Uprooting the Lyric: Baudelaire in Wagner's Forests
Acquisto, Joseph, Nineteenth-Century French Studies
Richard Wagner's arrival on the Parisian opera scene rocked Paris in 1860. (1) Small riots also broke out the next year, when Wagner staged Tannhauser in Paris. To defend Wagner against his Parisian detractors, Charles Baudelaire wrote Richard Wagner et Tannhauser a Paris, his only music criticism, an essay that would also turn out to be a fundamental performance of Baudelaire's own esthetics. I examine here the intertextual relationship between Wagner and Baudelaire, arguing that the latter's reworking of Wagner has important implications for the status of lyric poetry reinscribed within an urban context. My analyses of a network of intertexts will suggest that Bandelaire transformed his consideration of music into a prolonged meditation on memory. It is through his reflections on textual and cultural memory that Baudelaire rewrites the nature of esthetic experience in the early 1860s.
Toward the end of the first section of Richard Wagner et Tannhauser a Paris, between two paragraphs, Bandelaire inserts the quatrains of his famous sonnet "Correspondances":
Le lecteur sait quel but nous poursuivons: demontrer que la veritable musique suggere des idees analogues dans des cerveaux differents. D'ailleurs, il ne serait pas ridicule ici de raisonner a priori, sans analyse et sans comparaisons; car ce qui serait vraiment surprenant, c'est que le son ne put pas suggerer la couleur, que les couleurs ne pussent pas donner l'idee d'une melodie, et que le son et la couleur fussent impropres a traduire des idees; les choses s'etant toujours exprimees par une analogie reciproque, depuis le jour ou Dieu a profere le monde comme une complexe et indivisible totalite. La nature est un temple ou de vivants piliers Laissent parfois sortir de confuses paroles; L'homme y passe a travers des forets de symboles Qui l'observent avec des regards familiers. Comme de longs echos qui de loin se confondent Dans une tenebreuse et profonde unite, Vaste comme la nuit et comme la clarte, Les parfums, les couleurs et les sons se repondent. Je poursuis donc. (2)
This charged moment interrupts the argument Baudelaire had been developing and directly links music with poetry and esthetic perception more generally. Is this interpolation of "Correspondances" a restatement in verse of the preceding daims? (3) Is ita continuation ofthe preceding paragraph, or a new idea, a further development and expansion? This incorporation of the poem high lights the Wagner essay's status as a text, in the etymological sense of a weaving together of pre-existing materials.
Margaret Miner indicates the ways in which Baudelaire's citation of Franz Liszt earlier in the Wagner essay colors the appearance of the citation from "Correspondances":
Readers might briefly consider that "Dieu" is a true original, situated safely beyond the domain of translation, but Baudelaire's quotation from "Correspondances" throws doubt on this possibility as well. Because it comes so soon after Liszt's program, the poem's famous first line [...] resonates differently than it might in other contexts. For Liszt, the tempte [...] is a uniquely musical structure, founded and built by [Wagner's] prdude's motif in order to guarantee listeners' passage between ephemeral artworks and eternal transcendence. With Bauddaire's quoration of his quatrains, however, the temple itself becomes a motif, passing from musical painting to poetry. [...] the temple can assure passage only from one art to another rather than to higher spirituality. (49)
I would like to extend Miner's intertextual analysis, arguing that the citation of "Correspondances" leads the reader not even from one art to another but rather from one text to another, as this early poem returns to haunt and transform, and be transformed by, the essay. …