The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Invitation to the Voyage” is number 53 in Les Fleurs du mal (Flowers of Evil, 1909), part of the book’s “Spleen and Ideal” section. Written in direct address, the poem uses the familiar forms of pronouns and verbs, which the French language reserves for children, close family, lovers and long-term friends, and prayer.

Charles Baudelaire was a master of traditional French verse form. In this poem, he chose to employ stanzas of twelve lines, alternating with a repeating two-line refrain. Each stanza is divided into distinct halves built on an aabccb, ddeffe rhyme pattern. An initial pair of rhyming five-syllable lines is followed by a seven-syllable line, another rhyming couplet of five-syllable lines, then a seven-syllable line which rhymes with the preceding seven-syllable line. The pattern of five-and seven-syllable lines is repeated with new rhymes then followed by the refrain couplet of seven-syllable lines. The regular alternation of long and short lines produces a gently syncopated rhythm, difficult to duplicate in translation.

The poem opens gently, addressing the beloved as “My child, my sister.” She is invited to dream of the sweetness of another place, to live, to love, and to die in a land which resembles her. The tone is intimate, the outlines gently blurred. The lady and the destination are described with ambiguity: The suns there are damp and veiled in mist; the lady’s eyes are...

(The entire section is 457 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Invitation to the Voyage” makes full use of the music of language as its carefully measured lines paint one glowing picture after another. A successful translation must approximate as much as possible the verbal harmony produced in the original language, with its gentle rhythm and rich rhymes. Equally important appeals are made to the senses of sight and smell in the images employed by the poet.

The three stanzas of “The Invitation to the Voyage” correspond to three visual images, three landscapes. The first is vague and hazy, a “somewhere” where the poet emphasizes the qualities of misty indistinctness and moisture. There is sunlight, but it is diffuse. The “suns” of the imaginary landscape are doubled by the lady’s eyes. The beloved and the imaginary landscape are alike mysterious and indistinct.

In the second stanza, the interior scene is also distinguished by its light, reflected from age-polished furniture and profound mirrors. It is also distinguished by the rare perfume of flowers mixed with amber. As with the light, the amber scent is “vague.” The emphasis is on complexity of stimuli: many-layered scents and elaborate decoration enhanced by time and exotic origin. The intimate tone of the first stanza is preserved through this descriptive passage; it is “our” room which is pictured, and the last line of the stanza echoes the “sweetness” of the beginning of the “Invitation” by describing the native...

(The entire section is 522 words.)