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Baudelaire's "Invitation to the Voyage": Polymorphy and Locus Amoenus

By inspiring an important part of modern French poetry, such as symbolism, Baudelaire's work is considered as a cornerstone in the history of French literature. Many of his poems are still studied all around the world, and many academics still endeavor to grasp the deep meaning behind the verses of Les Fleurs du Mal (The Flowers of Evil) and the Spleen. The present article proposes a brief analysis of one of the most famous poems of The Flowers of Evil, namely L'Invitation au Voyage (Invitation to the Voyage). Indeed, this particular piece offers an accurate glimpse of Baudelaire's representation of the world, his cosmos, and it is its polymorphic aspect that the present commentary wishes to delve upon, revealing the many forms that its symbolic poetry can suggest to its reading horizon.

Figure 1: Les Fleurs du Mal, frontispiece, 1857.

A prominent aspect of Baudelaire's Invitation to the Voyage is the oneiric nature of the place, the locus: indeed, the poetic subject invites the reader to reach through the poetic art. From the very first verses of the poem, an ideal is presented through the presentation of a place that would create a feeling of rapture:

" My child, my sister, / Think of the rapture / Of living together there! / Of loving at will / Of loving till death..." (Aggeler W., 1954, The Flowers of Evil)

The anaphora, along with the alliteration ("Of living...Of loving...Of loving") (Aggeler W., 1954, The Flowers of Evil), presents at the beginning of the three verses suggest on one hand the musicality and its importance for the representation of this locus, and on the other hand the importance of love as a superior force in this ideal place, a love that wouldn't be limited by anything, except death. This detail has its importance, as it also reveals that in the poetic subject perspective, the ideal place, locus amoenus, is a mortal one, and even if many references to divinity and mysticisms scatter all along the Invitation. This particular verse, "Of loving till death" reveals a human and mortal perception of the main force moving the ideal place and so, per extension, of the locus amoenus itself.

Nevertheless, the latter is effectively an ideal place, and is defined by the fact that it is a different land from the normal one, from the material world, as shown in the following verse:

" That they come from the end of the earth" (Aggeler W., 1954, The Flowers of Evil)

It is indeed the end of the material world, and this invitation is an invitation to explore an ideal world. Here lies one of the recurrent topoi of Baudelaire's poetry, which is a duality between two worlds, the material one and the Ideal one. The first verse, "The misty sunlight / Of those cloudy skies" works to reinforce the oneiric and mystic nature of the second one, "This world is full of mysteries", shown notably through the use of a mystical lexical field:

"The misty sunlight / Of those cloudy skies / Has for my spirit the charms, / So mysterious" (Aggeler W., 1954, The Flowers of Evil)

Figure 2: Matisse, 1905, Luxury, Calm and Pleasure.

Here, it appears relevant to notice that the original version of the verse So mysterious, which is "Si mystérieux" (Baudelaire C., 1857, Les Fleurs du Mal) includes a diaeresis (mysté - rieux) emphasizing the particular atmosphere of this ideal place. And so, to that extent, the two final verses of the poem reminds of an oneiric dimension, as if this world was dreamt and while "The [ideal] world falls asleep / In a warm glow of light" (Baudelaire C., 1857, Les Fleurs du Mal) , it is the material world that will awake.

Also, even though the previously quoted verse suggests a mortal conception of the poetic subject within this locus amoenus, Baudelaire resort to a classic and divine theme of poetry, the Golden Age. Indeed, the pastoral references such as "Adorn the fields ; The rarest flowers ; In his soft native language", associated with the sun and gold, create an atmosphere reminding the description of what is considered as the paradise of the Golden Age in Greek mythology:

"Adorn the fields, / The canals, the whole city, / With hyacinth and gold;" (Aggeler W., 1954, The Flowers of Evil)

However, it is necessary to precise that this classical inheritance is tainted with modernity, as we can see that the pastoral representation of the ideal place is mixed with the representation of a splendid city, which is a meaningful symbol of modernity. As a matter of fact, the whole poem could be considered as a voyage in itself within the ideal world, showing many aspects of it, notably through first the description of the oneiric atmosphere, then the description of the bedroom's microcosmos, and finally through the description of an ideal city. The two verses repeated between each stanza seems to defined these three spaces, linking them together as part of an ideal world, other than reinforcing the divine aspect of it, almost operating like a litany :

