Mallarmé

 

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Un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard

 

(A throw of the dice will never abolish chance)


 

      Translated by A. S. Kline © 2007, All Rights Reserved.

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

 


Contents 

Translator’s Introduction. 4

Mallarmé’s Preface of 1897. 5

The French Text 7

The English Translation. 19

The  English Translation – Compressed, and Punctuated. 31
 

 

Translator’s Introduction

 

The French text displayed here is as close as I could achieve to that printed in the edition of July 1914, which produced a definitive version superseding the original publication of 1897. The English ‘translation’ is offered as an equivalent text to, or interpretation of, the original. The compressed and punctuated translation is offered as an aid to grasping the poem as a whole, in a swift reading.

 


Mallarmé’s Preface of 1897

 

‘I would prefer that this Note was not read, or, skimmed, was forgotten; it tells the knowledgeable reader little that is beyond his or her penetration: but may confuse the uninitiated, prior to their looking at the first words of the Poem, since the ensuing words, laid out as they are, lead on to the last, with no novelty except the spacing of the text. The ‘blanks’ indeed take on importance, at first glance; the versification demands them, as a surrounding silence, to the extent that a fragment, lyrical or of a few beats, occupies, in its midst, a third of the space of paper: I do not transgress the measure, only disperse it. The paper intervenes each time as an image, of itself, ends or begins once more, accepting a succession of others, and, since, as ever, it does nothing, of regular sonorous lines or verse – rather prismatic subdivisions of the Idea, the instant they appear, and as long as they last, in some precise intellectual performance, that is in variable positions, nearer to or further from the implicit guiding thread, because of the verisimilitude the text imposes. The literary value, if I am allowed to say so, of this print-less distance which mentally separates groups of words or words themselves, is to periodically accelerate or slow the movement, the scansion, the sequence even, given one’s simultaneous sight of the page: the latter taken as unity, as elsewhere the Verse is or perfect line. Imagination flowers and vanishes, swiftly, following the flow of the writing, round the fragmentary stations of a capitalised phrase introduced by and extended from the title. Everything takes place, in sections, by supposition; narrative is avoided. In addition this use of the bare thought with its retreats, prolongations, and flights, by reason of its very design, for anyone wishing to read it aloud, results in a score. The variation in printed characters between the dominant motif, a secondary one and those adjacent, marks its importance for oral utterance and the scale, mid-way, at top or bottom of the page will show how the intonation rises or falls.  (Only certain very bold instructions of mine, encroachments etc. forming the counterpoint to this prosody, a work which lacks precedent, have been left in a primitive state: not because I agree with being timid in my attempts; but because it is not for me, save by a special pagination or volume of my own, in a Periodical so courageous, gracious and accommodating as it shows itself to be to real freedom, to act too contrary to custom.  I will have shown, in the Poem below, more than a sketch, a ‘state’ which yet does not entirely break with tradition; will have furthered its presentation in many ways too, without offending anyone; sufficing to open a few eyes.  This applies to the 1897 printing specifically: translator’s note.) Today, without presuming anything about what will emerge from this in future, nothing, or almost a new art, let us readily accept that the tentative participates, with the unforeseen, in the pursuit, specific and dear to our time, of free verse and the prose poem. Their meeting takes place under an influence, alien I know, that of Music heard in concert; one finds there several techniques that seem to me to belong to Literature, I reclaim them. The genre, which is becoming one, like the symphony, little by little, alongside personal poetry, leaves intact the older verse; for which I maintain my worship, and to which I attribute the empire of passion and dreams, though this may be the preferred means (as follows) of dealing with subjects of pure and complex imagination or intellect: which there is no remaining justification for excluding from Poetry – the unique source.’

