This poem by Baudelaire is addressing communication between the metaphysical world and nature. It also scratches on the surface of symbolism between self and others. When you read it at first, it may seem confusing as a result of the conflicting presence of corruption and triumph.
Baudelaire discloses the connection between metaphysical world and nature with direct reference to the concept of Swedenborg. Emanuel Swedenborg was a Swedish scientist and a mystic. He is famous for his Neuron Concept as well as for his interpretation of dreams. He experienced several kinds of dreams and visions; some were pleasant and others disturbing. He recorded his experiences in Regnum Animale and his Journal of Dreams and when you read these works, like Baudelaire, you will immediately feel the battle between the love of self and the love of God.
Baudelaire, like Swedenborg, had a condition called Synaesthesia where the brain mingles the sensory perceptions. The colours, sounds and scents get all mixed up. They are bundled together to generate mental images. The senses are sometimes stimulated through the mind’s eyes. Baudelaire is transferring the French symbolism of art and nature on to the reader.
For example, in the lines such as
“corrupted, rich, triumphant, full; perfumes, colours, sound; Frankincense, musk, ambergris, Benjamin”, Baudelaire is using the rhetorical device of `asyndeton’ for pulling off the dramatic effect. It suggests the infinite list of sensory experiences that the reader can relate to. These ongoing lists are metaphorical and they connect the senses to oneself.
These lines also reflect parallelism where all worlds get related to the meaning of the poem as a whole and to the symbolism behind it. The sensory experience also gets connected to the metaphysical significance. Hypo-zeugma can be identified in technical literary terms in the line with “perfumes, colours, sounds”. They correspond with each other and these perceptions are developed throughout the entire poem with interrelated examples.
This is a poem about the unity of nature and human perceptions about multiple worlds. You can become aware of such unity at some rare moments in the poem. This happens when you lose the ordinary state of mind and when you no longer separate yourself from your surroundings.
Ecstasy is derived when you stand outside yourself in a trancelike state. This altered state of consciousness is not induced from within and not by any superfluous induced state through hallucinogenic drugs. Baudelaire was very fond of works by Thomas De Quincy and Edgar Allan Poe because of their dreamlike stories and poems. It is important for you to know that Baudelaire was also fond of hashish and marijuana. He achieved those hallucinogenic states for the sake of writing. He was also influenced by Emanuel Swedenborg’s mystical writings by emphasising on the oneness of the devotees to attain unity with God.
The antithesis is present in the poem with the contrast of `corrupted’ yet `triumphant’ senses and the `confused speech’ of the columns; it may be difficult to understand by few readers while others can crack the meanings behind the lines. Singing the `rapture of the soul’ relates to the sensory experience of humans. The `grove of symbols’ that is being walked through life is a metaphor for connection between all things external to oneself. Everything that man experiences and perceives is a gateway to the soul. The key is to observe everything and realise the connection between them. The `temple of nature’ and the `grove of symbols’ in which man walks is seen metaphorically to the relation of the body (temple which houses the soul) to what surrounds it.
The use of Literary technique `chiaroscuro’ is seen when the unity of the profound and shadowy echoes is used - as `vast as the night, as sunlight’s clarity’, comparing day and night to the merging of senses. Synaesthesia is being used throughout the poem with `long echoes’ and `living columns’ that breathe `confusing speech’ with `perfumes, colours and sounds’ corresponding with `odours’ that are `fresh as a baby’s skin’; with `green meadows’ and mellow oboes’ (oboes are a wind and reed instruments like shehnai).
To conclude, Baudelaire’s poem is a symbolic representation of the connection of self to its surroundings with the constant use of metaphors and esoteric language. It is an adequate reflection of rhetorical devices, poetic chiaroscuro and synaesthesia to take the reader through a journey into nature’s correspondences with human consciousness.