Debussy's Cinq poèmes de Baudelaire (1889) comprises five settings of poems from Baudelaire's Les fleurs du mal. The first of the settings Debussy completed, in December 1887, was "La mort des Amants." He completed the first poem of the cycle, "Le Balcon," a month later. This song conjures images of the orchestra through its use of an extremely thick textures, redolent of the piano transcriptions of orchestral works popular in the nineteenth century. Debussy completed "Harmonie du soir" and "Jet d'eau" a year later in January and March 1889; it is not known when he composed "Recueillement."
The Cinq poèmes de Baudelaire are stylistically similar to the music of Richard Wagner. Around this time, Debussy was extremely intrigued by Wagner's lush, passionate sounds. He even traveled to Bayreuth, Wagner's base of operation, on several occasions to witness presentations of Wagner's operas. Debussy heard in Wagner a new chromaticism and harmony that had enormous potential to radically change music. This was not the reason that Debussy chose to imitate the tendencies of Wagner in the Cinq Poèmes, though. Baudelaire himself was an avid supporter of Wagner and his music, much more so than Debussy. The poet was first exposed to some of Wagner's music at a concert in Paris in 1860, and was immediately affected. Later, after Wagner's Tannhäuser (1865) was lampooned in Paris, Baudelaire published a defense of the man and his work. For this reason, Debussy chose to approach the piece through combining his own responses to the poetry with the style of Wagner.
In 1891, the Cinq Poèmes were published by Edmund Bailly in a limited edition of 150 copies. The work was dedicated to a friend of Debussy's, Etienne Dupin, who most likely aided with the publication costs. Debussy was not yet popular enough to have such a work of emotional depth published on a large scale. The few copies were sold at the Librairie de l'art independant in Paris. This Librairie was often visited by most of the intellectual young artists of the time, such as writers, painters, and composers. Debussy, along with his friend, Erik Satie, were there almost every afternoon around this time. Through this publication, Debussy was then discovered by Georges Hartmann, a publisher who had also discovered several other prominent composers of the day, such as César Franck, Georges Bizet, and Camille Saint-Saëns. Also, the Cinq Poèmes inspired Stephane Mallarme to ask Debussy to collaborate in a theatrical setting of the symbolist text, L'Après-midi d'un faune.