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This sonnet offers the reader many opposites involved
in each other; peace and worry are brought together
by the obscure atmosphere of the evening. In evening
itself one cannot tell the day from night. The two
quatrains present two opposite situations of which
one and the same universal may be abstracted. The universal
is benumbing of the senses, the oblivion of the world.
The first situation suggests retreat for contemplation,
self-dedication to obscure atmosphere, to nothingness.
The second one seeks remedy in vulgarity, surfeit of
senses, lust. Although these two modes occur one after
the other, the conjunction "pendant que"
suggests that they should be conceived of as simultaneous,
contrapuntal; the main clause of line 8 follows directly
from the first quatrain. The title itself "Recueillement"
implies a spiritual and a physical act: (1) retreat,
religious meditation, contemplation; (2) collecting,
harvest. As for the first sense, the clue for the first
quatrain, we should bear in mind what Erich Auerbach
wrote about Baudelaire: "He invoked the forces
of faith and transcendence only insofar as they could
be used as weapons against life, or symbols of escape"
(Auerbach, 1962: 165). Of the second sense we are reminded
by the central verb of the second quatrain "Va
cueillir des remords dans la fête servile".
The first quatrain opens on a note of tension, or, at
least, of restlessness. One may gather this from the
invocation to Sorrow, to keep more quiet, from "réclamais"
connoting agitation, and from the tone of reproach
that Sorrow is still discontent, after having had its
wish. From this point to the end of the quatrain there
is a gradual calming down, beginning with an explicit
demand that Sorrow be wise and quiet, ending with peace
and worry brought by the evening. Sorrow has called
for the Evening, the dusk of which suits it best. This
Sorrow is gloomy, but not dark. The evening atmosphere
has something calm about it, after the feverish agitation
of man in daylight. Similarly, the tone of the beginning
of the sonnet, the tone of comforting a child after
some shock, has a certain tranquillising effect. There
is a corresponding loosening of emphasis and action
concerning verbs. There are two imperatives and an
interjection in the first line; in the second and third
lines the verbs are indicative; the only verb in line
4 is a present participle ("portant"), a
form between verb and adjective. The syntactical structure
is in leisurely harmony with the prosodical one. The
word order of the sentences is the most natural one,
usually in the order of subject-predicate-object (unlike
the second quatrain). At the end of each line one may
easily stop--there is a natural ending of a clause.
The first line has two clauses in the imperative mode,
separated by the caesura, with an interpolated vocative,
making for the line's flexibility. It is divided into
three, with a natural stop at the end of each part,
without any syntactical tension. Line 2, too, is divided
into three indicative clauses, none of which is dependent
on the subsequent one. There is a sequence of descending
length and elaborateness in these syntactic units:
the first clause fills the first hemistich, and has
a subject, predicate and object; the second unit ("il
descend") is half as long, and has no object;
the third unit ("le voici") is a phrase,
it has no finite verb. Line 3 moves with ease: it consists
of a single simple sentence prolonged (as compared
with the former ones) by an adjective and long polysyllables.
This ease is brought to view by its role as an argument
to keep "tranquil". Line 4 consists of two
parallel phrases, symmetrically balanced on the two
sides of the caesura.
The second quatrain continues, in one sense, the sequence
of descending in an altered context; it is descent
to base, low motives. Vulgarity reveals itself in "des
mortels la multitude vile", and in "la fête
servile". In another sense, the reader keenly
perceives the various tensions by contrast to the
former stanza. The sentence beginning in line 5 ends
in line 9, "spilling", so to speak, out of
the octet to the sestet, blurring the conventional
units of the sonnet form. The elaborate time clause,
comprising line 5-7, is most constrained owing to
the inversion in line 5 ("des mortels la multitude
vile"), and to its phrasal elaboration. Between
the subject and the predicate two phrases intervene,
telling a whole story as it were, ("Sous le fouet
du Plaisir, ce bourreau sans merci"). This long
and tense clause is subordinate to two short co-ordinate
clauses in lines 8-9 reverting to the tone of intimacy
of lines 1-4. The main theme of the second quatrain
is under the pressure of growing expectancy for the
main clause delayed till line 8. The theme of the main
clause, in turn, links up with that of the first quatrain,
and is a call for escape from the vile multitude, which
continues the theme of the quatrain.
The violence of this quatrain is obvious as contrasted
with the calm atmosphere of the former one. "Plaisir"
(having in French more positive connotations than English
"Pleasure") receives a strikingly ironic
overtone by being personified as a scourging hangman.
In contrast to the retreat for spiritual exercise in
the first quatrain, the multitude in the second quatrain
tries to escape by sensual gratification by lust. Pleasure
thus achieved is deceitful: instead of relief it brings
torture. This personification of Pleasure brings to
mind the Mediaeval picture of the hangman scourging
the body in order to drive our Lust. Ironically enough,
here Lust itself is the whipper. This means, consequently,
an even harder hopeless torture.