 


The French Text


 

 

 

UN COUP DE DÉS

 

 

 

 


 

 

JAMAIS

 

 

                                                                                 QUAND BIEN MÊME LANCÉ DANS DES CIRCONSTANCES
                                                                                 ÉTERNELLES

 

DU FOND D'UN NAUFRAGE

 


 


 

Soit

         que

                l'Abîme
blanchi
             étale
                     furieux
                                     sous une inclinaison
                                                    planche désespérément
                                                                                       d'aile
                                                                                  la sienne
                                                                                         par             avance retombée d'un mal à dresser le vol
                                                                                                                                        et couvrant les jaillissements
                                                                                                                                            coupant au ras les bonds

                                                                                                                               très à l'intérieur résume
                                                                                      l'ombre enfouie dans la profondeur par cette voile alternative

                                                                                                          jusqu'adapter
                                                                                                 sa béante profondeur entant que la
coque

                                                                                                                       d'un bâtiment                   
                                                                                                            penché de l'un ou l'autre
bord




 

             LE MAÎTRE                                             hors d'anciens calculs
                                                                               la manoeuvre avec l'âge oubliée
 surgi                                                                                         jadis il empoignait la barre
      inférant
                             de cette configuration          à ses pieds  
                                                                                                de l’horizon unanime
                                                           que se          prépare
                                                                                        s'agite et mêle
                                                                                            au poing qui l'étreindrait
                                 comme on menace             un destin et les vents

          l'unique Nombre qui ne peut pas             être un autre
                                                                                                              Esprit
                                                                                                                         pour le jeter
                                                                                                                                               dans la tempête
                                                                                                                                 en reployer la division et passer fier
                                                           hésite
                                   cadavre par le bras           écarté du secret qu'il détient
plutôt
           que de jouer
                  en maniaque chenu
                                  la partie
                  au nom des flots
                                                                  un             envahit le chef
                                                                                    coule en barbe soumise
                                             naufrage cela             direct de l'homme
                                                                                            sans nef
                                                                                               n'importe            
                                                                                                                  vaine


 

 

ancestralement à n'ouvrir pas la main
                                                                   crispée
                                                    par delà l'inutile tête
       legs en la disparition
                                       à quelqu'un
                                                                 ambigu
                                 l'ultérieur démon immémorial
ayant
             de contrées nulles
                                                induit
le vieillard vers cette conjonction suprême avec la probabilité
                                                              celui
                                                                      son ombre puérile
caressée et polie et rendue et lavée
                                          assouplie par la vague et soustraite
                                        aux durs os perdus entre les ais
                                                                      
                                                                       d'un ébat
la mer par l'aïeul tentant ou l'aïeul contre la mer
                            une chance oiseuse
                                                                                         Fiançailles
dont
         le voile d'illusion rejailli leur hantise
         ainsi que le fantôme d'un geste
                                              chancellera
                                              s'affalera
                                                                     folie          
                                                                                                                  
N'ABOLIRA  

 


 

COMME SI

                                                       Une insinuation                   simple

                                                                  au silence                  enroulée avec ironie
                                                                                                                                           ou
                                                                                                                                              le mystère
                                                                                                                                                                précipité
                                                                                                                                                                                
hurlé

                                             dans quelque proche                   tourbillon d'hilarité et d'horreur

                                                                         voltige                    autour du gouffre
                                                                                                                                                  sans le joncher
                                                                                                                                                                          ni
fuir

                                                                                                                                              et en berce le vierge indice

 

                                                                                                                                                                             COMME SI

 

 


 

 

         plume solitaire éperdue


                                                               sauf                             que
la rencontre ou l'effleure une toque de minuit
                                                                                                                                            et immobilise
                                                                                                            au velours chiffonné par un esclaffement 
sonore

                                                                                                               cette blancheur rigide

                                                                                                      dérisoire
                                                                                                                              en opposition au ciel
                                                                                                                       trop
                                                                                                                               pour ne pas marquer
                                                                                                                                                            exigüment
                                                                                                                                                                       
quiconque

                                                                                                                                 prince amer de l'écueil

                                                                                                                               s'en coiffe comme de l'héroïque
                                                                                                                                              irrésistible mais contenu
                                                                                                                                   par sa petite raison virile

                                                                                                                                                                                 en foudre

 


 

 

 

soucieux
                 expiatoire et pubère
                                                                                 muet                                    
rire

