Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The publication of The Flowers of Evil in 1857 caused a great scandal. It was ruled by a French court to be an obscene collection, and some of the poems had to be excised in subsequent editions. The preface of The Flowers of Evil stated Baudelaire’s belief that sin overwhelmed the world, and in each section of the collection, the poet confronted different ways of personal escape. “Cats” was included in the opening section, in which Baudelaire escaped into a quest for beauty in art and love. Within this section there is charm, music, and sensuality; Romanticism is strong in these poems. It is clearly evident in a poem such as “Cats.” The spell that is created within this sonnet has close ties to English Romanticism and especially to the work of Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

Baudelaire can also be considered a bridge to modern poetic art. He used the bold repudiation of bourgeois normality found in Romanticism and added his own sharp images, framed within a rigid poetic structure, to legitimize a wide range of topics otherwise thought to be indelicate. “Cats” does not approach some of the more scandalous subjects; it does speak powerfully about a creature that is exotic, however, and the exotic also runs counter to bourgeois normality. The cat of the first quatrain receives love by being different but not existing outside normal boundaries. Baudelaire refuses to leave it at that. In the second quatrain, the cat takes on qualities...

(The entire section is 411 words.)