Final Media Presentation by CAN
According to the critic Richard Gilman, Baudelaire was the « man [of his time] who had raised the most interesting question of all: what are we to do with our souls in an age that does not recognize their existence? » For this reason and because of his « particular kind of spirituality,» Baudelaire sought out, through his poems, a secular means to reaching spiritual ends, through horizontal, worldly correspondences and through evocation. The Symbolist poet Mallarmé explained the concept of indirect evocation , rather than direct description, as evoking an object “little by little so as to reveal a mood,” “the art of choosing an object and extracting from it an état d’âme.” Baudelaire uses the outlet of dream-state as well as the static voyage, or metaphysical journey, both in time and in space, in order to convey this sense of heightened reality and spirituality. He does this musically, but also visually, acting like a composer, painter, sculptor, and a poet at the same time. It is therefore not much of a surprise that his poems have inspired not only composers like Debussy and Henri Duparc, but also artists like Edouard Manet and Gustave Courbet, as well as other authors like T.S. Eliot and Edgar Allen Poe.
The “Invitation Au Voyage” [English translation here beneath French] is one of the most noteworthy examples of Baudelaire’s proclivity for reaching a heightened sense of spirituality through evocation. Indeed, the “voyage” to which the poet is inviting his beloved is but a promise of a voyage, which takes place in a dream-like state. It is an invitation to meet in a privileged, idealized location, which is meant to bring comfort and a cure to the poet in his struggle against the “Spleen.” In doing so, however, the quest for this far-removed country is momentarily one and the same with the evocation of the beloved woman, and both elevate the poet and the reader, through the absence of real anchor to reality, to a sort of alternate realm, caught between earth and the heavens—out of time and space. Later on, Baudelaire writes in his Petits Poèmes en Prose that the location in this poem is a “Pays singulier, noyé dans les brumes de notre Nord, et qu’on pourrait appeler l’Orient de l’Occident, la Chine de l’Europe.” It is a journey where the goal is to go live with the beloved woman, muse of the poet, far removed from every day realities. The European minds even coined the expression, which Baudelaire uses in this poem, “pays de Cocagne”, to refer to this terrestrial, abundant, and luxurious paradise. Although the true location of this hypothetical, utopist ideal remains uncertain, it is speculated to have originated and is thought of as the Netherlands, Belgium, or even the Languedoc region of France. This evocation by Baudelaire in his Invitation au Voyage, which is made somewhat more concrete in his prose version of the poem, is therefore like a dream and musing in front of the paintings of Vermeer and Ruysdael, who painted these Northern landscapes which Baudelaire is fantasizing about.
This poem is both descriptive and rhetorical, with a lyrical diction. From the start of the poem, the two first qualifying nouns “Mon enfant, ma soeur”, give the poem a mystical coloration and connote a spiritual love. Indeed, these are not the traditional words used to refer to the object of one’s passion, but rather words used both in an affectionate, but also spiritual way (united in “brotherly love”, being “children” of the Christ…) The poet invites the object of his attention through the verb conjugated in its imperative form “ Songe” which, although harsh-sounding, is somewhat nuanced by the dream-like state that it connotes. The destination of the voyage also pertains, in itself, to the realm of dreams. It is removed through the expression “là-bas”, which implicitly marks a distinction with the harsh ‘here and now’ of the poet himself. We might even be tempted to say that this “là-bas,” which the poet is suggesting and painting for his beloved, is less an actual place than a state—a state of fusion and communion between the poet and the beloved, where the goal is “vivre ensemble.” Indeed, the parallel structure with the two verses beginning with the word “aimer” places an emphasis on this idea, all the while making it ever more coaxing and alluring. It makes it sound not only more musical but also like an incantation, through which the poet hopes to solve all his problems, to remove himself from the Spleen. The words “loisir” and “mourir” further serve the idea that this is not in fact a real place, but rather a state or an alternate reality for the poet. Indeed, “loisir” connotes an absence of regulation and rules, while “mourir” marks a certain degree of recklessness from the poet himself, for whom death in this new, ideal destination would be preferable than life in his current situation. As such, the attraction is something that transcends life itself, as, even in death, it is preferable to what the poet has: it is a spiritual haven for the poet’s soul. One could even suggest that the “là-bas” is actually an “au-delà.”
