Stéphane Mallarmé

Stéphane Mallarmé

Stéphane Mallarmé (1842 – 1898) was a French symbolist poet. His complex poetry, notoriously difficult to translate, anticipated some aspects of Cubism, Dadaism and Surrealism. His ‘Sonnet en X’ epitomizes the cryptic work of art, it explores the theme of the orphic descent by which the narrator, wandering the mysterious regions of his inner world, comes to terms with the nature of poetic creation itself.

Ses purs ongles très haut dédiant leur onyx,
L’Angoisse, ce minuit, soutient, lampadophore,
Maint rêve vespéral brûlé par le Phénix
Que ne recueille pas de cinéraire amphore

Sur les crédences, au salon vide : nul ptyx
Aboli bibelot d’inanité sonore,
(Car le Maître est allé puiser des pleurs au Styx
Avec ce seul objet dont le Néant s’honore.)

Mais proche la croisée au nord vacante, un or
Agonise selon peut-être le décor
Des licornes ruant du feu contre une nixe,

Elle, défunte nue en le miroir, encor
Que, dans l’oubli fermé par le cadre, se fixe
De scintillations sitôt le septuor.


Her pure nails on high dedicating their onyx,
Anguish, at midnight, supports, a lamp-holder,
Many a twilight dream burnt by the
Phoenix That won’t be gathered in some ashes’ amphora

On a table, in the empty room: here is no ptyx,
Abolished bauble of sonorous uselessness,
(Since the Master’s gone to draw tears from the Styx
With that sole object, vanity of Nothingness).

But near the casement wide to the north,
A gold is dying, in accord with the décor
Perhaps, those unicorns dashing fire at a nixie,

She who, naked and dead in the mirror, yet
In the oblivion enclosed by the frame, is fixed
As soon by scintillations as the septet.

In Poésies, Translation by A. S. Kline 1899