'Who among us has not, in moments of ambition, dreamt of the miracle of a form of poetic prose' (PP 30) ['Quel est celui de nous qui n'a pas, dans ses jours d'ambition, rêevé le miracle d'une prose poétique' (OC i 275)], asks Baudelaire in his letter to Arsène Houssaye, before going on to gloss - within his question - just what he means by poetic prose:
musical but without rhythm or rhyme, both supple and staccato enough to adapt itself to the lyrical movements of our souls, the undulating movements of our reveries, and the convulsive movement of our consciences? )(PP 30
[musicale sans rythme et sans rime, assez souple et assez heurtée pour s'adapter aux mouvements lyriques de l'âme, aux ondulations de la rêverie, aux soubresauts de la conscience?(OC i 275-6)]
This is the question with which Baudelaire inaugurates his prose poetry enterprise and, if Baudelaire's prose poetry has attracted increasing attention over the last twenty years and come to rival, in terms of recent scholarship at least, the verse poetry for which he is best known, then it is in no small part a result of the playful questions that this innovative work raises. Indeed, the questions are legion, not only in the critical studies of Le Spleen de Paris, but in the very fabric of the poetry itself. The questions the poems pose are often, like this one about prose poetry, rhetorical inasmuch as they expect no answer from the interlocutor. Real questions are socially mandating (if we don’t answer, we offend): they solicit a response.