Interestingly enough, as the poem progresses, the presence of the loved one seems to fade, and a descriptive discourse takes over. Indeed, the second stanza only evokes the beloved one through the words “notre chambre,” and the third stanza only notes the poet’s attention to her “moindre désir.” By the end of the poem, the world “ s’endort,” forms a sort of loop with the beginning of the poem, harkening back to the couple of words “aimer et mourir,” since this sleep seems to be a form of death or forgetfulness in itself. The progressive effacement of the feminine figure in the poem enables us to say that the romantic invitation is but a pretense for the poet to offer his vision of this idealized state, this metaphysical journey. Although he seems to be describing it for his beloved, he is perhaps most of all delineating the contours of the image for the readers, and painting his emotional landscape more than referring to any actual place.
The remainder of the poem is indeed somewhat of an art gallery for the reader. Baudelaire is like visiting a series of paintings in his dream, and proceeds to transpose the pictorial atmospheres of these paintings, such as when he writes the two lines : « Les soleils mouillés / De ces ciels brouillés ». The terms « mouillés » and « brouillés» used to refer to the sun and to the sky are quite clearly chosen in an artistic perspective. What is more, the use of the plural “ciels” points towards the artistic representation of the skies; had he not meant it with an artistic connotation, he would have used the singular “ciel” (to refer to the sky itself) or the plural “cieux” (the sky above our heads, or the heavens). The use of the term “ciels” is exclusively used as part of the artistic vocabulary, to single out that part of the painting. It refers to the tradition of painters who made it their distinctive characteristic. Indeed, one might think of the “ceils” which made Turner, Whistler, Monet, or even Van Gogh famous.
We can also say that this “ciels” points out the poet’s limitation for, despite his power of abstraction and imagination, he is unable to conjure an image that is not a representation that he has already seen—the only way thanks to which he knows this alternate reality if through the lens of another’s eyes, through another artist’s vision of it. One could however argue that this representation is not another painter’s, but Baudelaire’s himself. In this case, it could be said that Baudelaire is trapped inside his own artistic vision—the only reality he knows is art. It is the way through which he apprehends the world around him, and he needs to reason through this lens in order to get a more clear vision of reality. In the words of the existentialist Jean Paul Sartre, literature and language exist because “il nous fallait tout juste un prolongement de notre corps ,un moyen d’étendre la main jusqu’à la plus haute branche” and continues, declaring that language is “notre carapace et nos antennes, il nous protège contre les autres et nous renseigne sur eux, c’est un prolongement de nos sens.” Language, and particularly the language in his poems, is a means for Baudelaire to understand himself, to understand the world around him. Perhaps this is also one of the meanings of the paradis artificiels: this paradise only lives in his imagination, in the art work that he is able to conjure in his mind, and which would be the ideal place for him to escape. He is living in a permanent daydream, which he is able to share with his reader in order to make more real.
Similarly, the second stanza describes a room that the poet has clearly imagined, as the reader can infer from the presence of the hypothetical, conditional tense “ décoreraient.” Baudelaire conjures three different senses in order for the reader to apprehend this new place. Indeed, the sense of touch is implied through the word “polis”. Sight is what enables to poet to declare the “meubles” to be “luisants” as well as to see within the “miroirs”. Finally, the sense of smell is conjured with the expressions “ plus rares fleurs ,” as well as “vagues senteurs de l’ambre.” This grey amber, which connotes luxury and rarity, brings forth a sense of aphrodisiac power and eroticism, as is also implied with its appearance in Baudelaire’s poem Correspondances as the “parfum corrompu.” The senses are once again used as a means for humans, and particularly the poet, to decipher the world. In Correspondances, the poem ends on the word “sens”. This is particularly meaningful, as the senses become the key to the whole poem: they are the door through which humans can decipher the natural world, as they are the vehicle through which the poet delivers it to human understanding. In these two poems, Baudelaire becomes a sort of prophet, caught halfway between Humanity and the heavens. This is reminiscent of Victor Hugo’s poem on La Fonction du Poete : “ Peuples ! écoutez le poète! / Ecoutez le rêveur sacré ! / Dans votre nuit, sans lui complete, / Lui seul a le front éclairé.” Like Rimbaud, for whom the poet is a “bateau ivre” who has seen what man has not “ Et j’ai vu quelquefois ce que l’homme a cru voir,” both Hugo and Baudelaire see the poet as a class apart, both privileged and damned, whose role is to reveal humanity to itself. For Rimbaud, he is a ship, tossed around by the waves and at the mercy of Nature, yet whose status as such leaves his privy to Nature and Humanity’s secrets, which the common of men do not ever experience. For Hugo, the poet is a “sacred dreamer” who is responsible for bringing light to the otherwise dark night that Humanity lives in. For Baudelaire, the poet is a a prophet, who links the human world to the spiritual world, through horizontal and vertical correspondences, and through the power of evocation.
