Emanuel Swedenborg | influence

Charles Baudelaire

Emanuel Swedenborg was a formative influence on the great symbolist poet Charles Baudelaire. Swedenborg's Science of Correspondences appealed to the poet's reading of visual reality as a language in its own right, constantly seeing vital and often visceral associations between taste, touch, sound and vision. Like Swedenborg, Baudelaire instinctively pursued an idea of aesthetic unity: a unity of sensual experience, of physical and metaphysical existence, and of artistic expression. Swedenborg's philosophy informs the radical approach of Baudelaire's poetic masterpiece, The Flowers of Evil - described by TS Eliot as the greatest example of modern poetry in any language. The poem 'Correspondences' has resounding 'Swedenborgian' allusions and is written out below.

If you would like to read more about Swedenborg's influence on Baudelaire, we highly recommend Gary Lachman's essay 'The Spiritual Detective: How Baudelaire invented Symbolism, by way of Swedenborg, ETA Hoffman and Edgar Allan Poe', featured in the Swedenborg Society Journal no. 4, Between Method and Madness: Essays on Swedenborg and Literature.

By Charles Baudelaire

Nature is a temple, where the living
Columns sometimes breathe confusing speech;
Man walks within these groves of symbols, each
Of which regards him as a kindred thing.

As the long echoes, shadowy, profound,
Heard from afar, blend in a unity,
Vast as the night, as sunlight's clarity,
So perfumes, colours, sounds may correspond.

Odours there are, fresh as a baby's skin,
Mellow as oboes, green as meadow grass,
- Others corrupted, rich, triumphant, full,

Having dimensions infinitely vast,
Frankincense, musk, ambergris, benjamin,
Singing the senses' rapture, and the soul's.

Taken from The Flowers of Evil by Charles Baudelaire (Oxford University Press).