In the poem
"endlessly unrolling surge." The sea creates an "image of
"Previous Existence," the speaker describes the sea "bearing
himself," which he is able to enter into, at least temporarily, and
images of heaven on the swell." These images of heaven are
have an experience of himself that transcends his normal
inherently synesthetic: they blend "the sovereign music that
they made / with sunset colors mirrored" in the speaker's eyes.
m Themes
Mankind's Fallen State
In several poems, birds symbolize the individual being trapped
while possessing the ability to transcend. In "Consecration,"
the poet's scornful wife speaks of her plan to trap him through
his adoration and love for her and then destroy him. "[A]s if a
sparrow trembled in my fist / I'll tear his beating heart out of his
flesh," she declares. "The Albatross" makes an explicit
connection between the albatross and the poet. The speaker
describes how sailors seek amusement by trapping the
albatross, an enormous white bird, and tying it to the deck of
the ship where they poke at it and mock it. The speaker claims,
"The Poet is like this monarch of the clouds," thus "exiled on
In his nonfiction work "The Painter of Modern Life," Baudelaire
wrote that "the rejection of original sin is in no small measure
responsible for the general blindness" of the previous century.
Baudelaire's belief in original sin and humanity's subsequent fall
from God's grace infuses many of the poems in The Flowers of
Evil. This idea is expressed quite succinctly in "Spiritual Dawn,"
where the speaker characterizes humanity as "fallen man, who
suffers and dreams on."
the ground, hooted and jeered." It is his very ability to soar so
Man's sin and fallen state is sometimes expressed through the
high—to transcend the ordinary world—that cripples him: "he
description of a preferable, pre-Fall bygone era when humanity
cannot walk because of his great wings." In "The Swan," the
was not corrupted with shame, but was full in power and
displaced swan, escaped from his cage at the poultry market,
beauty. These descriptions also function to critique the
goes wandering loose through the urban filth as if it is in its
modern era's zeitgeist, or defining spirit. In "I Prize the Memory
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The Flowers of Evil Study Guide
Themes 44
...", the speaker praises humanity as it was before the Fall,
for much of his life and made several suicide attempts), death
using allusions to classical Greek antiquity. Back then, people
is a state of longing intensely present in the speaker's
were "flawless fruit engendered without shame." They lived in
consciousness. The awareness of mortality, often expressed
harmony with nature and the gods, partaking of this freely
with a sense of impatience or expectation, colors a variety of
given abundance: "Cybele then, abundant in her yield, / did not
situations from the mundane to the romantic to the grotesque.
regard her sons as burdensome, / but ... graciously / suckled
Death-related symbols—such as tombs, shrouds, and
the universe at her brown dugs." The speaker contrasts this
skeletons—pepper the poems. Paradoxically, it is not so much
with the "corruption" of the present era, where humans are
a rejection of experience but rather an intense desire for a
"grotesques" and "brats whom Utility, a pitiless god, / has
completely new experience that lies behind this obsession with
swaddled in his brazen diapers!"
Sometimes humanity's sin and fallen state is expressed
Death is often personified, presented as a woman ("Dance of
through the longing to return to a place that cannot be
Death") or some kind of creature. This personification allows
reached. In "Moesta et Errabunda," the speaker laments
the speaker to evoke an intimacy with death, often in the form
humanity's loss, wondering, "what plaintive cries can ever call it
of direct address. In "The Death of Artists," the speaker
back, / that innocent paradise of timid joys?" In "A Voyage to
addresses death directly as a "grim Caricature," also referring
Cythera," the speaker confronts man's fallen state when he
to it as a "splendid Creature" and the "idol" worshiped by
journeys to the mythical island of the classical Greek goddess
artists. The domain of death is "the Void," which the artist can
of love, Aphrodite. He finds that the "Island of feasting hearts
reach when he creates art where "the circle [is] squared." The
and secret joys / ... [is now] nothing more than a thistled
artist is thus aligned with death in his continual struggle to
promontory" where the speaker sees a corpse whose
create something that is completely, fundamentally new and
castrated, ravaged state suggests the corruption and
different. Such fundamental difference can belong only to the
destruction that define human life.
domain of death. This idea of death as the fundamentally
different is further expressed in the last section of "Travelers."
