So when I read Baudelaire's poem, The Sky, you might imagine the internal shock- even grief- I felt when he referred to it as a "strangling cavern wall" that essentially traps and suffocates our miserable human existence.
I've read dark poems, and this one isn't too terribly dark- but poems that ruthlessly target inherently beautiful aspects of nature and life ... well, they seem to approach a certain level of contempt. Now I'm not calling our poet contemptuous- far from it! I happen to think his poetry to be both interesting and well done. What I am saying- or at least trying to convey- is that the shock value I received from reading this particular poem was a mixture of awe and negative repulsion.
If one reads this poem and the collection this poem was published with, one will get an immediate sense of a darker poet. Bleak and oblique are many of the poems that have emerged from the pen of this French writer, and in many ways Baudelaire reminds me of a hip, coffee-drinking existentialist just waiting for a reason to rebel. Make no mistakes, I respect Baudelaire as a man and as a poet, and think much of his poetry cleverly written and interesting ... I'm just saying, he's different- but perhaps that's where his poetic genius lies.
Where'er he be, on water or on land,
Under pale suns or climes that flames enfold;
One of Christ's own, or of Cythera's band,
Shadowy beggar or Crœsus rich with gold;
Citizen, peasant, student, tramp; whate'er
His little brain may be, alive or dead;
Man knows the fear of mystery everywhere,
And peeps, with trembling glances, overhead.
The heaven above? A strangling cavern wall;
The lighted ceiling of a music-hall
Where every actor treads a bloody soil--
The hermit's hope; the terror of the sot;
The sky: the black lid of the mighty pot
Where the vast human generations boil!
Of the Poem:
Lines 1 through 6
The poet makes no distinction of persons in this poem- all alike are subject to the conclusion drawn by it; thus, unhesitatingly, does the poet address the world of the living and of the dead- Where'er he be, alive or dead!, he says.
Lines 7 and 8
There's a mystery hidden in the heart of man, something akin to agoraphobia, but more existentially dreadful. We perceive it when we gaze sky-ward, or so our poet contends, and it seems to produce in us wild states of trepidation and awe. It is the sky.
Exactly what produces these "trembling glances" is not clear, but what is clear is that the sky draws it out of us, and all alike are acutely aware of it. Perhaps the poet intends to convey the idea of our being trapped like prisoners beneath this massive dome, or, as he calls it, this "strangling cavern wall."
Lines 10 and 11
To call the sky a "lighted ceiling of a music-hall" seems a little less bleak, indeed, delightful- that is, until our poet describes what this "lighted ceiling" is illuminating: human turmoil and conflict where "every actor treads a bloody soil."
Lines 12 and 14
In short, the poem seems to conclude that all of us- rich or poor, alive or dead, Christ's or Cythera's, hermit or sot- all of us are trapped in a mighty pot, a hideous condition of strife and turmoil where "the vast human generations boil", and that we have a perpetual reminder of this ... that "black lid", that vaulted prison wall we call the sky.
Of the Parameters:
Baudelaire's chosen style for this poem is pretty interesting. He basically took the structure of an Italian sonnet and made a few modifications. The first 8 lines (which are essentially divided into two quatrains) are called an octave. In current Italian sonnets the rhyme scheme would go abba with each quatrain. Baudelaire employs an alternating ryhme scheme with the octave: abab cdcd (this, in truth, is closer to the original structure of the Italian sonnet as it was practiced and endorsed by Giacomo da Lentini, abab abab).
The last 6 lines (which are essentially divided into two tercets) are called a sestet. With the Itailian sonnet the sestet had one of two ryhme schemes: cde cde, or cdc dcd. Baudelaire, cool as he is, switched this up a little, so that in his poem the rhyme followed this pattern: eef ggf.
The meter of the whole poem, like any other typical sonnet, is based on an iambic pentameter.
Cythira- an island by southern Greece (line 3)
Croesus- king of Lydia (line 4)