This post was made by Stanford student-MG
On “The Venal Muse”
When reading the poem “The Venal Muse”, it can be established almost immediately that the poet Charles Baudelaire, or rather, the speaker of the poem, has an incredibly complicated relationship when it comes to his literary muse(s). The pairing of the words “venal” and “muse” as used in the title is indeed unusual, as the world “venal” typically carries quite negative connotations. For most people, “venal” conjures up images of manipulation, corruption, and money, whereas “muse” is one associated with meditation, peace, and inspiration. This stark contrast seems to accurately reflect the speaker’s attitude towards his muse as somewhat conflicted. In the first stanza, the speaker asks his muse a question—during the cold, dark winter, when I have nothing, will you be there to warm me up? This strongly implies a begrudging sense of dependence on the muse, which further sets the mood of ambivalence that continues on for the rest of the poem.
As discussed in class, there often seems to be a sense of nostalgia present in Baudelaire’s works. “The Venal Muse” is no exception, and phrases such as “knowing your purse and palette are both dry”, “half-burned logs”, “starving clown”, and “meagre evening bread” make further reference to Baudelaire’s crippling poverty with a tone of wistfulness. Although Baudelaire makes no reference to the past in this specific poem, his obvious frustration and anger in the present along with the references to his impoverished state make it clear that he would rather be in a different time.
The last line of the poem, “to bring amusement to the vulgar crowd”, was also quite interesting. Of course, “The Venal Muse” is obviously a translated version of the original French poem, so not all English versions will have this line. Either way, “vulgar” seems an odd way to describe a crowd, unless the spectacle itself was something negative. I as a reader was left confused as to which “crowd” Baudelaire was referring. This lack of clarity (at least for me) in the closing of the poem left me to reconsider the overarching meaning of the poem as a whole, along with the senses of ambivalence, melancholy, and nostalgia, common to Baudelaire’s poetry. -MG