Thus, the retreat for "spiritual exercise"
implies retreat from the vulgar and the sensuous. The
second quatrain and first tercet act out the idioms
"looking down on" and "looking up to".
The former is informed by an attitude of contempt for
the despised multitude. In the latter the speaker asks
Sorrow to "look up" to the heavenly balconies.
The downward motions of the sestet are purified of
disdain: "the deceased years" lean down from
the heavenly balconies and the "dying sun"
sinks under the bridge, "falling" asleep.
As its counterpart, "smiling Regret" floats
up out of the depth after ablution; the "smile"
has, in the present context, connotations of purity,
while regret itself has, in the religious sense, purifying
effects. The death of the sinking sun, according to
our interpretation of the first quatrain, brings a
"fresh air" to the sonnet. "Remords"
(in the second stanza) and "Regret" (in the
third) are near-synonyms. But, as it should be expected,
have different connotations. The former is more intensive,
implying pangs, qualms of conscience, a sense of guilt,
and is derived from Latin remorsus, "biting back".
The latter means, etymologically, weeping, lamenting.
In the sestet, too, Baudelaire moves freely within the
strict boundaries of the sonnet form. We have seen
how the last clause of the octet runs over to the sestet,
clashing with the conventions (and the perceptual units)
of the sonnet form. The sestet is to be contrasted
with the second quatrain. It deals with purer levels
of experience. It presents, too, a much smoother relationship
between the syntactic and the prosodic level, though
much more intricate than in the first stanza. Lines
9-10 are in sharp contrast to the asymmetrical second
stanza, by forming a pointed, almost balanced couplet.
The balance of the couplet is enhanced by the punlike
rhyme "Années - surannées",
but, on the other hand, disturbed by the remnants of
the last clause of the preceding stanza. The sestet
(3 + 3 lines), is divided by the rhyme scheme into
2 + 4 lines. The main clause of the sentence in lines
9-12 is "vois" (subject + predicate), while
the rest is a series of three accusative-cum-infinitive
phrases (two of them with an inversion of their constituents);
each of them ending at the end of the line. This intricate
though quite symmetrical structure, with its calmer
contents, slows down, possibly, the tempo of the sonnet
(or, in fact, arouses an inclination toward a slower
performance). This creates a kind of ritardando before
the final chord.
The phrase in line 13, with its present participle ("traînant")
as nucleus, seems to parallel the preceding phrases.
It turns out, however, to be subordinate to the clause
in the last line. This uncertainty, by contrast, lends
to the last line, that clarifies the structure, a sense
of finality. This is reinforced by some additional
contrasts. After a long series of phrases, there are
three finite verbs in the last line, which thus gains
vigour. The balance of the verbs on the one side of
the caesura and the object including a subordinate
clause on its other side has remarkable closural force.
The whole sonnet has an implicit tone of affection.
There are, however, only two explicit adjectives denoting
affection, "ma chère" and "douce",
both in the last line. The imagery of the sonnet appeals
to the mind's eye; in the last line there is a sudden
shift to the mind's ear.
The last line is parallel in certain aspects to the
first one. This, too, enhances its closural force (some
of those aspects occur in line 8 too, but, as we have
seen, closure is blurred there by enjambment). In the
first line there is a vocative between two imperative
verbs; as similar structure recurs in the last line.
Yet the difference between these two occurrences of
the same mode, as applied in the present sonnet, is
significant. The imperatives in the first line are
meant to tone down mental activity; in the last line
they are meant to excite a different, healthier kind
of intense mental activity. While the central theme
of the octet is the benumbing of the senses, the sestet
advocates keen sense perception, in a more purified
context. This comes to a climax, as we have seen, in
the last line.
In the course of the present analysis we have seen some
of the most obvious verbal features of the sonnet,
to which the reader responds. I have skipped, for brevity's
sake, such important features as the sound stratum
of the sonnet; as for the Symbolist treatment of the
metaphorical elements responsible for its particular
atmosphere, I have elsewhere devoted to them some attention,
in a discussion of "Chearlesse Night in Spenser
and Baudelaire" (Tsur, 1987b: 168-175). If, however,
the reader realises that what has been said has a particular
underlying pattern, the response to the poem may become
far richer. We have discussed certain features perceived
as contrasted. We have contrasted lines, stanzas, and
the octet with the sestet. On the other hand, we have
contrasted certain syntactic and prosodic aspects of
the text, occurring simultaneously. All this may lead
the reader to realise a pattern. The reader responds
more intensively to this pattern, either as Jung and
Maud Bodkin (1963 ) would have us thinkbecause
it is inherent in the human mind, or as it is implied
by Northrop Frye's (1968) and my own (Tsur, 1987a;
1992: 317-346) discussions--because it is an additional
organising principle that helps the reader to realise
clashing or concurring trends on different strata of
"Recueillement" re-enacts the archetypal pattern
underlying (according to Maud Bodkin) Dante's Divine
Comedy, and Coleridge's "Rhyme of the Ancient
Mariner" and "Kubla Khan". It is, metaphorically
speaking, the age-old theme of descending to Hell and
ascending to paradise; or, the pattern of Death and
Rebirth. It usually involves purification, self-assertion
and refreshing. At the beginning of the sonnet, Evening
descends upon everyday life, which is full of contradictions.