Finally, this poem is noteworthy for Baudelaire’s attention to musicality, which relies on a subtle mix of binary and ternary rhythms. The spatial disposition of the poem relies on three stanzas and three refrains, each stanza being composed of twelves lines. The refrain itself is composed of a binary grouping “ordre et beauté,” followed by a ternary grouping “Luxe, calme, et volupté.” The first stanza starts out with a binary call “Mon enfant, ma soeur” and continues with a ternary incantation: “Aimer à loisir, / Aimer et mourir” (the three words), built on a binary repetition (the two lines).While the second stanza has a more continuous rhythm used to evoke the luxurious interior, the disposition of the elements nevertheless invites the reader to decompose the elements in a binary grouping “meubles” et “fleurs,” followed by a ternary grouping : “Les riches plafonds , / Les miroirs profonds, / La splendeur orientale.” Finally, the last stanza takes up a ternary grouping, followed by a binary grouping : « les champs, / Les canaux, la ville entière » and « D’hyacinthe et d’or ». The binary rhythms produce a sense of harmony and equilibrium, while the ternary rhythms produce a sense of accumulation and abundance. The meaning Baudelaire puts forth in his poem, and especially in his refrain, is therefore mirrored by the binary and ternary rhythms which compose it : the “ordre,” “and the “beauté,” are mirrored by the binary rhythm of the first line of the refrain in which these words figure, while the “luxe,” “calme,” and “volupté” are mirrored by the ternary rhythm of the second line of the refrain, where this second set of nouns appear. In Qu’est-ce Que La Literature, Jean Paul Sartre uses one of Tintoretto’s paintings in order to explain the concept of evocation in art—he says “ Cette déchirure jaune du ciel au-dessus du Golgotha, le Tintoret ne l’a pas choisie pour signifier l’angoisse ni non plus pour la provoquer; elle est angoisse et ciel jaune en meme temps. Non pas ciel d’angoisse ni ciel angoissé; c’est une angoisse faite chose, une angoisse qui a tourné en déchirure jaune du ciel […]”
In the same way, Baudelaire’s Invitation is not a symbol of Baudelaire’s longing, of his alternative reality. It is not meant to provoke a sense of longing to the reader. It is simply his longing, his fantasy, “faite chose” (made object) through his evocation of this dream-like state, and through both the sounds and images of the poems which live and breathe the poet’s longing, his Spleen, and his desire for escape. This omnipresence of feeling, coupled with the rhythm of the poem, and which transpires through Baudelaire’s diction, is perhaps one of the reasons why Henri Duparc chose to adapt this poem into a now-famous musical composition, whose Romantic style and C-minor cord perfectly translate the “angoisse” and “Spleen” which lie at the heart of Baudelaire’s poem, despite the seemingly hopeful words he puts forth.
On a similar note, Baudelaire’s “Harmonie du Soir” [English translation here under the French version] uses evocation, through a mix of kinetic, olfactory, acoustic, and visual sensations, to liberate the poet from his Spleen and help him gravitate towards his own, alternate spirituality or higher order: one based on memory, one based on the past. The strong odors of the vibrating flowers and the sounds, whose origin is not specified, turn in the evening air, performing a sad and dizzying waltz. The coupling of sounds and perfumes in the melancholy waltz is often mentioned as an example of Baudelairian correspondences. More important is, however, the intensity and dynamics of the description, which recalls certain paintings of Van Gogh with their almost unbearably strong hues and twisting, turning strokes.
