Stéphane Mallarmé

Fragments – Anatole’s Tomb

Die Toteninsel / The Isle of the Dead

‘Die Toteninsel / The Isle of the Dead’
Arnold Böcklin (1827–1901), Wikimedia Commons

Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2009 All Rights Reserved

This work may be freely reproduced, stored, and transmitted, electronically or otherwise, for any non-commercial purpose.


Introduction

Mallarmé’s second child, Anatole, born July 1871, became seriously ill when he was seven years old. He suffered from rheumatic fever complicated by an enlarged heart, and died in October 1879, aged eight. Mallarmé left a series of fragments for a four-part poetic memorial, a ‘tomb’. He was emotionally and artistically unable to forge a finished work from them. This translation or rather adaptation contains many of the two hundred or so fragments, in some cases fragments of the fragments, excluding things I found too partial or obscure to resonate. I have not followed original spacing exactly, except where it genuinely appears to add impact to the verse. Despite being fragments the pieces communicate some part of the loss suffered, and the thoughts engendered, by the child’s death, and therefore any child’s death, any such tragedy. Mallarmé’s spiritual position is taken to be atheistic, and therefore religious assumptions should not be made in interpreting these fragments. The content is however universal enough, I think, for a reader of any spiritual persuasion to respond in their own manner, within their own belief system.


The Fragments

1.

Child emerged from

us both – showing us

our ideal, the way

– for us! A father

mother surviving him

in sad existence

like two extremes –

ill fused in him

that are parted

–hence his death –

cancelling this small

child’s ‘self’

2.

Ill in

spring time

Dead in autumn

– the sun

3.

Son

re-absorbed

not gone

it is he

– or his brother

I

myself said it

to him

two brothers

4.

– image of I

other than I

taken in

death!

5.

what takes refuge

in me your future

becomes a

purity for life,

which I shall

not touch –

6.

To pray to the dead

(not for them)

– need

for the child here

– his absence

because of the true dead

only a child!

7.

Hands join

towards him not

to be touched –

but who is –

– whom a space

distances –

8.

To resurrect

– to construct

with his

lucidity – this

work – too

vast for me

and thus

depriving me

of life, sacrificing

it if it is

not for the work

– to be him grown,

deprived – and

do it without

fear of toying

with his death –

if I sacrificed

life for him –

if I accepted

this death

as my own

9.

Exemplar

we have known

through you this ‘more

than ourselves’

which often escapes

us – and will be

in us – in our

actions, now

child, sowing

the ideal

10.

Father mother

vowing never

another child

– grave that he dug

life ends there

11.

Useless

remedies

abandoned

if nature

wished it not

I would

take myself

for one dead

balms mere

consolations for us

– doubt

then not, their reality!

12.

Child our

immortality

made in fact

of lost human

hopes – son –

entrusted to woman

by a man

no longer young

despairing of finding

the mystery

taking a wife

13.

Ill

since the day when death

installed itself – marked by

malady –

no longer himself already, but

the one we would wish

to see again later

beyond death –

summing up death and

corruption – appearing

so, with his sickness

and pallor

14.

Ill – to be naked

as the child –

appearing to us

– we profit from those

hours, when death

stricken

he lives

still, and

is still ours

title: poetry of

the malady

15.

With the gift of words

I could have made you

yourselfchild of the work

kingmade of you

instead

no, sadof the son

in us

– made you– of

task

no

yet he

remember theproves

that he

bad days –was such –

played

mouth closedthat role!

native

speech

forgotten

it is I who have

aided you since

16.

– Have brought back in

you the child –

youth or sickness

of history learned

forgottenfrom which

nothing

I would not have

suffered – to be

in my turn

studying only that

death

17.

Then – you would only

have been me

– since I am

here – lonely, sad –

– no, I remember

a childhood –

– yours

twin voices

but without you

I’d not have – known

18.

So it is I,

hands accursed –

who bequeathed you!

– silence

(he forgives)

19.

Oh! Leave...us

at this word

– that merges

us both

– unites us

finally –

since who has

spoken it

yours

20.

– All this transformation

once barbarous and

material

external –

now

moral

and within

21.

No brother sister

ever the absent one

shall not be less than

those present –

22.

to feel it burst

in the night

the immense void

produced by what

would be his life

– because he cannot

know

he is dead

lightning?

23.

Moment when one must

break with the

living memory,

to inter it

– place it in the coffin,

hide it – with

the brutality of

placing it there,

raw contact

to see it no longer

except as idealised –

later, no longer him

living, there – but

the germ of his being

taken back into itself –

the germ allowing

thought for him

– sight of him

vision (ideality

of state) and

speech for him

for in us, pure

him, a refining

– become our

honour, the source

of our finer

feelings –

true re-entry

into the ideal

24.

Death’s treacherous

blow – of

which he

evil

knew nothing

– in my turn

to toy with it, the

one thing childhood

knows nothing of

25.

hour of the

empty room

until it is

opened

perhaps everything

follows thus

(morally)

26.

You can, with your

weak hands, drag me

into your grave – you

have the right –

– I myself

who follow you, I, I

let myself fall –

– yet if you

wish, together,

let us both make...

an alliance

a magnificent bond,

– and the life

remaining in me

I will employ

for..............

27.

You watch me

I cannot tell you

the truth yet

I dare not, too little one,

What has happened to you

One day I will tell it

to you

– for as a man

I’d not wish you

not to know

your fate

or man

dead child

28.

No – not

one of the great

deaths –

– as long as we

ourselves live, he

lives – in us

it is only after we’re

dead he will be so

– and the bell that tolls

for the Dead will toll for

him

29.

