Poetry from the European Languages

Mallarmé (1842–1898)

Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2000 All Rights Reserved

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Stéphane Mallarmé worked as a lycée teacher at Tournon, Avignon and then Paris. His salon in the Rue de Rome became a rendezvous for young writers during the last fifteen years of his life. He was a friend of Degas. His verse often experiments with dislocated punctuation and grammar.

Mallarmé (1842–1898)

Album Leaf

All at once, as if in play,

Mademoiselle, she who moots

a wish to hear how it sounds today

the wood of my several flutes

It seems to me that this foray

tried out here in a country place

was better when I put them away

to look more closely at your face

Yes this vain whistling I suppress

in so far as I can create

given my fingers pure distress

it lacks the means to imitate

Your very natural and clear

childlike laughter that charms the air.

(Written to Mademoiselle Roumanille whom Mallarmé knew as a child.)

Autumn Plaint

Since Maria left me to go to another star - which one, Orion, Altair - or you green Venus? - I have always loved solitude. How many long days I have passed alone with my cat. By alone I mean without a material being, and my cat is a mystic companion, a spirit. I can say then that I have passed long days alone with my cat and alone with one of the last authors of the Roman decadence; for since the white creature is no more I have loved, uniquely and strangely, everything summed up in the word: fall. So, in the year, my favourite season is the last slow part of summer that just precedes autumn, and, in the day, the hour when I walk is when the sun hesitates before vanishing, with rays of yellow bronze over the grey walls, and rays of red copper over the tiles. Literature, also, from which my spirit asks voluptuousness, that will be the agonised poetry of Rome’s last moments, so long as it does not breathe a breath of the reinvigorated stance of the Barbarians or stammer in childish Latin like Christian prose. I was reading then one of those dear poems (whose flakes of rouge have more charm for me than young flesh), and dipping a hand into the pure animal fur, when a street organ sounded languishingly and sadly under my window. It was playing in the great alley of poplars whose leaves, even in spring, seem mournful to me since Maria passed by them, on her last journey, lying among candles. The instrument of sadnesses, yes, certainly: the piano flashes, the violin gives off light from its torn fibres, but the street organ in memory’s half-light made me dream despairingly. Now it murmured a delightfully common song that filled the faubourgs with joy, an old,banal tune: why did its words pierce my soul and make me cry, like any romantic ballad? I savoured it slowly and did not throw a coin through the window for fear of troubling my spirit and discovering that not only the instrument was playing.

Sea Breeze

The flesh is sad, Alas! and I have read all the books.

Let’s go! Far off. Let’s go! I sense

that the birds, intoxicated, fly

deep into unknown spume and sky!

Nothing – not even old gardens mirrored by eyes –

can restrain this heart that drenches itself in the sea,

O nights, or the abandoned light of my lamp,

on the void of paper, that whiteness defends,

no, not even the young woman feeding her child.

I will go! Steamer, straining at your ropes

lift your anchor towards an exotic rawness!

A Boredom, made desolate by cruel hope

still believes in the last goodbye of handkerchiefs!

And perhaps the masts, inviting lightning,

are those the gale bends over shipwrecks,

lost, without masts, without masts, no fertile islands...

But, oh my heart, listen to the sailors’ chant!