The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“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...

(The entire section is 419 words.)