Flowers Of Evil; Baudelaire Anti-Hero

“My memory teems with pity / As I cross the new Carrousel / Old Paris is no more (the shape of a city /Changes more quickly, alas! than the heart of a mortal).” All he sees now is the chaos of the city’s rebuilding, from scaffolding to broken columns. Baudelaire then juxtaposes the pure but exiled image of a white swan with the dark, broken image of the city. The swan begs the sky for rain but gets no reply. The speaker forces himself to come to grips with the new city but cannot forget the forlorn figure of the swan as well as the fate of Andromache, who was kidnapped shortly after her husband’s murder.

The presence of the grieving Andromache evokes the theme of love in the city streets. But in the modern city, love is fleeting–and ultimately impossible– since lovers do not know each other anymore and can only catch a glimpse of each other in the streets. In “To a Passerby,” the speaker conjures up a beautiful woman and tries to express his love with one look: they make eye contact, but it is quickly broken, as they must each head their separate ways. The encounter is tragic because they both feel something (“O you who I had loved, O you who knew!”) and yet they know that their next meeting will be in the afterlife; a foreboding presence of death looms over the poem’s end.

Baudelaire continues to expose the dark underside, or spleen, of the city. (The spleen, an organ that removes disease-causing agents from the bloodstream, was traditionally associated with malaise; “spleen” is a synonym for “ill-temper.”) In “Evening Twilight,” he evokes “cruel diseases,” “demons,” “thieves,” “hospitals,” and “gambling.” The different aspects of the city are compared to wild beasts and anthills, while “Prostitution ignites in the streets.” Paris becomes a threatening circus of danger and death where no one is safe. By the end of the section, in “Morning Twilight,” “gloomy Paris” rises up to go back to work.

Within the labyrinthine structures of the metropolitan environment, one may wander aimlessly and contentedly for hours. The city is counter-posed to the great terror of modern life, namely boredom. The city serves as the great escape from the unchanging, narrow patterns of rural tedium and provincial monotony. To lose oneself in the crowd, to succumb to its delights and distractions, this is the joy of the city-dweller, the intoxication of modernity.

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