Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The source of a poet’s immortality, and the reason for Baudelaire’s special importance to Mallarmé, lies in the durable impact of his verse. When Mallarmé begins by calling Baudelaire’s body a “temple,” a place containing something that is holy, he draws on an idea common to the Romantic poets and to Baudelaire: that the poet, born with a special capacity for visionary insight, had a duty to use this talent to enlighten those around him. In saying that Baudelaire’s mouth “divulges” mud and rubies, Mallarmé adds to the idea that these are a hint at some form of revelation.

The image of the fierce Egyptian jackal-god, Anubis, combines a reference to the supernatural importance of the poet’s mission with an indication of the violence that is linked to it, as the mud was linked to the rubies. The cry of Anubis’s “flaming muzzle” is a “fierce bark.” By barking, he adopts the manner of an animal, but a bark is nonetheless an utterance. A poet’s speech, no matter how unintelligible, should be taken seriously. It was surely a serious matter to Mallarmé, who documents his own striving for poetic expression as he confronts his still-white page.

The poet’s message often shocks the public, as Baudelaire’s did when the first edition of Flowers of Evil was condemned for immorality, not only because of its violence but also because it chose as its subject aspects of life others would prefer not to see....

(The entire section is 538 words.)