                                                                                                                                                que
                                                                                                                                                                         
SI    


                                                         
La lucide et seigneuriale aigrette             de vertige   
                                                                                 au front invisible
                                                                scintille
                                                                                  puis ombrage
                                                          une stature mignonne ténébreuse          debout 
                                                                         en sa torsion de sirène
                                                                                                                                          le temps
                                                                                                                                                   de souffleter
                                                       par d'impatientes squames ultimes           
bifurquées

                                                                                                                                               un roc

                                                                                                                                           faux manoir
                                                                                      
                                                                    tout de suite  
                                                                                                                                                             évaporé en brumes

                                                                                                                                                       qui imposa
                                                                                                                                                                  une borne à
l'infini

                                                                          


 

                                                  C'ÉTAIT                                                       LE NOMBRE
                                                      issu stellaire   

                                                                                                                                       EXISTÂT-IL
                                                                                                                 autrement qu'hallucination éparse
d'agonie


                                                                                                                      COMMENÇÂT-IL ET CESSÂT-IL
                                                                                                                    sourdant que nié et clos quand apparu
                                                                                                                                              enfin
                                                                                                                              
par quelque profusion répandue en rareté
                                                                                                                                                                    SE CHIFFRÂT-IL

 

 évidence de la somme pour peu qu’une

  ILLUMINÂT-IL

CE SERAIT                                                                         
               pire
                               non 
                                         davantage ni moins  
                                                                          indifféremment mais
autant              
LE HASARD

 

                                                                                                          Choit
                                                                                                                la plume
                                                                                                                     rythmique suspens du sinistre
                                                                                                                                                                          s'ensevelir
                                                                                                                                              aux écumes
originelles

                                                                                                      naguères d'où sursauta son délire jusqu'à une cime
                                                                                                                                                                       flétrie
                                                                                                                           par la neutralité identique du
gouffre

                                                                          


 

 

 

                    RIEN

                             de la mémorable crise
                                            se fût
                                                l'événement            accompli en vue de tout résultat nul
                                                                                                                                                             
humain

                                                                                                                 N'AURA EU LIEU
                                                                                                               une élévation ordinaire verse
l'absence

                                                                                                                                      QUE LE LIEU
                                                                                    inférieur clapotis quelconque comme pour disperser l'acte vide
                                                                                                                                     abruptement qui sinon
                                                                                                                              par son mensonge
                                                                                                                                                eût fondé
                                                                                                                                             la perdition

                                                                                    dans ces parages
                                                                                                                       du vague
                                                                                                                                         en quoi toute réalité se
dissout

                                                                          


 

EXCEPTÉ
                 à l'altitude
                                    PEUT-ÊTRE
                                                         aussi loin qu'un endroit       fusionne avec au-delà
                                                                                                                                        hors l'intérêt
                                                                                                                                 quant à lui signalé
                                                                                                                                                                   en général
                                                                                                          selon telle obliquité par telle déclivité
                                                                                                                                                                      de feux
                                                                                                                 vers
                                                                                                                      ce doit être
                                                                                                                            le Septentrion aussi Nord
                                                                                                                                        UNE CONSTELLATION
                                                                                                                          froide d'oubli et de désuétude
                                                                                                                                                                   pas tant
                                                                                                                                                            qu'elle n'énumère
                                                                                                                           sur quelque surface vacante et supérieure
                                                                                                                                                         le heurt successif
                                                                                                                                                                           sidéralement
                                                                                                                       d'un compte total en formation
                                                                                                      veillant
                                                                                                                    doutant
                                                                                                                                    roulant
                                                                                                                                                  brillant et méditant
                                                                                                                                                         avant de s'arrêter
                                                                                                                                     à quelque point dernier qui le
sacre

 

                                                                                                                                       Toute pensée émet un Coup de Dés

 

 

 

 

 

 

The English Translation

 

 

 

 

A THROW OF THE DICE

 

 

 

 


 

 

NEVER

 

 

                                                                                 EVEN WHEN TRULY CAST IN THE ETERNAL
                                                                                 CIRCUMSTANCE

 

OF A SHIPWRECK’S DEPTH

 


 


 