Man's fallen state is sometimes expressed as an alliance with
The speaker addresses Death here personified as the admiral
or closeness to Satan, who like humanity has been exiled from
of the traveling ship. Expressing his boredom with his current
God's favor. In "Satan's Litanies," the speaker characterizes
circumstances, the speaker urges Death to sail the ship
Satan as the "Adoptive father to those an angry God / the
onward, out of the realm of life itself. Once the travelers have
Father drove from His earthly paradise."
imbibed death's comforting poison, they "can plunge / to Hell
The reason for the fall of man from God's grace is expressed
in "The Punishment of Pride." The speaker tells the allegorical
or Heaven—any abyss will do— / deep in the Unknown to find
the new!"
story of how pride overcame one of the founders of the
The speaker, however, is not always so sure that death will
Church, who functions as the symbol of all humanity. "Moved /
bring the freedom and newness he craves. "A Strange Man's
to panic by Satanic pride," this man insulted Jesus Christ,
Dream" expresses the anxiety, conveyed through a dream of
claiming to be above him and characterizing him as a "vile
dying, that death will not fulfill his expectations. Comparing his
homunculus," a tiny caricature of a man, whose glory is not his
impatience for death to a child who waits for a curtain to rise
own. At that moment, humanity stopped being "a living temple"
on a stage, the speaker laments, "Finally the cold truth was
and fell to "Chaos." This man lost his reason and became like
revealed: / I had simply died, and the terrible dawn / enveloped
an animal, the slave of his passions.
me. Could this be all there is? / The curtain was up, and I was
waiting still."
The Desire for Death
For the speaker in many of these poems, and presumably for
Baudelaire as well (who suffered from ill health and depression
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The Flowers of Evil Study Guide
Themes 45
In The Flowers of Evil, Baudelaire continually evokes and
process "of fastening the springtime to [his] will" and remaking
collapses the distinction between self and other, finite and
his city, Paris, in the image of his internal vision.
infinite, subject and object, past and present, speaker and
reader. These binary oppositions are made to mirror one
another. The reader is thus invited along with the poet-speaker
to contemplate the very nature of reality and to come to an
Satan and Human Nature
understanding of self and the world that lies outside of logic
and received wisdom—a project that Baudelaire felt was most
necessary in the new era that he termed modernity.
A primary type of mirroring in The Flowers of Evil occurs
between the speaker's subjective experience and the external
world. Baudelaire often uses this relationship to convey the
experience of despair or other negative emotions with
heightened intensity. In "Alchemy of Suffering," the speaker
explains, "Nature glows with this man's joy, / dims with
another's grief." This principle is exemplified in poems like
"Sympathetic Horror," where the speaker describes the
complex mirroring between his emotions and the clouds he
views: "The canyons of bloody cloud / accommodate my pride,
Satan—the demon, the devil—appears frequently in The
Flowers of Evil. In some of the poems, the speaker describes
the work of this demon as the source of his suffering, which is
manifested as desire, ennui (existential boredom and
dissatisfaction), and self-destruction. This demon or devil is
portrayed as an agent, a being who acts with intention,
directing the impulses that drive the individual and define
human nature. The intimacy between humanity and Satan is
affirmed in other poems such as "Satan's Litanies," which take
the form of prayers as they praise and even revere Satan for
his workings.
/ their nebulous shapes become / a splendid hearse for my
In "To the Reader," the opening poem, Satan is referred to as
dreams, / their red glow the reflection / of the Hell where my
"Satan Trismegistus," the latter name being an allusion to the
heart's at home."
purported inventor of alchemy, Hermes Trismegistus. In this
Many of the poems evoke the connection between the finite,
temporal world and the infinite or spiritual plane. The poem
"Spiritual Dawn" explains that "To fallen man, who suffers and
dreams on, / the Empyrean's inaccessible blue / presents the
fascination of the Void." Baudelaire asserts that it is in man's
nature to see the presence of God or the infinite in the ordinary
surfaces of the world. To view the sky (the Empyrean) is to see
two levels of reality at once: its blue color as well as its
suggestion of the infinite.
