The Invitation to the Voyage by Charles Baudelaire

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Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

In Flowers of Evil, and most particularly in the “Spleen and Ideal” section, Baudelaire explored self-destruction and exaltation, beauty in its most sordid and ethereal forms, and the place of the poet in interpreting human sensation and knowledge. “The Invitation to the Voyage” is one of the most beautiful of his “ideal” poems, a tour-de-force of seductive appeal, a love poem which offers the beloved a world of beauty. The more beautiful and desirable the world of the poem, the greater the compliment to the lady, since the poet declares them to be alike. The complexity and richness of the formal structure of rhyme and rhythm are echoed in the thematic structures of the interior and exterior landscapes, where ornament and exotic luxury are highly valued. Adventure and the outer world are at a distance, exotic themes which perfume the dream without troubling it. The wandering boats are still and asleep on canals, not the wild ocean. The “ends of the earth” send their treasures, but they are to be protected in a closed space, not diffused.

The “voyage” to which the beloved is invited is an imaginary and interior one. The qualities of warmth, diffused light, vague perfume, order, and luxurious and exotic ornamentation are cultivated beauties, neither wild nor natural. Everything within this enclosed paradise is united by an intimate harmony and communicates in the intimate and secret language of the soul.

The beloved must be convinced to enter this ideal world, where every desire is fulfilled. The first stanza presents the invitation in gentle terms, addressing the beloved as “my child” and “my sister.” Yet, in contrast to the later stanzas, suffused in light and warmth, the first stanza speaks of ambiguities: love coupled with death, sunshine with dampness, misty skies. The beloved herself is the prototype of the imaginary world—charming but mysterious and treacherous. She is also the “sister” of the speaker, intimately known and like him. Readers meet her especially through the image of her eyes, shining through their tears.

Eyes are a frequent image in Baudelaire’s poems. In “Autumn Sonnet” (number 64 of Flowers of Evil ), the eyes of the beloved are “clear like...

(The entire section is 565 words.)