Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 486
Baudelaire introduced a number of important themes in “Benediction” that he would develop more fully in subsequent poems. Such themes as the dangerous hostility of women and the painful realities of the poet’s life form a part of the negative, and later dominant, dimension of Flowers of Evil. The greatest importance of “Benediction” within Baudelaire’s work, however, lies in its positive elements. The reader meets the child-poet when he is still naïve enough to believe in the vision of his own salvation. His progressive consciousness of his fall from grace in later poems gains poignancy through its contrast with the vision presented here and never completely regained.
Although Baudelaire’s life in the dissipation of nineteenth century Paris could hardly have been further from that of a religious ascetic, he retained a strong sense of traditional Christianity. Religious themes persist even in his most negative descriptions. Thus the poet’s mother, turning to God in anger after the poet’s birth, says, “Since you chose me from among all women,” clearly recalling the similar choice of Mary for the birth of Christ.
The parallelism established between the poet and Christ, both of whom were destined to bring messages of a higher truth to people who would misunderstand them, lends urgency to the poet’s desire for salvation. The singing of the way of the cross and the attempt at Communion, when others intercept the bread and wine, prepare the poet for a vision of paradise in which he sees the “splendid throne,” implying the presence of God himself.
Interwoven with these images of paradise, however, are suggestions of an earthly paradise. It has already been seen how the celestial crown is related to earthly gems. Similarly, the poet, while accompanied by the angel, finds himself in a seemingly pure natural setting defined by allusions to sun, wind, and cloud. The sun, one source of the poet’s drunkenness, takes on more negative connotations later in Flowers of Evil until, in “Une Charogne” (“Carrion”), it becomes the source of decay in a corpse.
One need not go beyond “Benediction,” however, to find suggestions that paradise cannot be transposed into the context of this world. The angel sees the child as “a bird of the woods,” but only six quatrains later, the woman seeks to torment the poet’s heart when she finds it as vulnerable as a baby bird. Images such as the sun and the bird, together with the poet’s own drunkenness, set the stage for his loss of paradise.
The theme of paradise, both earthly and celestial, persists throughout Flowers of Evil, but with increasing indications that the poet is separated from it. His consciousness of this separation gives Baudelaire’s protagonist the dimensions of a true tragic hero. Even his most vivid imagining of his own salvation, as he recorded it in “Benediction,” contained the seeds of his ultimate failure.