One distinctly modernist quality of these poems is their selfexposure as poetic objects, a quality known as self-reflexivity.
As well as functioning to mirror the world, the poem becomes a
mirror that reflects the undertaking of poetry itself with its
processes exposed and its aims clearly articulated. Often this
self-reflexivity is demonstrated through the collapse of the
distinction between the speaker and the poet, with the speaker
then meditating on his task of creating poetry. In "Parisian
Landscape," the poet-speaker's description of his living
quarters is presented as part of the process of writing poetry.
"To make [his] eclogues proper," the speaker claims he needs
a garret view that allows him to be close to the infinity of the
sky while also watching the happenings of the city below. With
this view, he can concentrate on creating poetry, which is a
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mode, Satan is the "cunning alchemist" who works upon the
human will like ancient alchemists worked to separate
substances and transform base materials into gold. The result
of this Satanic alchemy is that "the Devil's hand directs our
every move— / the things we loathed become the things we
love." The image of demons reveling and "Wriggling in our
brains like a million worms" suggests that these demonic
agents become deeply integrated into our very selves,
infesting our bodies and making their thoughts our own.
The process whereby Satanic interference gives rise to the
self is clearly explained in "Destruction," the poem that opens
the section "Flowers of Evil." The speaker casually explains
how his constant companion is "the Demon," who "tags along, /
hanging around me like the air I breathe" and filling the
speaker, breath by breath, "with sinful cravings never satisfied."
The speaker follows his desires and thus finds himself
separated from God and stranded "where the vast / barrens of
Boredom stretch infinitely." This boredom is ennui, the
profound existential dissatisfaction laced with detachment and
despair that Baudelaire wrestles with in many of his poems.
Trapped in ennui, the speaker then becomes aware that his
self-destruction and suffering—even his will—are the result of
the demon's trickery yet again. He is not what he thinks he is.
The Flowers of Evil Study Guide
Rather, he is a manifestation—a flowering, which is sometimes
beautiful, sometimes not—of this evil impulse that has been
placed in him by Satan. In this way, Baudelaire asserts our
lives, our very selves, are "flowers of evil."
b Narrative Voice
In the poems collected under the title Flowers of Evil, the
speaker, who is often the poet, sometimes speaks in terms of
first-person plural or uses direct address, either to an
undefined "you," or to characters or entities. These range from
God to the reader to the speaker's own soul. The poet-speaker
is not necessarily the same as Baudelaire, the author of the
poems, even when those poems contain elements that seem to
be derived from Baudelaire's own life. Rather, the poet-speaker
is the archetypal or symbolic poet whose revealed subjective
experience speaks to the artistic position, experience, or task
in general.
Because the poems are generally written in the present tense,
the readers are thus invited along for the speaker's subjective
experience, to feel it within themselves and to note how it
compares to their own experiences as they read. Poems that
deal with the longing for or recollection of a bygone era often
use the past tense. However, sometimes Baudelaire uses the
present tense while alluding to classical or antique literature or
myth. An example is "Travelers," when voices promising a
reunion with characters from classical-era Greek tragedy lure
the travelers onward. This use of tense highlights the
discrepancy between the past and the modern era while also
suggesting that the imaginative or mythic realm persists into
the present. Some poems use the future tense, as in "Incubus,"
where the speaker makes a threatening vow to his lover to
control her through fear. This future tense, combined with
direct address, creates an intimate sense of dread for the
reader. Baudelaire uses the imperative tense in several poems,
where the speaker offers prayers, orders, or instructions in an
attempt to influence fate, which is ultimately beyond his
control. In "The Solitary's Wine," the speaker urges wine to
"give us pride that makes us winners—we shall be as gods!" In
other poems, the imperative is used to express the speaker's
longing for death or oblivion, as when in "Craving for Oblivion"
the speaker cries, "Avalanche, entomb me in your fall!"
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Narrative Voice 46