Themes

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 142

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In this poem, Baudelaire conveys the idea that there is a deep and mystical correspondence between nature and humanity. Nature is imbued with elements of the divine—it is called a "temple" with "living colonnades" (the trees), and it is capable of producing substances associated with the divine, like frankincense and myrrh (both of which come from trees). It also transmits symbols to us through its "mystic speech" of "fitful sighs." We perceive this speech as scents that can seem to become sights or even sounds, all our senses merging into a "unison" that reaches us like distant and fading echoes. There are those symbols that seem pure and others that seem corrupt, but they all pervade our psyche, affecting us like frankincense or myrrh, delighting our senses—our physical bodies—as well as our souls. We are profoundly affected by nature.

Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 448

“Correspondences” is a poem about the unity of nature, human perceptions of interdependence in sense perceptions, and the multiple worlds those analogies reveal. One becomes aware of this unity only at rare moments. When one loses one’s ordinary state of mind, when one no longer separates oneself from one’s surroundings and objects from one another, one may be able to perceive the equivalence of one sense impression to another—perfume to sight, sound to color.

The word “ecstasy” means a state of “standing outside” oneself—a trancelike state. Such an altered state of consciousness may be induced by hallucinogenic drugs. Baudelaire admired Thomas De Quincey, the English writer of Confessions of an English Opium-Eater (1821), and Edgar Allan Poe, whose dreamlike poems and stories were extremely influential in France—thanks largely to Baudelaire’s writings about Poe’s aesthetics. Baudelaire himself took opium and hashish. Another inducement to a unitary state of mind, a traditional and universal way, is the practice of meditation in many forms: quieting the analytical mind by dancing, chanting, repeating a mantra, or putting the service of others before one’s own ego demands. Most religious sects enable devotees to attain “oneness” with God by such practices. For centuries, “out of body” experiences have been recorded by mystics. Baudelaire’s Roman Catholic upbringing, in conjunction with the Romantic idealism of his time, may be seen in many poems. “Correspondences” suggests a mystic holiness surrounding one’s presence in nature’s temple. One’s own body becomes nature’s temple—the meeting place of mind and sensation.

Art provides a third avenue for the loss of one’s ordinary conscious awareness of time and space. “Correspondences” suggests that the artist is attuned to the animated world of objects and can perceive analogies in the natural world. One should not assume by this that Baudelaire was a “nature lover” in the modern sense. He had no love for vegetation or biology as such. An urbane Parisian art critic, he much preferred the artificial presentation of beauty in art to an unadorned, “natural” spectacle. The law and order of abstract nature was indeed his ideal, however, and the senses could introduce one to that world.

The point to which the poem advances, with the illustration of perfumes, is the revelation that the universe of nature is not unitary, but plural. One universe is pure and sweet; its mirror opposite is attractive but evil—heavy, sensual, exotic, and domineering. Many of the poems of Baudelaire’s mature creative period come from this second universe; flowers plucked from all the doubt, disgust, and disease that he felt inside himself and in the bourgeois culture of nineteenth century France.

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