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Last Updated on October 3, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 715

Charles Baudelaire was a nineteenth-century French poet and essayist often credited as an early Modernist. Writing about the changing nature of industrial Paris, Baudelaire coined the term “modernity” to describe urban life’s character and beauty. His poetry is indebted to the Romanticism of his time; however, his work is famously novel, producing new forms of meaning and introducing unprecedented ideas about the role of poetry that would inform the Modernists of the twentieth century. He is perhaps best known for his controversial 1857 poetry collection, Les Fleurs de Mal, or, The Flowers of Evil, and "Correspondences," a Romantic poem from the collection. "Correspondences" discusses the obscured existential reveries nature attempts to communicate to its viewers and the synesthetic forms of natural dialogue such viewers might encounter. 

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“Correspondences” unfolds over four stanzas, beginning with two quatrains and ending with two tercets. The first quatrain deals with scene setting, comparing the natural realm to a “temple” and drawing on ancient architecture to describe the “living colonnades”—organic, vegetal pillars that uphold the temple of nature—that “correspond” with human viewers. From this temple emanates a “mystic speech” exuded in “fitful sighs,” a symbol-laden, synesthetic communication that reaches out as “Man wanders among…those glades. The natural realm breathes in dialogue; indeed, to wander through nature is to commune with it, observing and intaking its truths through sight, sound, and scent. Speaking in “symbols,” nature communes with man and watches his steps with “familiar eyes.” The speaker treats nature with reverence, so its watchfulness feels companionable and comfortable. 

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In the second quatrain the speaker explains that, although these “living colonnades” speak in abstract “symbols” and “mystic” vagaries, nature’s dialogue with man is one of perfect unity. The “fitful sighs” collect like “dwindling echoes gathered far away” into a chorus, a “deep and thronging unison” that speaks as a single whole. The visage of nature’s unity is unimaginably large, “huge as the night and or as the light of day.” Indeed, it is as omnipresent as other physical realities, just as visible to men as the cycle of night and day. To its roots, nature is an object of perfect harmony; across the scope of sensory experience—lovely sights, fluid sounds, exquisite smells, and comforting textures—combine into a keenly felt, hard-to-parse sensation that speaks to the human sensibility in a comforting, foreign tongue. All these sensory objects “meet as one,” communing to wanderers together, speaking of infinite, beautiful truths that leave the soul in a state of blissful wonder. 

The third stanza uses specific details to better describe nature’s divine unity. Filled with beguiling “perfumes,” the speaker describes the olfactory experience in non-scent-related terms, calling on audio, visual, and physical sensations to describe the experience of nature’s speech. Indeed, the perfumes are “sweet as the oboe’s sound, / Green as the prairies, fresh as a child’s caress.” The speaker explains that nature’s “speech” is confusing, melding into a delightful unison of overlapping sights, sounds, smells, and colors. Moreover, this unison is not perfect or divine as Romantic poems often describe; instead, it is a complex creature composed of beautiful objects but also those elements that are so often left aside, those that are “... rich, corrupt, profound.” This switch in focus does not trigger a shift in language as both elements of the natural world, the traditionally, objectively lovely and the grungier, raw forms are spoken of reverentially, given equal import. 

Stanza four resumes the speaker’s discussion of the conventionally undesirable senses that nature also exudes. Both “sweet” and “corrupt” perfumes excite, inviting discordant images of purity and corruption, respectively. Yet, the speaker does not deride these corrupting senses; the seemingly insidious perfumes such as “myrrh, or musk, or amber,” prove just as effective as traditionally valued scents and evoke messages translated by the finite body’s “ecstasies of sense” and the immortal “soul’s delight.” In this final tercet, the speaker upends the conventional character of nature’s beauty. It is not a manifestation of loveliness alone; indeed, it is an expression of the entirety of the natural world, which elevates the less romantic, realistic elements into the realm of divine wonder. “Sweet” and “corrupt” perfumes alike whisper to man, translating nature’s murmurs into the legible realm of sensory experience.

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