“Correspondences” is a sonnet, its fourteen lines divided into two quatrains and two tercets, in the rhyme pattern abba, cddc, efe, fgg. One of the most influential poems in modern literature, it has been translated into English in many forms: un-rhymed free verse, sonnet rhyme patterns, and prose. The American poet George Dillon, for example, kept the original French twelve-syllable line but changed the rhyme pattern to abba, cddc, efg, efg.
The title names the topic of the poem—the discovery that one makes during certain states of mind that one’s sense perceptions blend. Sound becomes a symbol of color; perfumes evoke sights; color reveals emotion. The senses not only correspond with each other but also bear a moral influence in the direction of either purity or corruption.
The importance of this poem comes from its suggestion that the physical world—nature—is imbued with symbols of moral meaning. Later poets such as Stéphane Mallarmé and Arthur Rimbaud, called Symbolists, used the correspondence theory to evoke emotional states by describing objects: A dry mineral field might symbolize boredom or emotional sterility. Since nature’s “messages” are presented in words by the poet, the subject of language, specifically poetry, pervades such a poem. This rich poem speaks of communication and reception of truth. Stanza 1 makes the bold generality that all of nature is a single, holy meeting place (“a...
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Deconstruction Analysis - "Correspondances" by Charles Baudelaire
Paul de Man performs a famous close reading of this sonnet in his essay "Anthropomorphism and Trope in Lyric." It's a tough text, but de Man was never one to shy away from difficulty. Fittingly, then, de Man interprets Baudelaire's poem as about the difficulty that lyric poetry has in getting beyond itself—to the "truth" that it is so often promises.
There are perfumes as cool as the flesh of children,
Sweet as oboes, green as meadows
— And others are corrupt, and rich, triumphant,
With power to expand into infinity,
Like amber and incense, musk, benzoin,
That sing the ecstasy of the soul and senses.
There's no way to do justice to de Man's insanely close reading of these lines. So we'll just give you a sneak preview of that reading by saying that his understanding of "Correspondances" hinges on a single word: the "like" in "Like amber and incense, musk, benzoin."
Mind. Blown. Are we right?
Check out "Anthropomorphism and Trope" itself if you're wondering how a critical reading could ever hinge on a single word, let alone one as innocent-looking as "like." Now that you've been through our Deconstruction Boot Camp, we bet you'll like what you see.