Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Baudelaire’s poetry returns often to the moment of sunset, the poignant melting of light into darkness, and the evocation of erotic pleasures in the half light. However, this sunset moment is also a little death; it brings a heightened consciousness of mortality and the passage of time. Love is the most delicious at that moment when it most resembles death.

Many of Baudelaire’s love lyrics, including the notorious “A Carcass” (number 29), identify the loved woman with suffering in some way. Sometimes she is threatened with injury, sometimes accused of injuring the poet or reminded of impending death. His idealized goddess of Beauty is “a stone-fashioned dream” whose essence is paralysis, a mineral fascination in which all movement ceases (number 17, “Beauty”). “The Balcony” offers no overt violence to the beloved woman. Indeed it seems exceptionally gentle in its evocation of sweet memories.

The beloved woman is presented immediately as a powerful figure, the mother of memory in a poem devoted to memory, the “mistress of mistresses” in a poem devoted to love. These incantations are introduced and echoed in the repetition of the first stanza. Her physical presence is felt through all the senses; sight that persists through darkness, the voice that speaks “imperishable things,” touch of her breast and hand, scent of her blood, taste of her breath. She is, indeed, the human hearth, the glowing sun, source of warmth and...

(The entire section is 535 words.)