Last Updated on October 3, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 577
Part of the original 1857 edition of French poet Charles Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs de Mal or The Flowers of Evil, “Correspondences” is a short, naturalist poem that discusses the subtle forms of communication nature employs to connect and correspond with its viewers. The poem is written in an unconventional sonnet form, comprised of fourteen lines divided into four stanzas—two quatrains and two tercets—and follows the rhyme pattern of ABAB CDCD EFE FGG. The title refers to the dialogue between nature and its viewer, a symbolic interaction in which the natural realm enters into physical and spiritual correspondence with man.
The poem discusses the synesthetic sensory experience of nature’s symbolism, signaling to man through disguises and clues. Only an artist, the speaker implies, can commune with nature in this manner, and the poem is an effort to translate this conversation to casual viewers. As such, the poem is laden with accessible imagery. In the first stanza, the speaker compares nature to a temple to create a sense of spiritual entanglement that transforms the natural world into a site of worship and prayer. Trees become “living colonnades,” reconfigured as the support beams that uphold nature’s temple. Personifying the wind as it winds through the trees as “fitful sighs,” the speaker lends nature a sense of consciousness and self-control as if it is capable of breathing and of speaking.
However, the personified form of nature is unlike man, and its speech is unintelligible to the mundane viewer. It is “mystical” and felt only in the soft sensations of the natural realm, as visual, auditory, and olfactory stimuli make up nature’s correspondence. The speaker strives to present this experience to readers and, in so doing, relies heavily on vivid, multi-sensory imagery. Sounds, such as the “oboe” playing in the distance become smells, a “sweet” perfume that lingers around wanderers. Physical sensations, such as a “child’s caress” are conflated with other senses, no longer something felt but experienced across the vast sensory range. This tactic creates a sense of overwhelming unity akin to religious ecstasy, which excites the senses and invites a profound physical and spiritual response. The speaker argues that it is nature’s veiled, symbol-filled correspondence that catalyzes this response.
Moreover, the speaker argues that this response is unconscious, as men are too often lost in themselves and too distracted by circumstance to see with clarity. “Correspondences” has a unique, highly symbolic rhetorical style that relies on images, sensory experience, and unexpected combinations of sights, sounds, and colors to explain the captivating synesthetic experience that casual viewers burdened by distractions deprive themselves of. In the final tercet—which connects rhythmically to the previous tercet—the speaker locates the poem’s volta or rhetorical transition. In the final two lines of the tercet, the rhyme pattern changes; no longer comprised of alternating rhymes in an ABAB structure, the poem's last two lines isolate themselves rhythmically to act as an enclosed couplet. As such, the poem recalls the Shakespearean sonnet, which relies on the final indented couplet to indicate the poem’s thematic culmination. In “Correspondences,” this rhyming couplet argues that nature, regardless of its aspect—either “sweet” or “corrupt”—invites an awakening in its viewers. Such encounters are cathartic and necessary, inviting a spiritual awakening that inspires enlightenment and self-knowledge. To correspond with nature is to engage in a dialogue of natural unity and to join in the chorus of the world’s divine harmony.