The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Balcony” first appeared as number 34 in the “Spleen and Ideal” section of the first, banned edition of Les Fleurs du mal (Flowers of Evil, first translated in 1931) and as poem number 36 in the second, definitive edition (1861). The poem consists of six five-line stanzas in the “enveloped strophe” form—that is, the first line of each stanza reappears as its last line. The first, third, and fifth line of each stanza rhyme, as do the second and fourth.

In “The Balcony” a first-person voice, closely associated with the poet himself, speaks to a beloved woman using the familiar form of address, reserved in nineteenth century French for the most intimate relationships. The first stanza apostrophizes the beloved as “Mother of memories, Mistress of mistresses” and invites her to remember an earlier period of shared love. These memories are located in the home, or hearth; their time is evening, and the tone of the stanza, as of the poem in general, is elegiac and directs the reader’s attention to a lost past of beauty, caresses, sweetness, and charm.

The second stanza is written in the imperfect tense, indicating habitual action in the past. The scene is set in early evening, either by the glow of a coal fire or of sunset on the balcony of the title. In an atmosphere of warmth and enclosure, the breast and heart of the beloved are offered to the poet; they say “imperishable” things.

The...

(The entire section is 482 words.)