Indeed, the words “vibrant,” “vertige,” and “tournent” in the first stanza give a sense of dizziness and further convey the poet’s unrest. (Baudelaire’s “Harmonie Du Soir, Feuerlicht) However, it is interesting to look at the evolution of the words which recur in the poem. Indeed, although the word “vertige” is once again present in the second stanza, all these words have disappeared by the third stanza, and seem to have been replaced by the expression “se fige,” which is present in the last two stanzas. As such, whereas the two first stanzas express movement, confusion, and a sense of turmoil, the last two stanzas seem to connote a newfound peace, mirrored by the calmness of the pace expressed by these words. The transition can be captured by the last line of the second stanza : ‘Le ciel est triste et beau comme un grand reposoir.” With this line, the poem shifts from the turbulence and chaos of the earth to the more stable, infinite sky. We may therefore ask ourselves what causes this transformation in the poem. What has the poet found which enables him to convey this dote an increasing sense of serenity through his poem?
While the sensation of movement follows a downwards trend throughout the poem, this is not the case for the presence of light, and the heart. Indeed, The importance of the heart in the poem is growing steadily. In the first stanza it is not mentioned at all but may be implied from the adjectives “melancolique” and “langoureux.” It then appears in a simile in the second stanza (“frémit comme un coeur qu’on afflige”) before becoming the subject of a relative clause in the third stanza (“Un coeur tendre, qui hait le néant vaste et noir”) and finally, in the fourth stanza, becomes independent—it is the subject of the sentence which forms the first two lines of the stanza. In the last line the heart, which until then has only been indefinite, “Un coeur”, as a counterpart of the violin, evidently becomes definite, revealing itself as the “I” of the poet when Baudelaire declares “Ton souvenir en moi luit comme un ostensoir.” Similarly, the power of light is steadily growing too. After the sensations of movement, smell, and sound have had their say in the first two stanzas, the optical sensations take over in the last two, and the poem ends if not on a lighter note, at least on a note of light with the word “luit.” The poem progresses from the coupling “noir-sang” (dark red), to “lumineux – ostensoir.” Baudelaire leverages off the structure of the Pantoum in order to play on repetition and the effects of different words, thus evoking his melancholy, but also his solution –memories– without explicitly citing it. Indeed, the opposites, nature –heart and darkness-light are related to the contrast between present and past. The poem is in the present tense, except for the lines 12 and 15, “Le soleil s’est noyé dans son sang qui se fige.” While the past is linked to the source of light, “le soleil,” the present tense, and the heart are linked to darkness : “Un coeur tendre qui hait le néant vaste et noir.” As such, Baudelaire subtly crafts his poem like the most skilled of scultpors, in order to point the reader in the right direction without ever explicitly stating the source of his newfound comfort : he evokes his alternate faith through repeated sounds, smells, and images.
Interesting also is the grammatical distribution of gender in the poem. Indeed, there are over fifteen masculine nouns, for only three feminine nouns. What is more, these three feminine nouns all occur in the first stanza and seem to connote ephemerality and movement, “tige”, “fleur” and “valse”, referring to a flower and a dance, as opposed to the permanence and poise of the masculine nouns “ néant,” “noir,” “reposoir,” “ciel,” “ostensoir”…. As such, the gender divides also help implicitly demarcate these concepts which Baudelaire contrasts, and the progression moves in the direction of the more ‘eternal,’ masculine nouns. Baudelaire also plays on spirituality in the poem, with a gradation of religious significance throughout. Indeed, the poem presents three similes which end in nouns with a religious connotation, consist of three syllables, are placed in a strategic position, and rhyme with each other: “Chaque fleur s’évapore ainsi qu’un encensoir,” “ Le ciel est triste et beau comme un grand reposoir,” and finally “ Ton souvenir en moi luit comme un ostensoir.” There is an increasing order of religious significance in these similes, from the encensoir which connotes a smell reminiscent of the Church, to the ostensoir, where the consecrared host (the “body of the Christ”) , is kept for veneration by the believers. The growing religious intensity is furthermore parallel to the growing roles of the heart and of the light. Of particular importance is the ostensoir, the last word of the poem. It occurrs only once, while the more common encensoir and reposoir are repeated. The poet tries to conquer his fear and hate of darkness and death with the memory of the beloved and compares the light of this memory with that of a monstrance. For the Catholic believer, of course, this monstrance brings to his mind ideas such as union, communion, strength, love, faith, and conquest of fear and death. It can therefore be argued that this is Baudelaire’s way of imparting to the reader that he has found his alternate spirituality in his memories. This is made possible thanks to the particular form of the poem, without which the distinction between words that are repeated and words that only appear once, which guide the reader in his understanding of the relative importance of elements in the poem, would not be possible.
