At the heart of symbolism

The Flowers of Evil

Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867)

The Flowers of Evil

In the poem anthology entitled the “Flowers of evil” (1857-61), Charles Baudelaire meditates on the grief of a whole life. A life torn between aspiration and low spirits:

  • The poet has not cease, through the exaltation of Beauty, to look for the rising towards the heights beyond the dark clouds, towards light. And what better way than Art to undertake this rise and tear the being away from the spleen which lays him low ? He tried all his life “to make the world less hideous, the minutes less leaden” (hymme to Beauty). But when the heights become inaccessible, the being loses himself into disenchantment and sinks into melancholy.
  • He has also look for forgetfulness through the exaltation brought by the sense ecstasy and the travel towards far away regions. An illusory escape. Wherever man is going, he is always dragging his implacable misery with him. However, Baudelaire's despair gave birth to some hope. The hope “to find something new” (the Travel), to discover a world liberating the being from the sufferings of the human condition. An obscure world at the end of the supreme travel, the world from where nobody returns.

The poet has never achieved the balance between both tendencies, which nourished his life and work. He did not manage, in an equal way, to embrace Beauty and sink into the woman's arms, contrary to Eugène Delacroix, an artist he admired so much,.

In the sonnet entitled “Meditation”, Baudelaire meditates particularly on the inexorable grief. He speaks to the grief as to an old companion and takes her, far from the pleasures with a bitter taste, into the solitude of the silent night. He rediscovers with her the clear consciousness that calms after the forgetfulness moments:


  • Be quiet and more discreet, O my Grief.
  • You cried out for the Evening; even now it falls:
  • A gloomy atmosphere envelops the city,
  • Bringing peace to some, anxiety to others.
  • While the vulgar herd of mortals, under the scourge
  • Of Pleasure, that merciless torturer,
  • Goes to gather remorse in the servile festival,
  • My Grief, give me your hand, come this way,
  • Far from them. See the dead years in old-fashioned gowns
  • Lean over the balconies of heaven;
  • Smiling Regret rise from the depths of the waters;
  • The dying Sun fall asleep beneath an arch, and
  • Listen, darling, to the soft footfalls of the Night
  • That traits off to the East like a long winding-sheet.