Commentary On A Une Passante Essay, Research Paper
A une passante , taken from Baudelaire s major work Les Fleurs du Mal appeared in 1857. In Baudelaire s work, symbolist poetry found its origins. Although his poems at that time were found to be decadent, the symbolist movement was the main literary stream until well into the 1890 s.
The symbolist stream was founded in the late 19th century in France. This literary stream encouraged writers to express their ideas, feelings, and values by means of symbols or suggestions rather than by direct statements . As with almost all literary streams, this movement again was a reaction to the movements such as romanticism, realism and naturalism that were found in the years before this one came into being.
The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics defines symbolism as being the refinement of the art of the ambiguity to express the indeterminate in human sensibilities and in natural phenomena . Furthermore, symbolist poetry is very lyrical. It does not make use of objective description whatsoever and it is very much anti-mimetic. The sound is very important as well: among its goals was to get as close as possible to music. Recurring themes in symbolist poetry are mystery, death, decaying beauty, melancholic landscapes and, most importantly, swans. Besides being seen as the summum of beauty, swans were the symbol of the poet s alienation of his surroundings.
Charles Baudelaire s poem is a symbolist poem in every way. However, in order to analyse this poem we must first look at its structure.
The poem has a nice flow, however the rhythm is not very easy to distinguish, since it is not entirely consistent. However, it flows very well:
La rue assourdissant autour de moi hurlait
Longue, mince, en grand deuil, douleur majestueuse
Une femme passa, d une main fastueuse
Soulevant, balancant le feston et l ourlet
As one can see, the rhythm is not very clear, but the flow gives it kind of a musical touch. It is so musical because in the last line of the first stanza the rhythm changes from no stress- stress, no stress- stress to stress-no, stress-no stress, kind of from a 2/4th musical piece to a waltz. This is also a very nice indication that the stanza is coming to an end, so that he can start the new stanza with a clean slate so to say.
In the last two stanzas where the stanzas consist not of four but of three lines the rhythm first seems to have remained the same: no stress- stress, no stress-stress, to
Ne te verrai- je plus que dans l ternit , where I really feel that the whole last word should be stressed.
In a sonnet, after the first 8 lines a change occurs. In this sonnet this also happens, and the change does not only concern the content of the poem, which I ll get into deeper later on, it also involves the rhythm. Here again the rhythm goes from a two-step-system (stress-no stress, stress-no stress) to a three-step-system (stress-no stress- no stress OR stress-no stress-stress):
Un clair puis la nuit!- Fugitive beaut , a clear indication of a turn in the poem.
Fortunately, the rhyme of this poem is a little bit easier to find. In the first two stanzas the poet makes use of embracing rhyme: a rhyme scheme in the form of A-B-B-A. This sort of rhyme scheme usually helps to make the stanzas more of a unity, because the first and the last line of each stanza connect with each other. An example of this rhyme scheme is to be found in the first stanza: the first line ends with hurlait , the second and third one with majestueuse and fastueuse respectively and the last lien with l ourlet again, rhyming with line one. In the last six lines, after the turn of the sonnet, the rhyme scheme changes as well: here it becomes A-B-A-B-C-C. The last lines then belong to each other, which is good because in a sonnet the last lines always form a sort of conclusion in the poem. The last lines also become sort of separated from the rest of the poem, which increases the idea of the conclusion even more.
Syntax is in this poem, as in any other poem of great importance. Baudelaire creates an atmosphere of great mystery and illusion in this poem. The main cause of this is his choice of words. The street he finds himself in he speaks of as being assourdissante ( deafening) and hurlait autour de moi : screaming around him. This is a very strong description, he feels as if he is being swallowed into the sounds of the street . Of course this description is not very realistic, because he portrays the street as being alive, but this is exactly what makes the meaning of the poem so clear.
When he speaks of the passing-by woman, he speaks of sa jambe de statue , d une main fastueuse , agile et noble . This creates an image of the woman being kind of surreal, especially because he has already spoken of her grand deuil and described her as being douleur majestueuse . To me it seems as if death is walking there; a very beautiful version of death, yet, death.
In the lines that follow in this stanza the atmosphere of death, mystery and sinister settings is even more increased when he speaks of a ciel livide o* germe l ouragan (a pale sky like before a hurricane), since it gives us the idea of stilte voor de storm , as the Dutch say. Furthermore he speaks of a pleasure that kills (plaisir qui tue) that he drinks out of eyes ( je buvais dans son oeil )- this might mean that he takes a pleasure that kills and a douceur qui fascine out of what is in the woman s eyes.
The fact that he chose all these words in the first 8 lines was to create a mysterious setting, which is perfect to speak of the love and beauty that he loses when she (the woman from the eight lines) goes a different way.
After the turn in line 8-9, he speaks of a beauty that is slipping away from him, a beauty that made him be reborn and which he will not see back before death: ( Ne te verrai-je plus que dans l ternit ? – will I not see you again before eternity) because he ignore o* tu fuis, tu ne sais o* je vais . He says that the one who he would have loved knew that too ( toi qui le savais ).
One of the major themes in this poem is a love that is gone just as quick as it was found. The author speaks of a mysterious woman who passes him, and he obviously admires her. He drinks tenderness and pleasure out of her pale eyes. Then it becomes night and she goes away, although he does not want her to leave, because they will not follow the same roads.
This is a symbolist poem because of several reasons. First of all because it is very subjective in its descriptions. Second of all there is no lyrical I- although the I-figure describes the woman and experiences love, he does not explicitly describes his feelings, he rather describes the woman. Thirdly there is a lot of mystery and illusion present in the descriptions of settings and in what is to happen with the woman after she leaves him. Lastly, the poem was written by the symbolist poet in the time and country of symbolist poetry: Baudelaire wrote this in the late 19th century in France.