Can be

         only

               the Abyss
raging
             whitened
                     stalled
                                     beneath the desperately
                                                    sloping incline
                                                                                       of its
                                                                                own wing
                                                                                         through            an advance falling back from ill to take flight
                                                                                                                                        and veiling the gushers
                                                                                                                                            restraining the surges

                                                                                                                               gathered far within
                                                                                      the shadow buried deep by that alternative sail

                                                                                                          almost matching
                                                                                                 its yawning depth to the wingspan like a hull

                                                                                                                       of a vessel                   
                                                                                                            rocked from side to side




 

             THE MASTER                                             beyond former calculations
                                                                              where the lost manoeuvre with the age
 rose                                                                                        
      implying                                                                           that formerly he grasped the helm
                             of this conflagration          of the concerted
                                                                                                     horizon at his feet
                                                                         
                                                           that          readies itself
                                                                                        moves and merges
                                                                                            with the blow that grips it
                                 as one threatens             fate and the winds

          the unique Number which cannot             be another
                                                                                                              Spirit
                                                                                                                         to hurl it
                                                                                                                                               into the storm
                                                                                                                                 relinquish the cleaving there and pass proudly
                                                           hesitates
                                   a corpse pushed back           by the arm from the secret
rather
           than taking sides
                  a hoary madman
                                  on behalf
                  of the waves
                                                                  one             overwhelms the head
                                                                                    flows through the submissive beard
                                             straight shipwreck             that of the man
                                                                                            without a vessel
                                                                                               empty            
                                                                                                                 no matter where


 

 

ancestrally never to open the fist
                                                                   clenched
                                                    beyond the helpless head
       a legacy in vanishing
                                       to someone
                                                                 ambiguous
                                 the immemorial ulterior demon
having
             from non-existent regions
                                                led
the old man towards this ultimate meeting with probability
                                                              this
                                                                      his childlike shade
caressed and smoothed and rendered
                                          supple by the wave and shielded
                                        from hard bone lost between the planks
                                                                      born
                                                                       of a frolic
the sea through the old man or the old man against the sea
                            making a vain attempt
                                                                                         an Engagement
whose
         dread the veil of illusion rejected
         as the phantom of a gesture
                                              will tremble
                                              collapse
                                                                     madness          
                                                                                                                  
WILL NEVER ABOLISH  

 


 

AS IF

                                                       A simple                   insinuation

                                                                  into silence                  entwined with irony
                                                                                                                                           or
                                                                                                                                              the mystery
                                                                                                                                                                hurled
                                                                                                                                                                                howled

                                             in some close                   swirl of mirth and terror

                                                                         whirls                    round the abyss
                                                                                                                                                  without scattering
                                                                                                                                                                          or dispersing

                                                                                                                                              and cradles the virgin index there

 

                                                                                                                                                                             AS IF

 

 


 

 

         a solitary plume overwhelmed


                                                               untouched                            
that a cap of
midnight grazes or encounters
                                                                                                                                            and fixes
                                                                                                            in crumpled velvet with a sombre burst of laughter

                                                                                                               that rigid whiteness

                                                                                                      derisory
                                                                                                                              in opposition to the heavens
                                                                                                                       too much so
                                                                                                                               not to signal
                                                                                                                                                            closely
                                                                                                                                                                       any

                                                                                                                                 bitter prince of the reef

                                                                                                                               heroically adorned with it
                                                                                                                                              indomitable but contained
                                                                                                                                   by his petty reason virile

                                                                                                                                                                                 in lightning

 


 

 

 

anxious
                 expiatory and pubescent
                                                                                 dumb                                    laughter

                                                                                                                                                that
                                                                                                                                                                         
IF    


                                                         
The lucid and lordly crest             of vertigo   
                                                                                 on the invisible brow
                                                                sparkles
                                                                                  then shades
                                                          a slim dark tallness          upright
                                                                         in its siren coiling
                                                                                                                                          at the moment
                                                                                                                                                   of striking
                                                       through impatient ultimate scales          bifurcated

                                                                                                                                               a rock

                                                                                                                                           a deceptive manor
                                                                                      
                                                                    suddenly  
                                                                                                                                                    
         evaporating in fog

                                                                                                                                                       that imposed
                                                                                                                                                                  limits  on  the infinite