"There all is order and beauty, / Luxury, peace and pleasure." (Aggeler W., 1954, The Flowers of Evil)

Another primordial aspect of Baudelaire's poetry, and particularly in this present work, is the poetic treatment of sensations in order to evoke ans create an ambiance for the reader. Indeed, even though the locus amoenus that the poet beckons the reader to visit is an Ideal world, and could be distinguished from the material world, notably through its oneiric and mystic nature, the poetic subject resorts to empiric poetic processes to open it to the reader. As he describes the microcosmos of the bedroom, he insists on the fragrance and scent (Aggeler W., 1954, The Flowers of Evil) spread by the flowers:

"The rarest flowers / Mingling their fragrance / With the faint scent of amber" (Aggeler W., 1954, The Flowers of Evil)

Also, the poetic subject evokes the vision of canals, and The setting suns evokes the sense of touch, as the reader can feel its warmth while reading these verses. Finally, the sense of hearing is convoked as well, while the poet evokes The oriental splendor [that] / All would whisper there (Aggeler W., 1954, The Flowers of Evil). By combining and associating different references to the senses, Baudelaire recreates his famous synesthesia, and through that process, the poet offers to the reader an empiric way to "feel", to "reach" this Ideal world, this locus amoenus, that would remain unattainable without this poetic process.

Already, it is possible to see the polymorphic essence of Baudelaire's Ideal world. Even though it is inspired by classical myths and religious topoi, such as the Golden Age, the modern treatment applied to the poetic, notably through the description of the city and the synesthesia peppered all through the poem, creates a particular locus amoenus, where pastoral landscapes and bucolic paradise coexist with urban fantasies.

Figure 3: Roberts D., 1838, The Hypaethral Temple of Philae by David Roberts.

Moreover, the polymorphic nature of the baudelairian locus amoenus can be perceived as, through the Invitation to the Voyage, a significant personification is carried out. Indeed, while the Ideal world could be perceived as a place stricto sensu, the comparison operated by the poetic subject between this world and a loved person can indicate another aspect of the locus amoenus. The Ideal world of the poet is not only a place, but also a person.

"The misty sunlight / Of those cloudy skies /Has for my spirit the charms, / So mysterious, / Of your treacherous eyes, / Shining brightly through their tears" (Aggeler W., 1954, The Flowers of Evil)
"See on the canals / Those vessels sleeping. / Their mood is adventurous :/ It's to satisfy / Your slightest desire" (Aggeler W., 1954, The Flowers of Evil)

Thanks to the previously evoked synesthesia, the poet is creating a comparaison between the eyes of the woman and The misty sunlight. By correlating the sensation, the loved being and the locus amoenus, Baudelaire deeply intertwines them, and to the extent that the eyes of the loved woman are like doors opened on this Ideal world, it becomes clearer that this place can adopt many forms, and even be personified.

Figure 4: Manet E., 1862, La maitresse de Baudelaire.

The triptych composing Baudelaire's Invitation to the Voyage proposes a polymorphic ideal world, a locus amoenus that finds its beauty in the Golden Age of humanity, but also in the harmony of modern cities. It is both a mystical dream and a place that the reader can see, feel and hear. But this locus amoenus is not only a locus, a place, but also resides in the eyes of a loved one. In that sense. this Invitation is particularly well entitled, as it is definitely an invitation to discover the binarity of Baudelaire's representation of the world: an ideal world and a material one, both coexisting and influencing each other. As Patrick Labarthe (1999 verbalized, the Invitation is an accurate illustration of the materia poetica submitted to the dynamics of the imaginary and the Ideal.

Bibliographical references

Aggeler W., (1954), The Flowers of Evil, Fresno, Academy Library Guild.

Baudelaire C., (1857), Les Fleurs du Mal, Paris.

Dougnac M. (06/28/2022), "L'Invitation au voyage", Baudelaire - Commentaire linéaire", Au Futur,

Labarthe P. (1999), "Locus Amoenus, Locus Terribilis dans l''oeuvre de Baudelaire", Revue d'histoire littéraire de la France, Société d'histoire littéraire de la France

Visual Sources

תגובה אחת

Bernard Davis
Bernard Davis
02 בינו׳

This fairly turgid analysis of the famous poem fails to mention that the country and the place so masterfully evoked by Baudelaire are real. And he had visited there. The country is in fact the Netherlands, and the place is Amsterdam.

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Martin Chef

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