Like the “Invitation Au Voyage,” Harmonie du Soir is notable for haven been translated into music – this time by Claude Debussy, who was influenced by Wagner into coupling form, musicality, and meaning into his adaptation, in the symbolist tradition. Debussy indeed compared his desire to minimize ornament in his music to Mallarmé’s careful economy of language. Debussy also rejected the idea that music should tell an easily decipherable narrative: “There are those who want music to tell base anecdotes! As if the newspapers didn’t perform this task wonderfully well already.” (Debussy and His World, Fulcher) Debussy, but also Mallarmé himself, imagined that their work, because of its rejection of anecdotal references and formulas, required active participation by their audience and asked them to transcend everyday experience. Both held the opinion that naming an object—or expressing things too literally—removed half of the pleasure of the experience. Debussy therefore emphasized not only sound but also silence as an element of meaning in his music, and this has been described as analogous to Mallarmé’s emphasis on the pauses and blank areas of the page in his late poems, who brings this to a near-exaggerated level in his “Un Coup de dés.”
According to Sartre, “le silence meme se definit par rapport aux mots, comme la pause, em musique, recoit son sens des groupes de notes qui l’entourent. Ce silence est un moment du langage; se taire ce n’est pas etre muet, c’est refuser de parler, donc parler encore.” Baudelaire’s poems function in a similar way: what the poem is really saying, what he is really getting at, is not what his words say, but on the contrary what lies in the “silence” of the poem—that which is evoked, but not uttered. Similarly, Duparc uses silences in music to reflect the stasis created in Baudelaire’s Invitation Au Voyage refrain, which is laden with commas. Duparc furthers this stasis by changing the meter from 6/8 to 9/8, and by suddenly replacing the continuous semiquavers (which are shorter notes) with long, tied notes. This change in pulse serves to eradicate any sense of continuity from the previous verse (Between Baudelaire and Mallarmé: Voice, Conversation, and Music, Abbott) One could even argue that this change in pulse which occurs for the refrain, furthers the distinction between the “ici” of the poet and the “Là” which is described in the couplet. It is as if the idealized, promised land has its own motif, which is conjured upon Baudelaire’s evocation of it.
Baudelaire himself wrote in his 1851 notice which appeared in Pierre Dupont’s Chants et Chansons, that poetry can be “admirablement complétée par le chant.” As such, he seems to suggest that poetry and music are not only embellishments of one other, but perhaps more consequentially, have a symbiotic relationship: one begins before the other ends, and serves to give a fuller, more realistic image of the other. Baudelaire therefore well understood that his poem was only truly complete upon conjuring multiple artistic media to bring it to life. This may be an intuition as to why Baudelaire’s poetry is so evocative: because there are implicit silences, where the additional artistic realms (music, painting, sculpture…) or alternatively our imagination thereof— are meant to step in and complete it.