                                                                          


 

                                                  IT WAS                                                       THE NUMBER
                                                  stellar outcome   

                                                                                                                                       WERE IT TO HAVE EXISTED
                                                                                                                 other than as a fragmented agonised hallucination


                                                                                                                      WERE IT TO HAVE BEGUN AND ENDED
                                                                                                                    a surging that denied and closed when visible
                                                                                                                                              at last
                                                                                                                              
by some profusion spreading in sparseness
                                                                                                                                         WERE IT TO HAVE AMOUNTED

 

 to the fact of the total though as little as one

WERE IT TO HAVE LIGHTED

IT WOULD BE                                                                         
               worse
                               no 
                                         more nor less  
                                                                          indifferently but as much
        
CHANCE

                                                                                                          Falls
                                                                                                                the plume
                                                                                                                     rhythmic suspense of the disaster
                                                                                                                                                                          to bury itself
                                                                                                                                              in the original foam

                                                                                                      from which its delirium formerly leapt to the summit
                                                                                                                                                                       faded
                                                                                                                           by the same neutrality of abyss

                                                                          


 

 

 

                    NOTHING

                             of the memorable crisis
                                           where the event
                                                matured            accomplished in sight of all non-existent
                                                                                                                                                             human outcomes

                                                                                                                 WILL HAVE TAKEN PLACE
                                                                                                               a commonplace elevation pours out absence

                                                                                                                                      BUT THE PLACE
                                                                                    some lapping below as if to scatter the empty act
                                                                                                                                     abruptly that otherwise
                                                                                                                              by its falsity
                                                                                                                                                would have plumbed
                                                                                                                                             perdition

                                                                                    in this region
                                                                                                                       of  vagueness
                                                                                                                                         in which all reality dissolves

                                                                          


 

EXCEPT
                 at the altitude
                                    PERHAPS
                                                         as far as a place       fuses with beyond
                                                                                                                                        outside the interest
                                                                                                                                 signalled regarding it
                                                                                                                                                                   in general
                                                                                                          in accord with such obliquity through such declination
                                                                                                                                                                      of fire
                                                                                                                 towards
                                                                                                                      what must be
                                                                                                                            the Wain also North
                                                                                                                                        A CONSTELLATION
                                                                                                                          cold with neglect and desuetude
                                                                                                                                                                   not so much though
                                                                                                                                                            that it fails to enumerate
                                                                                                                           on some vacant and superior surface
                                                                                                                                                         the consecutive clash
                                                                                                                                                                           sidereally
                                                                                                                       of a final account in formation
                                                                                                      attending
                                                                                                                    doubting
                                                                                                                                    rolling
                                                                                                                                                  shining and meditating
                                                                                                                                                         before stopping
                                                                                                                                     at some last point that crowns it

 

                                                                                                                      All Thought expresses a Throw of the Dice

 

 

 

 

 

 

The  English Translation – Compressed, and Punctuated

 

 

A THROW OF THE DICE NEVER, EVEN WHEN TRULY CAST IN THE ETERNAL CIRCUMSTANCE OF A SHIPWRECK’S DEPTH, Can be only the Abyss raging, whitened, stalled beneath the desperately sloping incline of its own wing, through an advance falling back from ill to take flight, and veiling the gushers, restraining the surges, gathered far within the shadow buried deep by that alternative sail, almost matching its yawning depth to the wingspan, like a hull of a vessel rocked from side to side

 

THE MASTER, beyond former calculations, where the lost manoeuvre with the age rose implying that formerly he grasped the helm of this conflagration of the concerted horizon at his feet, that readies itself; moves; and merges with the blow that grips it, as one threatens fate and the winds, the unique Number, which cannot be another Spirit, to hurl it into the storm, relinquish the cleaving there, and pass proudly; hesitates, a corpse pushed back by the arm from the secret, rather than taking sides, a hoary madman, on behalf of the waves: one overwhelms the head, flows through the submissive beard, straight shipwreck that, of the man without a vessel, empty no matter where

