The Poem

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 457

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“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 treacherous and shine through tears. The refrain promises order, beauty, luxury, calm, and voluptuous pleasure in the indefinite “there.”

In the second stanza, the poet describes an interior scene, a luxurious bedroom where time, light and color, and scent and exoticism combine to speak the secret language of the soul. The description is made in the conditional form; this dream interior has not yet been realized. Again, the refrain returns with its promise of order and beauty, now in reference to the room which has just been described.

The last stanza presents a landscape, an ideal scene of ships at anchor in canals, ships which have traveled from the ends of the earth to satisfy the whims of the lady. Although vagabond by nature, they are gathered to sleep on canals which, unlike the untamed sea, are waters controlled and directed by human agency. As in the first stanza, the tone is generalized; the poet speaks of sunsets in the plural. The light of the sunsets, which dresses the fields, canals, and town, is described in terms of precious stones (“hyacinth,” as a color, may be the blue-purple of a sapphire or the reddish orange of a dark topaz) and gold, recalling the luxury of the second stanza. The stanza ends in warm light and sleep as the refrain returns with its promise of order, beauty, and calm.

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