Course Hero. "The Flowers of Evil Study Guide." Course Hero. 26 Apr. 2019. Web. 25 Sep. 2023. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/The-Flowers-of-Evil/>.
Course Hero. (2019, April 26). The Flowers of Evil Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved September 25, 2023, from https://www.coursehero.com/lit/The-Flowers-of-Evil/
(Course Hero, 2019)
Course Hero. "The Flowers of Evil Study Guide." April 26, 2019. Accessed September 25, 2023. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/The-Flowers-of-Evil/.
Course Hero, "The Flowers of Evil Study Guide," April 26, 2019, accessed September 25, 2023, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/The-Flowers-of-Evil/.
Synesthesia is an actual neurological experience, but Baudelaire uses it as a poetic device. The experience of synesthesia occurs when information from the five senses blends or overlaps. Synesthetes may hear a color or see a sound. Many of the poems in The Flowers of Evil contain synesthetic imagery. Baudelaire uses synesthesia as a 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. Synesthesia is also a manifestation of Baudelaire's philosophy regarding life and art.
Synesthetic imagery in The Flowers of Evil consists of the layering of sense-impressions that are dislocated from their normal mode. This imagery metaphorically suggests a level of awareness or reality beyond ordinary perception. Baudelaire thus creates an atmosphere of the mystical or the transcendent using only descriptions of normal, everyday things.
The idea that there exists a transcendent or perfect realm that is imperfectly approximated by the sensory world goes back to the Greek philosopher Plato (428/427 BCE–348/347 BCE). The application of this idea to literature, and particularly its expression through the symbolism of synesthesia, is an innovation of Baudelaire and the other poets of his day who are now known as the French symbolists.
In using synesthetic imagery, Baudelaire affirms his rejection of the didactic, or teaching, function of art as well as his rejection of the dominant morality of his era. For Baudelaire, art and life 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 of poetics, known as his theory of correspondences. This theory is both explained and demonstrated in the poem "Correspondences." The poem begins with a description of how "messages" are sent to humanity from "Nature's temple" 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 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.
The infinite or spiritual is "echoes" in the world below. These echoes are what mankind can grasp through his senses, thus providing some experience of the infinite. In the poem "Previous Existence," the speaker describes the sea "bearing images of heaven on the swell." These images of heaven are inherently synesthetic: they blend "the sovereign music that they made / with sunset colors mirrored" in the speaker's eyes.
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 the ground, hooted and jeered." It is his very ability to soar so high—to transcend the ordinary world—that cripples him: "he cannot walk because of his great wings." In "The Swan," the displaced swan, escaped from his cage at the poultry market, goes wandering loose through the urban filth as if it is in its natural habitat. In the swan's situation, the speaker sees the fate of all exiles, which is the fate of humanity itself: separated from God and the infinite and thrown to the world below to suffer with the knowledge of this separation.
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 music." In "Man and Sea," the speaker describes how man "will contemplate his soul as in a glass" by observing the sea's "endlessly unrolling surge." The sea creates an "image of himself," which he is able to enter into, at least temporarily, and have an experience of himself that transcends his normal limitations.