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.)