The story of the prose poem sketched so far is quite linear, and it is hardly the complete story. It lacks the tracing of interlingual exchanges which foster the evolution of a form. In considering Baudelaire’s poetry, we cannot overlook the artistic goal he shared with De Quincey, the goal of capturing and recreating through language states-of-mind other than the conscious.
Baudelaire’s famous interjection from Paris Spleen, “Get drunk! And stay drunk! On wine, virtue or poetry” and his intention to capture the “undulations of reverie” in that book reflect the ambition of his work. De Quincey’s prose, including the well-known Confessions of an English Opium Eater, is suffused with descriptions of visions and dreams, and much of his art was in imbuing those places he experienced in wakefulness with the tremendous suggestive power possessed only by the landscape of dreams.
De Quincey’s impressionistic language is also a clear mirror of the workings of his mind. His Latinate vocabulary keeps the prose dense with semantic and aural echoes of related words while the structure of his sentence—parentheses opening at every turn, as in Kafka and James—reflect the constant associative activity of his mind.
The closest De Quincey’s writing comes to prose poetry is in the ‘Dream-Fugue,’ the concluding part, and the “ultimate object,” of ‘The English Mail-Coach,’ one of the most beautiful essays in the English language. This section occurs at the end of ‘The Vision of Sudden Death;’ De Quincey describes it as “an attempt to wrestle with the utmost efforts of music in dealing with a colossal form of impassioned horror (ibid).”