 

ancestrally never to open the fist clenched beyond the helpless head, a legacy, in vanishing, to someone ambiguous, the immemorial ulterior demon having, from non-existent regions, led the old man towards this ultimate meeting with probability, this his childlike shade caressed and smoothed and rendered supple by the wave, and shielded from hard bone lost between the planks born of a frolic, the sea through the old man or the old man against the sea, making a vain attempt, an Engagement whose dread the veil of illusion rejected, as the phantom of a gesture will tremble, collapse, madness, WILL NEVER ABOLISH

 

AS IF A simple insinuation into silence, entwined with irony, or the mystery hurled, howled, in some close swirl of mirth and terror, whirls round the abyss without scattering or dispersing and cradles the virgin index there AS IF

 

a solitary plume overwhelmed, untouched, that a cap of midnight grazes, or encounters, and fixes, in crumpled velvet with a sombre burst of laughter, that rigid whiteness, derisory, in opposition to the heavens, too much so not to signal closely any bitter prince of the reef, heroically adorned with it, indomitable, but contained by his petty reason, virile in lightning

 

anxious expiatory and pubescent dumb laughter that IF the lucid and lordly crest of vertigo on the invisible brow sparkles, then shades, a slim dark tallness, upright in its siren coiling, at the moment of striking, through impatient ultimate scales, bifurcated, a rock a deceptive manor suddenly evaporating in fog that imposed limits on the infinite

 

IT WAS THE NUMBER, stellar outcome, WERE IT TO HAVE EXISTED other than as a fragmented, agonised hallucination; WERE IT TO HAVE BEGUN AND ENDED, a surging that denied, and closed, when visible at last, by some profusion spreading in sparseness; WERE IT TO HAVE AMOUNTED to the fact of the total, though as little as one; WERE IT TO HAVE LIGHTED, IT WOULD BE, worse no more nor less indifferently but as much, CHANCE Falls the plume, rhythmic suspense of the disaster, to bury itself in the original foam, from which its delirium formerly leapt to the summit faded by the same neutrality of abyss

 

NOTHING of the memorable crisis where the event matured, accomplished in sight of all non-existent human outcomes, WILL HAVE TAKEN PLACE a commonplace elevation pours out absence BUT THE PLACE some lapping below, as if to scatter the empty act abruptly, that otherwise by its falsity would have plumbed perdition, in this region of vagueness, in which all reality dissolves

 

EXCEPT at the altitude PERHAPS, as far as a place fuses with, beyond, outside the interest signalled regarding it, in general, in accord with such obliquity, through such declination of fire, towards what must be the Wain also North A CONSTELLATION cold with neglect and desuetude, not so much though that it fails to enumerate, on some vacant and superior surface, the consecutive clash, sidereally, of a final account in formation, attending, doubting, rolling, shining and meditating before stopping at some last point that crowns it All Thought expresses a Throw of the Dice

 


 

Notes:

1. The larger and smaller words in capitals in the poem are to be read as intertwined statements, and dominant and secondary threads of the poem, in accordance with the hints in Mallarmé’s Preface.

2. The French Septentrion meaning the North, derives from the Latin Septentrio also meaning the North, but specifically referring in addition to the constellation Ursa Major known variously as the Great Bear, Wain, Plough or Big Dipper. Note that a constellation is a chance arbitrary visual formation of often widely disparate stars, delineated and designated purely by the human mind.

3. Note the following possible literary echoes, which may equally indicate no more than Mallarme’s absorption of, and interest in, common 19th century themes:

- Coleridge’s The Ancient Mariner (1797-1799: especially the casting of dice on the deck of the spectral barge);

- The legends of the Flying Dutchman, and of the Maelstrom (See for example the final chapter of Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, 1870);

- Shakespeare’s Hamlet who also appears in a Mallarmé sonnet (The Clown Chastised);

- Rostand’s Cyrano (First performed 1897) with his defiant plume (also of course in French a pen and a quill or swan’s feather, a key multiple meaning impossible to capture in English);

- Melville’s Moby Dick (1851: for Ahab’s defiance, and his pursuit of the White Whale that signifies Le Néant, and not merely for its compulsive and obsessive digressions!)

 

 

A. S. Kline, 3rd March 2007