Since there are various translations of this poem, I am including the one by Roy Campbell, which is the version in my book.
Above the valleys and the lakes: beyond
The woods, seas, clouds and mountain-ranges: far
Above the sun, the aethers silver-swanned
With nebulae, and the remotest star,
My spirit! with agility you move
Like a strong swimmer with the seas to fight,
Through the blue vastness furrowing your groove
With an ineffable and male delight.
Far from these foetid marshes, be made pure
In the pure air of the superior sky,
And drink, like some most exquisite liqueur,
The fire that fills the lucid realms on high.
Beyond where cares or boredom hold dominion,
Which charge our fogged existence with their spleen,
Happy is he who with a stalwart pinion
Can seek those fields so shining and serene:
Whose thoughts, like larks, rise on the freshening breeze
Who fans the morning with his tameless wings,
Skims over life, and understands with ease
The speech of flowers and other voiceless things.
This is a great poem and has some amazing symbolism woven in. It basically attempts to describe the ecstatic feeling associated with shifting consciousness and then drawing artistic inspiration from that experience.
In the first stanza, the spirit (consciousness) of the poet rises above the earthly confines and floats upward into the cosmos. This represents the psyche transcending its worldly bonds and being freed to explore the vast mystery of the deep subconscious.
In the second stanza, Baudelaire associates the transcendent experience with sexual ecstasy. The spirit moves like sperm toward an egg, the union being the moment of creation. Essentially, when the spirit becomes one with the ineffable form, the result is the spark of creation, just as the sperm reaching the egg is the spark of new life.
The third stanza marks the transition from spark to flame, symbolic of the illumination that one experiences during the state of heightened awareness. It is akin to feeling intoxicated, which is why Baudelaire uses fire and liqueur as metaphors.
In the fourth stanza, Baudelaire acknowledges ennui as his motivation for striving to transcend. It is his boredom and sickness that forces him to seek beyond himself and the mundane. It is his desire to escape what he sees around him that inspires him to elevate his consciousness and explore the realms beyond our everyday experience.
The last stanza is my favorite. As the poet basks in the elevated state, he understands things that are outside the comprehension of ordinary consciousness. It is effortless and it fills him with bliss. “The speech of flowers and other voiceless things” refer to symbols, archetypes, and forms, those things that exist within our subconscious. These symbols have their own language and only one who is elevated above the mundane can comprehend them. The fact that these are described as voiceless implies that Baudelaire will never be able to express them adequately, even through his most inspired verse. At best, he can offer a glimpse of the beauty that exists just past the veil of our world.
The more I think about this poem, the more inspired I feel. I hope you feel the same way. Have a blessed and inspired day!
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