Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Flowers of Evil, Charles Baudelaire’s most famous work, is classical in its clarity, discipline, and form, yet Romantic in its subjectivity, spirit of revolt, and macabre elements. Baudelaire’s collection contains none of the historical or narrative poems typical of contemporaneous poetic works. The poems of Flowers of Evil were written at various dates, but their grouping and emotional tenor lend coherence and heighten intertextual relation. In the enlarged second edition, the book opens with “Benediction,” describing the poet’s birth, and closes with a vision of death and promise of rebirth in “The Voyage.” The punning title suggests the poems are products of “evil” and “illness” (both meanings of the French word mal). At the same time, they adorn evil. True poetry, like a flower, beautifies whatever it touches.
In the first and largest section, Spleen and Ideal, the poet discards previous criteria of ideal beauty and instead finds poetry in the hideous realities of everyday life. Although entitled Spleen and Ideal, the cycle tends more toward the ideal. The first twenty-one poems are all related to the problems facing the artist and to the nature of beauty. Within these poems, there are two subcycles: One considers the grandeur, the misery, and the ideal of beauty; the other considers the three women important to Baudelaire and different permutations of love.
(The entire section is 1858 words.)
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