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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 247

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“Correspondences” is an 1857 short poem by Charles Baudelaire. It is a part of his popular volume Flowers of Evil, and it is written in the form of a sonnet. The poem consists of fourteen lines, which are divided in four stanzas—two quatrains and two tercets—and follow the rhyme pattern of abba, cddc, efe, fgg. Baudelaire named the poem “Correspondences” in order to show the connection, or the correspondence, between humans and nature. This poem also symbolizes the clash between the spiritual world and the physical one.

“Correspondences” is written with a unique and symbolic rhetoric, which presents various sensory experiences and combines colors, scents, and sounds in one captivating synesthesia.

Like long echoes that intermingle from afar
In a dark and profound unity,
Vast like the night and like the light,
The perfumes, the colors and the sounds respond.

Baudelaire suggests that we, as humans, tend to forget that we are a part of nature. We often lose ourselves in the physical world and neglect the spiritual one. Essentially, we pay more attention to our bodies and our physical forms than to our souls, thus losing our connection to nature. Baudelaire argues that if we try to understand nature, we will also understand ourselves, as knowing nature means knowing who you really are. Furthermore, Baudelaire explains the correspondence between our souls and the divine forces and describes this experience as something cathartic—some sort of a spiritual awakening in which we become one with the universe.

The Poem

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 419

“Correspondences” is a sonnet, its fourteen lines divided into two quatrains and two tercets, in the rhyme pattern abba, cddc, efe, fgg. One of the most influential poems in modern literature, it has been translated into English in many forms: un-rhymed free verse, sonnet rhyme patterns, and prose. The American poet George Dillon, for example, kept the original French twelve-syllable line but changed the rhyme pattern to abba, cddc, efg, efg.

The title names the topic of the poem—the discovery that one makes during certain states of mind that one’s sense perceptions blend. Sound becomes a symbol of color; perfumes evoke sights; color reveals emotion. The senses not only correspond with each other but also bear a moral influence in the direction of either purity or corruption.

The importance of this poem comes from its suggestion that the physical world—nature—is imbued with symbols of moral meaning. Later poets such as Stéphane Mallarmé and Arthur Rimbaud, called Symbolists, used the correspondence theory to evoke emotional states by describing objects: A dry mineral field might symbolize boredom or emotional sterility. Since nature’s “messages” are presented in words by the poet, the subject of language, specifically poetry, pervades such a poem. This rich poem speaks of communication and reception of truth. Stanza 1 makes the bold generality that all of nature is a single, holy meeting place (“a temple”) where one hears confusing messages and feels that one is known and watched. It is a “forest of symbols,” full of meanings one cannot quite grasp.

Stanza 2 compares these messages to echoes coming from far away that blend into one sound, as vast as the light of day and the dark of night; the senses of smell, sound, and sight correspond to one another in their meanings. The third stanza illustrates the working of the principle of correspondence with the sense of smell. Some soft, sweet perfumes remind one of musical sounds, children’s skin, or green fields. Other perfumes are the opposite: They evoke messages of corruption or oppression.

The final stanza continues the description of odors that speak of dark forces. These are expansive, even infinite, such as frankincense and myrrh. They sing in praise of mental and physical ecstasy. The next-to-last line, naming four exotic spices, recalls the precious ointments brought to the Christ child by the Three Kings. The very words “frankincense and myrrh” have associations with richness and bitterness; they carry a biblical authority and hint of religious celebrations in music and ritual.

Forms and Devices

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 572

Analysis of tone and sentence structure in “Correspondences” demonstrates Charles Baudelaire’s mastery of formal devices. Although the subject of symbolic meanings in nature may be difficult for the reader to grasp, the poet’s tone projects a confidence that adds to the poem’s power. The opening metaphor directly equating nature with a temple commands one’s attention with its boldness. The use of simile, a weaker device, would have less power. Later in the poem, the blending of sensory perception is compared to echoes one hears in the background: a train passing, a machine humming, the wind blowing, a tap dripping. Here the simile works well, underscoring a point. Throughout the poem, in three clear and grammatical sentences, the poet firmly controls the unfolding of his idea.

The four lines of stanza 1 complete one sentence—a compound sentence with a break exactly in the middle, at the end of the second line. It begins with its subject and verb declaring a proposition; the proposition’s effects in human life unroll in the third and fourth lines. The second stanza also begins and ends as one sentence, but the opposite placement of subject and verb makes this stanza grammatically a mirror of the first. Here, three lines of an introductory phrase, an extended simile, lead into the main clause in line 4. Here one comes to the heart of the poem, in which the plainly spoken “correspondence” of sense perception is stated. These two sentences are called “right-branching” (starting with subject and verb) and “left-branching” (ending with subject and verb), respectively. They balance each other and provide a rhythm in the movement of the poem that the reader may feel subconsciously. The balance of sentence style sets up an echo or dialogue effect that mirrors the first stanza’s report of humanity feeling “watched” by nature and the second stanza’s simile about echoes.

The remaining six lines, divided into two three-line stanzas, make the third and final sentence. The correspondences of perfumes (a favorite sensory reference in Baudelaire’s poetry) result in various effects. Odors can evoke, for example, sweetness and freshness, or they can stimulate one toward dark, infinite, and dangerous powers that enchant the mind and senses.

Critics such as Roman Jakobson have found layers of grammatical parallels embedded in Baudelaire’s poetry. Balanced vowel and consonant patterns, general and concrete noun patterns, and verb tense patterns show a delicately crafted subsurface structure that affects the reader. This extraordinary perfection of form resembles the “hidden” patterns of sound and word in the sonnets of William Shakespeare.

“Correspondences” would seem to present an unlikely marriage of form and meaning. The tightly controlled sonnet form would not seem to be conducive to the subject of confused half-awareness with which one understands nature’s symbols. The final line praises ecstasy of mind and body—hardly an orderly concept in the usual sense. Yet one can find a profound rightness in this apparent contrast. The human imagination, Baudelaire believed, was as accurate and truthful as any scientific instrument. Beyond the confusions of sensual perceptions lies an encompassing, ordained, and beautiful balance, a justice that human imagination can picture.

Thus, in a confident and assured tone, Baudelaire can speak of disorder and dimly perceived correspondences, with the expression remaining classically coherent. Like the expression of many moods in Ludwig van Beethoven’s music, Baudelaire’s poetry encases emotion within the controlling power of mind.