The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Parisian Dream” is divided into two parts, the first consisting of thirteen quatrains, the second of two. The eight-syllable lines rhyme in a simple, alternating abab pattern. Composed in 1860, this poem was included in the second edition of Flowers of Evil in the section “Tableaux parisiens” (“Parisian Tableaux”). The title announces a dream, qualified by the location “Paris,” the loved and hated city to which Charles Baudelaire devoted much of his verse and in which he lived most of his creative life.

Part I recounts a dream remembered on awakening. A first person narrator speaks in the past tense, recalling a terrible but fascinating landscape from which he succeeded in banishing the irregular forms of plants. As a painter proud of his genius, he savored the intoxicating monotony of metal, marble, and water. Not a “natural” landscape, but one determined by architecture, it is an infinite palace, a “Babel” tower reaching to the heavens, where water is present in cascades falling into golden basins, crystal curtains falling along metal walls. Instead of trees, there are columns surrounding pools where gigantic naiads mirror themselves. Sheets of water between colored piers extend to the bounds of the universe. Great rivers pour from the skies into diamond abysses. An air of magic and myth hangs over the landscape; naiads are drawn from classical myth, the Babel tower from the Bible, the Ganges river personification from India.

The narrator calls himself an “architect” and his world a fairyland; he shaped his world with his own will and tamed an ocean to pass through a jeweled tunnel. Even the color black took on rainbow lightness, and light was crystallized to hold liquid. There was no sun, no exterior source of light—all illumination originated within the miraculous constructions themselves. There was no sound—“All for the eye, nothing for the ears.” The words, “A silence of eternity,” end the first section and the description of the dream universe.

In the two stanzas of part 2, the poet returns to reality, opening flame-filled eyes on the shack in which the real man must live. Where he was exalted in dream, he is now horrified, his soul full of worries. There is sound in the waking world: A clock strikes noon, and the sky casts shadows on a sad, sleepy world.