The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Benediction” is composed of nineteen quatrains written in regular Alexandrine, or twelve-syllable, lines with an alternating abab rhyme scheme. Charles Baudelaire’s choice of this traditional verse form contrasts with his innovative use of imagery that was to inspire a new symbolic form of expression in French poetry.

While the poem uses the third person, the poet it describes clearly represents Baudelaire himself. The autobiographical elements, however, are generalized enough for the poet to represent at the same time the romantic archetype of the poet as an inspired figure misunderstood by society.

The first five quatrains form the most clearly autobiographical section of the poem and emphasize the irony of the title, “Benediction.” The idea that a blessing from God is associated with the poet’s birth is suggested in the first line, where his appearance is said to be “by a decree of supreme powers.” Yet the child is anything but blessed when, immediately after his birth, his mother rejects him.

The mother’s rejection echoes Baudelaire’s own feeling of abandonment when, after his father died when Baudelaire was only six years old, his mother remarried, choosing a military man with whom the future poet had little in common. As this experience is translated into the poem “Benediction,” however, the mother rails against the defects of her child, whom she calls the “damned instrument” of God’s...

(The entire section is 486 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Baudelaire’s collection of poems Flowers of Evil deals extensively with the elements of good and evil posited in its title. “Benediction” opens the first, and longest, section of the work, “Spleen et idéal” (“Spleen and Ideal”). Baudelaire’s concept of “spleen” incorporates the negative elements of fallen nature that contrast with the ideal he envisions at the end of this poem. The poet’s tragic fate lies in his consciousness that he is simultaneously drawn to each of these extremes.

Baudelaire created the basis for poetic symbolism by establishing groups of related images that work together to form highly nuanced constructs in his poetry. In “Benediction,” both positive and negative references continue the religious theme established in the title. When his friends mock the poet, they sully the “bread and wine” he will consume, thus potentially corrupting a form of Holy Communion. Similarly, the woman, taking advantage of the fact that the poet adores her, assumes the role of “ancient idols,” leading him to a pagan form of worship that “usurps” the otherwise Christian devotion of the poem.

The positive vision of the “celestial crown” offers a radiant affirmation of the poet’s redemption. That is undercut, however, by certain elements both in this description and in the two quatrains in which the angel seems to protect the poet. Under the angel’s care, the child twice “becomes drunk”:...

(The entire section is 518 words.)