Baudelaire wrote “The Trip” in 1859, and in 1861 he added this poem to the second edition of Les Fleurs du mal; he found in it the ideal poem with which to conclude this work. The overall structure of Flowers of Evil is loosely autobiographical, beginning with the birth of the poet in the initial “Bénédiction” (“Benediction”) and progressing through the emotional; the work also addresses the spiritual experiences of his life. “The Trip” begins again with the poet’s childhood and serves as a final summary of the work before it offers a new, concluding hope.

The initial image is that of the child who can travel only in his imagination: “For the child who loves maps and engravings/ The universe satisfies his vast appetite.” Yet immediately, the voice of the poet’s experience intrudes to declare that this naïve enjoyment surpasses the reality of actual travel: “Oh how big the world is in lamplight/ How small the world is in the eyes of memory.” The contrast of the vast and narrow perceptions of the world coincides with Baudelaire’s dual vision. The poet perceives the vastness, while the fallen man sees the world close in around him.

The first section of the poem narrates a joyful departure: “One morning we leave, our minds enflamed.” While the experience seems quite comfortable, the travelers find their will lulled to sleep: “Rocking our infinite nature on the finite seas.” The physical limits of the ocean are contrasted this time with the unlimited potential of the human soul, lulled into unconsciousness. Baudelaire’s choice of the verb “to rock” recalls his prefatory poem to Flowers of Evil, “Au Lecteur” (“To the Reader”), where the devil rocks the human soul before seducing it down to hell. As if this analogy were not warning enough, the following quatrain introduces the image of Circe, the seductress who sought to lure Ulysses to his doom in Homer’s Odyssey (c. 725 b.c.e.; English translation, 1614). In “The Trip,” however, Circe represents the danger inherent in all women, as men are “drowned in the eyes of a woman/ Tyrannical Circe with her dangerous perfumes.”

A technique basic to Baudelaire’s symbolism involves the progressive refinement of the definition of his central images as the same object or idea is repeated in varied...

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