The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Gambling” also translated as “Gamblers”) is a twenty-four line poem, divided into six stanzas. Each line contains twelve syllables and is thus an Alexandrine, which has been a traditional verse form used by French poets for centuries. Each stanza observes the same abab rhyme scheme.

Charles Baudelaire included this poem in the section entitled “Tableaux parisiens” (Parisian Scenes) in The Flowers of Evil; “Parisian Scenes” is the second of the six sections in the book. In “Parisian Scenes,” Baudelaire described diverse aspects of daily life in Paris from personal perspectives.

This poem is a third-person narrative for the first three stanzas. In the last three stanzas, Baudelaire switches to first-person narration. These two different perspectives enable one to appreciate more thoroughly the complexity of the narrator’s subjective perceptions.

In the first three stanzas, one finds an apparently objective description of self-destructive men and women who spend their evenings in Parisian gambling casinos. He compares the women to garishly dressed prostitutes and the men to poets who “squander” their talents in such unproductive activities as gambling.

In the fourth stanza, the narrator informs the reader that this scene seems nightmarish to him. He sees himself in the casino observing the gamblers, he looks at them from a corner of the room. Although he is repulsed by the whores and poets who demean themselves by “selling” their “honor” and “beauty,” he is nevertheless envious of these gamblers, who can concentrate their attention so exclusively and so passionately on such a frivolous yet addictive diversion, one which will restrict significantly their personal freedom of action. Although the narrator is revolted by the moral degradation shown by the gamblers, he realizes that their behavior mirrors similar self-destructive tendencies in himself as well.