Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 565

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...

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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 crystal.” In “The Cat” (number 51 of Flowers of Evil), the poet gazes into a cat’s eyes with astonishment and sees fire, clear lights, living opals—which stare back at him. In “Beauty” (number 17 of Flowers of Evil), Baudelaire ends the sonnet with the image of the eyes of the goddess Beauty, pure mirrors which fascinate poets. In many of these poems, the eyes are inscrutable sources of light or living mirrors and a means by which the poet’s gaze is turned back upon himself. In gazing at the Other, be it cat or goddess, the poet is thrown back on his own yearning soul.

The diffuse light and misty eyes of “The Invitation to the Voyage” conceal the pain implicit in the bond of poet and lady, the betrayal and tears present in the formation of the imaginary world of the poem. The beloved, the speaker, and their world are intimately bound in a unity where luxury, calm, order, and sensual beauty are a means of control over the ambiguous mystery and sorrow of life. The poetic text itself is emblematic of the promised paradise. The beauty, formal order, and musical appeal to the senses fulfill that promise and build that world.

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