Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 602
Baudelaire’s collection of poems, Flowers of Evil, explores the dissonance between poetic sensitivity and the realities of life, both in people and in nature. The poet constructs many ideal landscapes, among them the erotic paradise of “Invitation to the Voyage” and the rooftop idyll of “Landscape.” Where his visions may include living beings and combine delights of all the senses, “Parisian Dream” is austere and exclusive, lifeless, sunless, soundless.
There is no movement in the dreamscape except water in fountains, rivers, waves, oceans, and cataracts. This water is present in both liquid and crystal states, but not in foggy or obscure forms. There are no “misty skies” or “moist suns,” as in “The Invitation to the Voyage.” All edges are clear. The eternal rush of water duplicates the effect of stillness; cataracts fall like curtains, unendingly hung on metal walls.
Although the moving waters of the first twelve stanzas are described uniquely in visual terms, it is a shock to realize that they are all soundless, so strong is the habit of associating water in any form with some kind of characteristic sound. The poet announces this silence as a “terrible novelty.” Ultimately, the reader hears only the murmur of words as they fall in their pattern of rhythm and rhyme.
It is equally unsettling that the light that flashes from the surfaces of the dream-scape is not sunlight but a “personal fire” from within. Unlike sunlight, this inward illumination casts no shadows. It is all brilliance without darkness. Even black is polished light in rainbow hues, not absence of light. The poet strives to reach a world so intensely personal that, although infinite and eternal, it is wholly controlled and internal. When he returns to the waking world, his eyes are still “full of flame,” his own personal fire.
The suppression of the sun is an escape from time and mortality. The return to the waking world, with its harsh noontime shadows, is deathly. “The Clock,” the last poem of the “Spleen and Ideal” section of Flowers of Evil, develops the theme of the tick of a clock as perpetual memento mori or reminder of mortality. In “The Sun,” the second of the “Parisian Tableaux,” the sun is “cruel” but also a “nourishing father” who “like a poet” descends into the life of cities and ennobles the vilest things. “Parisian Dream” attributes the creative power and illuminating beauty of the sun to the poet, liberated by the magic of sleep from death and shadow.
The world of the dream is also liberated from organic life, “irregular vegetable nature.” The sonnet “Beauty,” found in the “Spleen et idéal” (“Spleen and Ideal”) section of Flowers of Evil, evokes the “dream of stone,” where timeless, static beauty is given a voice and describes her relation to poets. The love she inspires is “eternal and mute as matter.” This “beauty” never laughs or cries but hates movement, an essential quality of life, because it “displaces lines.” Here, as in “Parisian Dream,” the poet dreams of a mineral world where life is banished and eternal light shines from within the great mirror eyes of beauty itself.
“Parisian Dream” is built upon an essential paradox. In it, the poet plays with his own negation, affirming his power to create a world in which his own poetry is invalid. The poet works with sound, yet his dream world is silent. The dream precedes the poem. Waking, suffering the shock of return to poverty, sound, and time, is the only means by which the poet can capture his dream and fit his vision to a verbal architecture.