Calming down is fused with unrest, peace with worries.
In the title, spiritual exercise is inseparable from
"the harvest of remorse". From this stage
on, we experience a gradual descent to spiritual death,
to the Hell of Lust (Lusthölle), as Erich Auerbach
applied to Baudelaire's poetry the term borrowed from
Thomas Mann's Dr. Faustus. In this Hell, one is tortured
by remorse and pleasures without any hope for relief.
Here we meet the harvest of Lust in the servile feast--the
baser sense of the title "Recueillement".
From this baseness one may move only upwards, to more
elevated levels of existence. The retreat from the
vile multitude leads to retreat for contemplation.
"Cueillir des remords" is, then, one of the
deepest points. While "cueillir" is contrasted
with the preceding "Recueillement", "remords"
is to be contrasted, as we have seen, with "le
Regret souriant" of line 11. The revival comes
gradually. It begins with the dissociation from the
mob in line 8 (but it is not conclusive, as the end
of the octet is not conclusive either). Looking up
to the heavenly balconies is, still, directed to "deceased
years" in "outworn dresses". There is,
however, a kind of eternal calm in these "deceased
years", which became invulnerable to change in
death. This imagery of death is reinforced by "Le
Soleil moribond", and "long linceul".
Death has here no overtones of threat, but of rest.
Smiling Regret is resurging from water, where the dying
Sun is to fall asleep. Regret is purifying and purified
by ablution. Maud Bodkin notes that sinking in water
and resurging therefrom is very frequent in the analytic
imagery produced by Jung's patients and in the "Ancient
Mariner" (one might add to Miss Bodkin's list
Clarence's dream with its cathartic effect in Richard
III and, of course, the present sonnet). In this context,
one should consider the refreshing air of the night
as the final point of life-renewal in the poem. And
it is perhaps significant too that the archetypal rebirth
comes in this sonnet, as in the "Ancient Mariner",
with night. I wish, however, to emphasise that both
in Bodkin's an in my view, the emotional significance
of this imagery is not so much in the absolute contents
of these images, as in their capacity of entering into
an emotional sequence.
The mere occurrence of the death and rebirth pattern is no warrant for aesthetic value. It is aesthetically neutral. It can be abstracted from literary works of largely different value--it can, in fact, be characteristic of non-literary experiences as well, such as the myths and rites of seasonal gods, neurotic and normal mental processes, etc. It has value, if any, as an implicit organising principle (cf. Chapter 13, "Archetypal Patterns", in Tsur 1992: 312-346) A poem like "The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner", for instance, presents us with an explicit action. The reader, however, may feel that it cannot by itself account for the poem's greatness; diffuse secondary meanings, too, may contribute to it. The archetype organises these diffuse secondary meanings, together with the explicit action, into a pattern. Baudelaire's sonnet has no coherent action except, perhaps, on the level of figurative language. The atmosphere of the sonnet is created by the perception of linguistic material disintegrated into its minutest ingredients. It is they that are organised by an invisible pattern. The more diffuse are the perceptions; and the less explicit is the pattern; and the greater the unity it imposes upon the poemother things being equal--the greater is its aesthetic value. To get an idea of the subtlety by which all this operates, it is sufficient to consider the many factors we have pointed out adding up to the closural quality of the last line in this sonnet. This strong closural effect is here indispensable for the pattern of death and rebirth. It provides a final point to which everything in the poem leads, and from which all the poem can be viewed in a certain way. I have elsewhere shown in considerable detail, how this mechanism of elaborating a secondary pattern from the end backwards works in Baudelaire's sonnet "Correspondances" (Tsur, 1992: 455-470). It is, however, insufficient. Had we not this particular pattern in mind by virtue of preceding linguistic material, we could find the same closural effect contributing to some different pattern.
Auerbach, Erich (1962) "The Aesthetic Dignity of
the Fleurs du Mal", in Henri Peyre ed., Baudelaire.
Engleton Cliffe: Prentice Hall. 149-169.
Bodkin, Maud (1963 ) Archetypal Patterns in Poetry.
London: Oxford UP.
Frye, Northrop (1968) Anatomy of Criticism. New York: Atheneum.
Tsur, Reuven (1987a). The Road to "Kubla Khan".
Jerusalem: Israel Science Publishers.
Tsur, Reuven (1987b). On Metaphoring. Jerusalem: Israel
Tsur, Reuven (1992) Toward a Theory of Cognitive Poetics. Amsterdam: Elsevier (North Holland) Science Publishers.
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