Charles Baudelaire: Poems Themes

Charles Baudelaire: Poems Themes

The Depravity of Man

Baudelaire seems to express a certain preoccupation with mankind's depravity throughout his poetry. In keeping with the tradition of classical poetry which he was a part of, he writes about moral, religious, and political issues. Much like classic fairy tales were written to warn children to behave the way their parents tell them to, these poems often carry a moral pronouncement as well, or at least set the reader up to make his or her own judgement. "Spleen" is an excellent example of Baudelaire's style of ethics. In it he addresses how the fall of Rome came about, employing morally charged language to imply a judgement statement by the end. He blames the corruption of the empire's leaders for the collapse of their empire. Other subjects which Baudelaire sees fit to comment upon include drunkenness, sloth, and temptation.


Several of Baudelaire's poems revolve around the concept of corruption. Doubtless this fascination is a result of the political scene of his day which was notoriously corrupt. He frames his contemporary criticisms through historical commentary, addressing the political and social corruption of past generations. In "The Ragpicker's Wine" Baudelaire tells the story of a town which is continually unproductive because all of its citizens rush through their work in order to get drunk on the ragpicker's homemade wine. Despite the illegality of his operation, the ragpicker continues to dedicate his day to the making of said wine because he is a nihilist who assigns no meaning to the rest of these people's lives. Since the people are so desperate to escape the doldrum of their daily lives, they readily accept his tempting offer. Even law enforcement turns away in order to allow the ragpicker his fun because they too want to escape.


Because of his propensity to reference actual historical events as well as ancient mythologies, Baudelaire's poems often demonstrate themes of temporality. Time is a central motivating factor for many of his characters, the gaining or losing of time. Poems such as "The Fountain" and "Spleen" are adhered by the idea of mortality and the inevitable passage of time. For the protagonist of "The Fountain," he recognizes that the cares of the world will soon catch up with his beloved, so he takes care to celebrate her present accomplishments and to appreciate her beauty for it will not last. "Spleen" on the other hand takes a more direct approach. This poem is about the fall of the Roman Empire, which highlights the transitory nature of any established people group upon the Earth.


Complementing his fascination with the depravity of man, Baudelaire also focuses on the idea of temptation. This brings in the religious element of his writing. In "Destruction" Baudelaire provides his most clear text upon the subject of temptation. He explains how frustrating it is to try and behave well when constantly being tempted by the "Demon," i.e. the devil. When a man lives according to Christian virtues, he will be surrounded by situations which draw him farther and farther away from God Baudelaire elaborates. Every circumstance provides a choice to sin and to lose oneself to desire and corruption.

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