The Medieval and the Modern in Baudelaire’s “À une passante”

This article highlights a medieval dimension to Charles Baudelaire’s “À une passante,” a poem that has been considered emblematic of poetic modernity. A comparative reading with two medieval Italian sonnets, Dante’s “Tanto gentile e onesta pare” and Guido Cavalcanti’s “Chi è questa che vèn, ch’ogn’om la mira,” brings to light Baudelaire’s continuity with, and divergence from, the medieval lyric. “À une passante” ultimately emerges as traditional in its subject matter and form, and modern in its portrayal of a highly individualized self and this self’s relationship to the other. This double dimension, encompassing both an immutable poetic form and the fleeting present of nineteenth-century Paris, is finally linked to Baudelaire’s account of the composite nature of art in “Le Peintre de la vie moderne.”

Julia Caterina Hartley
Volume 48.1–2