The Imagery of Light and Darkness in Les Fleurs du mal

Baudelaire's recurrent imagery of light, shadow and darkness in Les Fleurs du mal seems, at first, inconsistent. However, an analysis of his varying perspectives in "Spleen et Idéal" shows a conscious search for the unity of light and darkness in art. The ambiguities disappear as the images become defined in an allegorical context: Pure Light (ideal), Natural Light, (spleen), Artificial Light (mask). Darkness becomes the presence of spleen in reality, the masking of spleen in shadow and both the physical image of death as end and the aesthetic image of death as beginning. Baudelaire's poems form a geometric projection out of a horizontal base in Spleen, an evasion to the apex of Ideal, an abrupt fall back to Spleen and, finally, a tangential extension outward into the themes of death and artistic synthesis. Unlike Rimbaud, Mallarmé, Claudel and Valéry his base in reality remains the constant source of his art. (JCM)

McLaren, James C
Volume 1978-1979 Fall-Winter; 7(1-2): 32-49.