Tag Archives: wonky first drafts

New from Free Poetry in Boise: “The Marrying of Hérodiade” by Stéphane Mallarmé


New from Free Poetry in Boise, Idaho: a selection of scenes and fragments from the unfinished mystery play “Les noces d’Hérodiade” by Stéphane Mallarmé.  31pp A5.  All booklets in the Free Poetry series are issued free of charge and without copyright, and the editor encourages the reproduction of this chapbook and its free distribution ad infinitum.

I’ve run out of copies from the batch I took home from Idaho, but will post here soon with details of how to obtain the booklet in UK/Europe.  Enquiries in North America and elsewhere should be sent to Martin Corless-Smith, mcsmith {at} boisestate {d0t} edu

Many thanks to Martin, and to Colin Johnson for the great (and difficult) typesetting job.

Improvisation of a faun

from Mallarmé

These nymphs, I want to hold them fascinated!
So bright,
their naïve carnal tint, that it floats in all the air
clouded with tufted sleep.
Did I kiss a dream?
My doubt, here far from finishing, persists
in gloomy branches; which, remaining these true
black thickets, ensures that alas! just now I was opening
my eyes to the everyday modesty of roses.
Let us reflect.

What if the couple you scorn
bears witness to the desire of your fabling senses…
Faun, the illusion escapes from the cold
blue eyes, like a spring in tears, of the one more chaste:
but the other, with the lukewarm avowal, do you say she contrasts
like the breeze of the vain day in your fleece?
Yes indeed! under the anxious and weary swoon
suffocating the cold morning with light if it struggles,
no water wanders that is not poured by the flute
into the grove refreshed by song: and the only wind
prompt to be exhaled beyond my pipes before
it scatter the voice in an arid shower,
is, on the horizon unmoved by a ripple,
the invisible and serene artificial breath
of inspiration that regains the sky.

O Sicilian shores of the sacred marsh
ransacked by my madness equal to the summer,
tacit with sparks, tell
“How I was breaking in two one of the reeds tamed
by the singer; when, on the glaucous gold of distant
verdures dedicating their vine to the fountains,
a lively whiteness undulates at rest:
and that, in the prelude where the pipes start out,
this flight of swans, no! of naiads, saves itself
and plunges…”

Inert, all burns in the fallow time
neither waving nor telling how so much hymen
vanished, scared off by my art. Hold!
Will I awaken, then, from my primal languor,
erect and alone, under a flood of ironic light,
lilies; and among you all, artlessly handsome?

Other than this sweet nothing their pout divulged
if the women have left here no certain trace,
in default of the kiss I invoke my mysterious
bite-mark, owed to some noble tooth:
but no! for its anguish chose for confidant
the vast twin bulrush we play towards the blue;
that, turning the cheek’s turmoil on itself,
dreams with a duo that we might amuse
the surrounding splendour with some false
confusions between itself and our credulous love:
or of making, as high as the echo tunes itself,
to vanish from the unknotted arms, from the side
and from vague breasts swelling beneath my closed glances,
a pure, soft and monotonic line.

Try, noble instrument of flights, o malign
Syrinx, to flower again on the lakes where you wait for me:
pleased with my noise, I, I will speak for ages
of the treacherous ones and, by idolatrous paintings,
remove again still more girdles from their shadows;
just as, when I have sucked the brilliance out of grapes,
to deceive a regret the ruse dismissed,
laughing, I lift the empty bunch to the summer sky
and, breathing into its luminous skins, eager
to be drunk, I gaze through it till evening.

O Nymphs! let us reinflate some divers memories.

“My eyes, piercing the lilies, were firing at each immortal
neck, that drowns the burning in the wave
with a cry of rage to the forest sky;
and the splendid bath of hairs disappears
in the brilliancies and the shivering, o gemstones!
I went there; when at my feet are intertwined, bruised
by the languor tasted in this illness of being two,
women asleep amid the haphazard sunbeam:
I seize, without untangling, them, and fly
to this torrent, hated by frivolous shadow,
of roses drying their perfume in the sun,
where our love might be, like the air, consumed!

“I adore you, wrath of virgins, o fierce
delight of the sacred naked burden that slips
beneath my lip on fire, drinking, as a lightning-flash
quivers! the deep coolness of the flesh:
from the feet of the inhumane one to the back of the timid
veiled, both the one and the other, by a pale skin, damp
at once from the shore and from its own vapours.

“My crime is to have, without exhausting the playful
fears, separated the tousled tuft
of kisses the gods kept so well mixed;
for barely had I gone to hide an ardent laugh
under the happy folds of a single woman, detaining
by a simple finger, that her featherlike candour
be dipped in the emotion lighting up her sister,
the little one, calm and unblushing,
than, from my arms, undone by vague deaths,
this prey, forever ingrate, frees itself,
without pity for the sobbing from which I was still drunk.”

Let us spurn them! plenty others will capture me
by their tress woven into the horns of my brow.
You know, my passion, that, purple and already ripe
each pomegranate bursts and hums with bees;
and our blood, jealous of who comes to seize it
makes thirsty all the ancient flight of desire.
Through this sad wood that has the colour of ashes
the evenings exalt in the extinct foliage:
Etna! that is when, deserted by Venus,
sensing your feast reign in her innocent flanks,
your tranquility thunders and the flame sighs.

If I …
Am I not punished?

[The last few lines are missing.]


The Prodigal Son

from Mallarmé


Among women whose love is a dried-out orange
that keeps an old perfume when the gilded nectar is gone,
I sought the Infinite that makes man sin,
and found only a Gulf the enemy of sleep.

— The Infinite, proud dream that cradles in its swell
each star and every heart just like a fine sand!
— a Gulf, spiked with sour brambles, where
a fetid stream of make-up mixed with wine rolls on!


O mystical, o bleeding, o amorous woman
mad with the scent of candles and of incense, not knowing
what Demon warped you that evening when, in misery,
you licked a picture of the Sacred Heart,

your knees, calloused by dreamlike prayers,
I kiss them, and your feet that would becalm the sea;
I want to plunge my head between your stringy thighs
and weep my error under your bitter hair-shirt;

there, my saint, drunk on ecstatic perfumes,
in the oblivion of the black Gulf and of dear Infinity,
having sung very softly my long canticles,
I will put my pain to sleep on your young flesh.


The Castle of Hope

from Mallarmé

Your pale hair undulates
in the perfume from your skin
the way a white flag frolics
its silk showing blond in the sun.

Tired of beating time in tears
on a drum that is warped by the water,
my heart renounces its past
and, rolling out your hair in waves,

marches to the assault, climbs,— or rolls drunkenly
through mires of blood, in order
to plant that banner of fine gold
on a sombre copper castle

— where, whimpering with listlessness,
Hope ruffles up and smooths
without a single pallid star arising
Night black as a black cat.

Notes towards “Les noces d’Hérodiade: Mystère”

from Mallarmé


the ambiguity of Hé-
rodiade and of her

         she masters this
rebellious head
                 which wanted
to think more highly
where the idea is extinguished
unprecedented and rich



from which she benefits
covered in diamonds
                   and dying
evokes the human
beauty of life
which cannot be surpassed
at the same time that she
represents the old


she leans to one
side — to the other —
                   showing one
breast — the other —
               and scission
                             with no gossamer

according to this breast, that one


and having done that — one
foot upon the other,
         both feet
                       upon carpet
a kind of dance
dreadful   sketch
     — and fixed to the spot, without
             — null place