Tag Archives: wonky first drafts

Extract from a letter by Paul Valéry to his brother Jules Valéry (1898)

I have just barely started to pull myself together again after this event which is one of the greatest sorrows of my life and an irreparable loss for me.

Nothing will give back to me this friendship with a unique man, the epitome of the most daring thought, the most modest life, and of the most pure, most incomparable honour. The tenderness which he sometimes showed towards me is, and always will be, for me, the only external reason I could admit for valuing myself a little.

I found his coffin in the garden next to the Seine upon which his little boat was still floating. His daughter fell into my arms, recalling to me the sentiments of her father with regard to me. It is an immense blow for her, she had sacrificed everything to her father, the best chances of marriage, etc.

The people arrived; there were a lot of people there for Valvins, and even enough.

I had had a beautiful wreath made by Augustin, which I brought with me.

Fortunately, apart from Mendès, there were few literary undertakers.

The Church was very far off, then the cemetery in an admirable position, absolutely analogous to that of his house.

There, Roujon, who, like everyone, was dressed in country clothes (except for myself who had come from Paris – almost all like cyclists or in Summer clothing) spoke very simply and very well all in all – since he said the important thing – the assurance that the two women would be cared for.

Then I was led forcibly to the graveside and obliged to speak.

I stammered a few words with neither sense nor sequence, I was so choked up. I returned to Paris with Héredia and Régnier.

“Le Temps” attributes to me two sentences which I don’t remember at all? In the end I am indifferent to all that.

Mallarmé has died of a strange accident, for such it must be called.

Since Monday he had a slightly sore throat. The doctor came to see him on Friday and he felt much better and wanted to get up. While he was speaking with the doctor, he stood up, grabbed at him, and fell dead, asphyxiated by a sudden spasm of the glottis, which had no direct relation to his indisposition. It is, it appears, an extremely rare case in pathology.

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

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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.]

(1875)