Wednesday, April 14, 2010

as far as one place fuses with beyond

Now, Stéphane Mallarmé.  Here we have a challenge.  He aspired to the condition of music, and perhaps reached it.  With Mallarmé, and with Jules Laforgue, even more than with Rimbaud or Corbière, I may have reached a stopping point in my rampage through French poetry.  For now, for now.

Still.  "Dice Thrown Will Never Annul Chance" (1895).  A page of it is up above, the final page below.  The translation, by Brian Coffey, is from the essential Selected Poetry and Prose, 1982, New Directions, edited by Mary Ann Caws.  The poem consists of nine and a half of these pages.  I am tempted to photocopy each page and arrange them from northwest to southeast, to see the full extent of the constellation of words. 

Or the entire score.  I have seen jazz compositions that look not unlike Mallarmé's poem.  Which mental instrument should the reader assign to the giant, timpanic CHANCE, or to the reedy, italicized

                         more nor less
                                                  indifferently but as much

or to the perfectly ordinary

evidence of a tot of the sum however little one
                                MIGHT IT ILLUMINE

I think violins followed by brass.  Assuming one reads the words in order.  Mallarmé allows the reader to follow the size of the words, or the spacing; to read across the page, or down it.  The trick, actually, is to try to juggle two or three meanings at a time.  A story emerges - a sea captain, at risk of shipwreck, rolls dice - or doesn't.  I splash through the jumble of words, or simply look at the stars

What am I talking about?  Click on the images to make them a bit bigger.


  1. Debussy and Ravel actually did set some of Mallarme's poems to music. I haven't studied much of this stuff -- more the "Vierge" and the other more traditional verse (if you can call it traditional. You can; it has a rhyme scheme and everything.) It's still very knotty stuff. I like this, though.

  2. Ah, Ravel, yes! I've been listening to Debussy's settings of Verlaine and so on, but forgot about Ravel.

    Debussy's very existence really was a lucky stroke for these poets. His own ideas fit them so well. There must have been some back and forth, some exchange of ideas.

  3. Wow, now that's an odd-looking poem. I'm really intrigued to know how it all works out into a coherent poem.

  4. Rebecca, it requires a little, how to say it, flexibility from the reader.