In “The Swan,” a poem appearing much later in Flowers of Evil than “By Association,” Baudelaire’s perspective has considerably evolved. Numerous disappointing experiences with women and other distractions have persuaded him that what he has lost through his dissipation has been of more lasting importance than what he has enjoyed. He now finds himself removed from his once-clear vision of his ideal.
The imagery of “The Swan” functions on two levels of complexity. The surface meaning remains deceptively simple. Baudelaire enumerates several examples of exile—Victor Hugo, Andromache, and the swan—and proposes them as simple analogies for his own separation from “old Paris.” Hugo’s name appears only in the dedication, but it would have been sufficient to remind the readers of Baudelaire’s time that Hugo was in exile on the island of Guernsey. Andromache appears in the poem as she was after the fall of Troy, widowed and captive in a strange land: “Andromache, I think of you! This little river/ Poor, sad mirror where once shone/ The immense majesty of your widow’s pain.” The sad mirror of the river reflects not only Andromache’s present suffering but also her former, happier life. The analogy of the river with the Seine, by which Baudelaire stands, “Suddenly fertilized” his “fertile memory,” and he regrets, as he walks by the place du Carrousel near the Louvre, that the city of Paris is changing around him. As...
(The entire section is 555 words.)