– And let us speak

of what

we both know

we two

mystery

30.

Oh! Make us

suffer

you who

thought so

little of it – all

that equates to

your life, painful in

shattered

us

while you

glide, free

31.

And you, his sister

you who one day

– (that gulf open

since his death

that follows us

to our own –

when we

your mother and I

have vanished there)

must, one day,

unite us all

three in your thoughts,

your memory...

as in

a single tomb

you who, in

turn, will come

upon this tomb, not

made for you –

32.

Sunset

and wind

now vanished, a

wind of nothing

that breathes

(the emptiness

?modern, there)

33.

Tears, flood

of lucidity, the dead

seen again,

beyond

34.

Death – whispers low

– I am no one –

do not even know myself

(for the dead do not

know they’re

dead – nor that they’re

dying

– children

at least

– or

heroes – sudden

deaths

for my beauty’s

made otherwise

of last

moments

lucidity, beauty

face – of

what would be

I, without I

for as soon as

(one is,

I am –

dead) I cease

to be –

made then of

premonitions, of

intuitions, ultimate

frissons – I

am not –

yet in the ideal

state

and for those

others, tears,

mourning, all that –

and it’s my

shade, ignorance

of myself, that

dresses in mourning

35.

Illness to which

one clings

wanting it

to endure, to possess

him longer

36.

Death – ridiculous enemy

– who cannot impose on the child

the notion that you exist!

37.

No more life for

me

and I sense myself

lying there in the grave

beside you.

38.

Death

only consolation

exists, thoughts – balm

but what is done

is done – we cannot

return to the absolute

contained in death –

– and yet

to show that if,

life once abstracted,

the happiness of being

together, all that – such

consolation in its turn

has its root – its base –

absolute – in what

(if we wish

for example a

dead being to live in

us, thought –

is his being, his

thought in effect)

ever he has of the best

that transpires, through our

love and the care

we take

of being –

(being, being

simply moral and

about thought)

there is in that a

magnificent beyond

that rediscovers its

truth – so much

purer and lovelier than

the absolute rupture

of death – become

little by little as illusory

as absolute ( so we’re

allowed to seem

to forget the pain)

– as this illusion

of survival in

us, becomes absolutely

illusory – (there is

unreality in both

cases) has been terrible

and true

39.

Earth – you lack

a single plant

– to what purpose –

– I who

honour you –

flowers,

vain beauty

40.

His eyes

watch me, double

and sufficient

– already taken by

absence and the void

all to unite there?

41.

Man and

absence –

the spiritual

twin with which

he blends when he

dreams, reflects

– absence, alone

after death, once

the pious

interment of the

body, creates

mysteriously – that

agreed fiction

42.

Slow to be sacrifice

earth alters him

all this time

pain eternal

and dumb

43.

What! death

in its vastness – terrible

death

to strike down so

small a being

I say to deathcoward

ah! it is in us

not beyond

44.

He has dug our

grave

in dying

the burial plot

45.

Oh! If the eyes of the dead

had greater power

than those, most beautiful

of the living

if they could draw you in

46.

After-effect

immortality

thanks to

our love

– he prolongs us

beyond

in exchange

we give back

life to him

in deepening

our thought

47.

Earth – gap gaping and

never to be filled

– but by sky

– indifferent earth

grave

not flowers

wreaths, our

joys and our life

48.

No, you are not one of the dead

– you will not be among

the dead, always in us

49.

it becomes a

joy (a bitter

enough thing) for us –

and unjust to him

who rests below, and is

in reality deprived

of all that with which

we associate him.

50.

I –

perhaps –

the ambiguity

that might be!

pain and sweet

joys

of the ghostly

sufferer

51.

Vision

endlessly purified

by my tears

52.

Ah! Adored heart

O my image

beyond of too vast

destinies –

only a child

like you –

I dream

still

all alone –

in the future

53.

Ah! Truly you know

that if I consent

to live – to seem

to forget you –

it is to

nourish my pain

– and so this apparent

forgetfulness

can pour out more

fully in tears, at

some moment

in the midst of this

life, when you

appear to me

54.

Time – it takes

for a body to decompose

in earth – (confounded

little by little

with neutral earth

in vast horizons)

it is then he

let’s go of the pure

spirit one

was – which was

bound to him,

organised – which

can take refuge

pure in us,

to reign

in us,

the survivors

absolute purity

on which

time pivots and

re-forms

55.

I sense it in myself

wanting – if not

the life lost,

at least the

equivalent –

the death

– where one is stripped

of body

– in those who remain

56.

– Oh! I

sense you

so strongly – and that you

always feel

well with us,

the parents – but

free, child

eternal, and at once

everywhere –

57.

To close the eyes

I – do not want to

close the eyes –

that will watch

me always

58.

Let us speak of him

again, let us extinguish

– in reality, silence

59.

True mourning in

rooms

– not the cemetery –

to find only

absence

– in presence

of things

60.

And he

the father –

who constructs

a tomb

– won’t his spirit

go seeking the traces of

destruction – and transmute

into pure spirit?

so deeply that

purity emerges from

the corruption!

61.

No – I will not

relinquish

nothingness

a father – I

sense the nothingness

invading me

62.

May my thought

make for him a

more beautiful

purer life.

63.

Wreaths

One feels obliged

to throw into this earth

that opens before

the child – the loveliest

wreaths of flowers –

the loveliest flowery

products, of that

earth – sacrificed

– in order to veil

or pay his toll

for him

64.

It is only, there,

the explosion of the

shattering caused

by the cry of I –

that little by little

re-forms itself –

all ended