The Pantoum Harmonie du Soir arguably increases the role of ‘silence’ or the implicit, as the constraints imposed by the form make it impossible for the poem to be completely natural or to express exactly what the poet wants : it forces a mysterious, eerie, near-enchanting tone upon it. And that is why Baudelaire chooses to convey the meaning through evocation, rather than deliver it to the reader on a plateau, as both Mallarme and Debussy argued for. However, perhaps more important in Debussy’s adaptation was Baudelaire’s admiration of Wagner’s work : “ Aucun musicien n’excelle comme Wagner, a peindre l’espace et laprofondeur, materiels et spirituels…Il possede l’art de traduire, par des gradations subtiles, tout ce qu’il y a d’excessif, d’immense, d’ambitieux, dans l’homme spirituel et naturel. Il semble parfois, en ecoutant cette musique ardente et despotique, qu’on retrouve peintes sur le fond des ténebres, dechiré par la reverie, les vertigineuses conceptions de l’opium.” Wagner’s music has the effect on Baudelaire, which the latter tries to dote his own poems with – the effect of evoking something else merely through the art itself, and transporting the audience into an alternate state, an alternate reality, as effectively as would “les vertigineuses conceptions de l’opium.”
The poem Harmonie du Soir therefore has a very strong musicality, which is reinforced by the constraints of the Pantoum form of the poem. The most evident source of musicality is the repetition of the second and fourth lines of each stanza into the next stanza. However, the rhymes also lead to the musicality and harmony of the poem: all of the rhymes have either the sound “oir” or “ige.” It is interesting to note that the words which rhyme together also carry simiar meanings : “soir,” “noir,” “encensoir,” “reposoir,” “ostensoir” all have the idea of permanence and larger-than-life dimension in them, while “tige,” “vertige,” and “vestige,” and “afflige” connote transience and turbulence. The only exception to this rule would seem to be the word “fige.” However, it can be argued that since this word connotes a change from movement to stillness, it is the bridge between these two categories, the pivot after which the poet finds the harmony and peace he has been searching for. As such, the rhyme scheme and musicality of the poem are also vectors of Baudelaire’s revelation to the reader.
What is more, some of the lines in the poem have a particular link between their sound, their meaning, and the feeling they express. This is particularly clear with the verse about the melancholy waltz. Indeed, it has an assonance at the end of the first and second hemistitchs (“ique” and “ige”) , an alliteration in the first and last words (“Valse” and “vertige”) , and a –lan sound in both adjectives (“mélancolique” and “langoureux”.) Thus, the four words (Valse, vertige, melancolique and langroureux) are linked : the feeling of intimate union could not be expressed more strongly, thus furthering the poet’s sense of melancholy and the languorousness of the memory. This poem is distinctive for its suggesting of a vague mood and for its lack of sharply described situation, or precise logical development, as well as its lack of story or apparent purpose. None of the lines is a simple statement, and all of the lines at least involve one image. The unity lies in the rhythm, the rhyme scheme, the tonalities ( S, v, t, r, a, i , and oi are the dominant sounds in the poem) and the recurring images and it can be said that it has a unity of emotional and intellectual development.
Finally, the poem gives an optical illusion of many colors, although there are actually only three colors (and this is already testing the reader’s imagination) : “noir,” “sang,” and “lumineux.” As such, this is a real testimony to the suggestive nature of the poem, in which Baudelaire’s emotions are an intermingling of sounds, smells, and images which come together both for the poet himself but also for the reader to discover an alternate sense of spirituality—or at least harmony—in the world around him.
It often seems as though Baudelaire is discovering his own emotions through his poems: he does not explicitly state and does not symbolize, but rather creates his meaning through his poems, by using particular associations of sounds and images and rhythms and smells which all point in a particular direction, which reveal the poet to himself and the world to the readers. As such, the power of evocation in Baudelaire’s poetry is that it is also an approach through which he, the “poète maudit”, who is taken by the “Spleen” and the “mal du siècle” can work his way to understanding his own emotions and the ways to mitigate and relieve his experience—it is a way for him to find his very own spirituality, and to guide the “common mortals” to an understanding of their condition, and of the world around them. Through his poems, he gives readers a glimpse of the privileged status and vision that inhabits the poet and one might be tempted to say that, beyond the metaphysical journey, and beyond memories, and beyond musicality, smell, and touch, the real alternate spirituality is poetry itself. It is what sets men apart.
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Sartre, Jean-Paul. Qu’est-ce Que La Literature? Paris: Gallimard, 1972. Print.