As the title suggests, “To the Reader” was written by Charles Baudelaire as a preface to his collection of poems Flowers of Evil. It is a poem of forty lines, organized into ten quatrains, which presents a pessimistic account of the poet’s view of the human condition along with his explanation of its causes and origins. Baudelaire, assuming the ironic stance of a sardonic religious orator, chastises the reader for his sins and subsequent insincere repentence. He proposes the devil himself as the major force controlling humankind’s life and behavior, and unveils a personification of Boredom (Ennui), overwhelming and all-pervasive, as the most pernicious of all vices, for it threatens to suffocate humankind’s aspirations toward virtue and goodness with indifference and apathy. The tone of Flowers of Evil is established in this opening piece, which also announces the principal themes of the poems to follow.
The first two quatrains of the poem can be taken together: In the first quatrain, the speaker chastises his readers for their energetic pursuit of vice and sin (folly, error, and greed are mentioned), and for sustaining their sins as beggars nourish their lice; in the second, he accuses them of repenting insincerely, for, though they willingly offer their tears and vows, they are soon enticed to return, through weakness, to their old sinful ways. The next five quatrains, filled with many similes and metaphors, reveal...
(The entire section is 432 words.)