In his poem "Get Drunk," Charles Baudelaire at one point lists a variety of items one should consult when one feels one's drunkenness diminishing.  Why does he list these specific items? 

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vangoghfan | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Charles Baudelaire’s poem “Get Drunk” is a spirited declaration of independence from the burdens of time and a joyous celebration of the freedom to take pleasure in (and from) various enthusiasms. At one point the speaker says that when

your drunkenness [seems] gone or disappearing,
ask the wind,
the wave,
the star,
the bird,
the clock,
ask everything that flees,
everything that groans
or rolls
or sings,
everything that speaks,
ask what time it is;
and the wind,
the wave,
the star,
the bird,
the clock
will answer you:
"Time to get drunk!

Why does the speaker refer, specifically, to these particular items when he could have mentioned many others?  Several answers suggest themselves, including the following:

  • The “wind” is free-flowing, unhampered, and can go almost anywhere; it symbolizes liberty – especially independence of movement.
  • The “wave” can also be seen as a symbol of freedom, since waves are constantly moving and are almost impossible to stop or control. The wind (unless it is blowing very hard), has almost no physical force. Waves, on the other hand, are often quite forceful indeed.
  • The star can also be seen as a symbol of freedom. Stars are distant from earthly concerns and are usually surrounded by vast amounts of space. They seem to move freely, relentlessly, and perpetually through the nighttime sky.
  • Birds also can be seen (and often have been seen) as symbols of freedom. When in flight, they seem to move freely, gracefully, and with great agility. They seem unhampered by any external forces, as do all the other items mentioned so far.
  • Perhaps the most surprising item on the speaker’s list is the “clock.” In a poem that celebrates freedom from time, one might have expected a clock to be the last thing the speaker would mention to symbolize such liberty. Perhaps the speaker means to suggest, paradoxically, that clocks are free from time because they have no consciousness of time. They help humans to record time and to be aware of it, but they are utterly and ironically free from it themselves.
  • The references to anything that “flees,” “groans,” “rolls,” “sings,” or “speaks” again seem to suggest various kinds of freedom, with the possible exception of “groans.” Perhaps the suggestion here is that anything that is in pain is unconcerned with time, although that explanation is far from entirely convincing.

 The poem itself, in its very unconventional shape and construction, is itself a free-flowing, uninhibited, and free as many of the things it describes. It seems significant that the speaker does not dwell on the kind of "drunkenness" we usually associate with that word -- that is, physical inebriation caused by alcohol. Instead, he celebrates freedom of the mind and spirit and heart, a kind of drunkenness that seems associated with sublimity or spiritual elevation. This is in some ways a very Romantic poem, and so it seems appropriate that the speaker, like many Romantics, so strongly emphasizes freedom that he associates with the freedom of nature.



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