The Flowers of Evil


Spleen and Ideal, Part II

Summary Spleen and Ideal, Part II

The hostile and claustrophobic atmosphere of the speaker's world is most eloquently expressed in the failure of his ability to love. The poet originally intends his love to be a source of escape but is soon reminded of the cruel impossibility of love that characterizes his reality. For him, love is nothing but a decomposing carrion. Instead of life, love reminds him of death: A woman's kiss becomes poisonous. Baudelaire often spoke of love as the traditionally artistic attempt to escape boredom. Yet he never had a successful relationship and as a result, the speaker attributes much of his spleen to images of women, such as Lady Macbeth and Persephone. Cruel and murderous women, such as the monstrous female vampire in "The Vampire," are compared to a "dagger" that slices the speaker's heart. But Baudelaire also finds something perversely seductive in his demoniacal images of women, such as the "Femme Fatale" in "Discordant Sky" and the "bizarre deity" in "Sed non Satiata." Baudelaire often described his disgust at images of nature and found fault in women for what he saw as their closeness to nature. However, what comes through in the poetry is not so much Baudelaire's misogyny as his avowed weakness and insatiable desire for women.

The speaker's spleen involves thoughts of death, either in the form of an eventual suicide or the gradual decay of one's body. Sickness, decomposition, and claustrophobia reduce the expansive paradise of the speaker's ideal to a single city pitted against him. Baudelaire felt alienated from the new Parisian society that emerged after the city's rebuilding period, often walking along the city streets just to look at people and observe their movements. This self-imposed exile perfectly describes the sense of isolation that pervades the four "Spleen" poems. Yet while the city alienates and isolates, it does not allow for real autonomy of any kind: The speaker's imagination is haunted by images of prison, spiders, ghosts, and bats crashing into walls. Unlike the albatross of the ideal, the bat of the spleen cannot fly.

This restriction of space is also a restriction of time, as the speaker feels his death quickly approaching. Baudelaire saw the reality of death as fundamentally opposed to the imagined voyage to paradise; rather, it is a journey toward an unknown and terrible fate. The "frightful groan" of bells and the "stubborn moans" of ghosts are horrific warning signs of the impending victory of the speaker's spleen. According to the poet, there are no other sounds.

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