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.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

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...

(The entire section is 572 words.)