The Poem

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“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.

Forms and Devices

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“Parisian Dream” is extremely clear and simple in form. Its eight-syllable verses move along quickly. They are neither cut nor run on, and the regular rhyme scheme is equally smooth. The first person narrator enters the poem in the first stanza and remains consistent throughout the poem. There are no ambiguities in time; the description of the dream world is entirely in the imperfect tense, which implies a continued or habitual action in the past. Thus, the dream world exists in a past time with no hard and fast boundaries, yet clearly distinct from the waking world of the second section, which is marked by use of two past tense verbs, “I sawand felt.” The imperfect tense is also used for the clock and the sky of the outer world, the habitual limits of everyday existence.

In its vocabulary and images, “Parisian Dream” appeals to the visual world, first as a painting, then as architecture. It is a “tableau,” a picture, and the elements it evokes are water, gold and metal, precious stones, and crystal and marble, all agents which reflect or prismatically divide light. The color qualities of light are important. Not only is there blue water between green and rose-colored piers, but black is polished, light, rainbow colored. Baudelaire, a lover of pictorial art, uses...

(This entire section contains 463 words.)

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words to produce a visual illusion. In the waking world of part 2, the sky sends shadows, not light, on the world and the return of sound, in the stroke of noon, is harsh and funereal.

Many terms are borrowed from architecture, an art of pure form, and from its materials and its constructions: staircases, arcades, basins, colonnades, and piers. These constructions are preferred to natural growth; vegetable irregularity is banished and colonnades replace rows of trees. The eye meets the regular swoops and curves of arcades and basins rather than unformed mountains or living beings. Water is architectural form in motion as well as an agent of light; cascades, cataracts, pools, sheets, and ice are all sculpted and tamed by the poet-architect. Unlike “real” water, it is purely, eerily silent.

Within the context of images of light and architectural form, the use of a vocabulary of magic and miracle is striking. Parallel with the objective world of the technical arts is the world of myth, dream, and emotion. The “monotony” of metal, marble, and water is “intoxicating.” Naiads are beside the colonnades and pools, waves are magical, and rivers become the divine Ganges. The vision is qualified as a “miracle,” “fairyland,” “prodigy,” and “moving marvel.” The use of the first person narrator ensures emotional involvement in a dream world from which life and its irregularities are banished. The use of magical, emotional vocabulary ensures the complication of the mineral landscape with the qualities of human feeling.