Write a commentary of a poem from Les Fleurs du Mal Les Bijoux(TM)

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Rhiannon Piper                Student ID: 720338

Rhiannon Piper 720338

French Introduction to Film and Literature Studies


Write a commentary of a poem from Les Fleurs du Mal

‘Les Bijoux’

At its time of release in 1857 Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du mal was thought to be obscene and six of the poems within the volume were banned. It was later recognised to be a masterpiece of literature. I have chosen to explicate one of the condemned poems, ‘Les Bijoux’. Its content was thought to be sordid by people of the day, however in years past it has been recognised as one of a multitude of great works by Baudelaire.

        The poem ‘Les Bijoux’ is a sexually charged piece of poetry by Baudelaire. As stated it is one of 6 poems which were originally banned, and are from a section of Les Fleurs du mal called ‘Les Èpaves’ or ‘scraps’ as it would be in the English language. The poem is about a woman, the object of the poem, and the feelings about her expressed by the subject, a man. Baudelaire’s poetry establishes symbolic correspondences among sensory images such as colours, sounds and scents. Baudelaire uses Alexandrines as his syllable pattern and caesurae are used sometimes between the 6th and 7th syllables, but at other times quite early or late in the sentence.

        The first line of the poem perhaps provides immediate insight into the feelings of the subject towards this woman by saying ‘my darling was stripped’¹, which could insinuate a harsh contrast of love and a sinful aspect of his love. The first stanza speaks of what this woman is wearing, and why, stating that she was wearing gems and nothing else because she ‘knew his heart’², implying that this woman knew his desires through and through, knowing that he found it arousing to see her bedecked in jewels and with ‘an air of the victorious that was shown by a Moorish slave on her happiest day’³. This intimate understanding of the man’s desires implies either a great knowledge of this particular man, or more likely a good understanding of many men’s desires; plainly

¹ La très chère était nue (line 1)

² connaissant mon cœur (line 1)

³ l’air vainqueur qu’ont dans les jours heureux les esclaves des Mores’ (lines 3-4)

speaking the woman appears to be a prostitute, though perhaps at the higher end of her occupation given the amount of jewels which she has. In line 4 the term ‘slave’ could also be loosely translated as concubine, which reinforces the theme of prostitution or sexual enslavement in relation to this character.

        The second stanza is full of sensory images, a technique that Baudelaire infused in most of his works. Rather than describing the physical movements of this woman who is dancing for him he chooses to illustrate the effects of each sound and vision that can be related to the movement of the gems and the metal which holds them in place. Baudelaire’s use of the terms ‘lively’ and ‘mocking’ in line 5 relate to both the sound of the gems, but also the way in which the prostitute would be playful and yet show a sense of superiority due to the fact she is in control of the situation, and whether or not the man is gratified.

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        The sheer beauty of the gems and their sensory output holds the subject of the poem in thrall, just as the prostitute holds him in the same way. Baudelaire chooses to use very descriptive and intense words like ‘extase’ (ecstasy), ‘fureur’ (passion), ‘and rayonnant’ (radiant) to describe how the subject is feeling about effects of these gems, and indeed the woman wearing them.

        The third stanza is where a wealth of sexual information is passed to the reader. Not only does line 9 contain a description of the woman laying ‘herself down’¹ and letting ‘herself be loved’² which is ...

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