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Mallarme, Stephane

Category: Poet

Stéphane Mallarmé (1842 –1898), whose real name was Étienne Mallarmé, was a major French symbolist poet.  His work not only inspired a number of other poets such as W.B. Yeats, Rainer Maria Rilke, Paul Valéry, Stefan George, Paul Verlaine and others, but also provided a foundation for a number of artistic movements - such as Dadaism, Surrealism, and Futurism.  It also inspired a generation of writers including  James Joyce and T.S. Eliot.

Mallarmé's poetry has also been the inspiration for several musical pieces, notably Claude Debussy's Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune (1894), a free interpretation of Mallarmé's poem L'après-midi d'un faune (1876).   Maurice Ravel also set Mallarmé's poetry to music in Trois poèmes de Stéphane Mallarmé (1913).

Man Ray's last film, entitled Les Mystères du Château de Dé (The Mystery of the Chateau of Dice) (1929), was greatly influenced by Mallarmé's work, prominently featuring the line "A roll of the dice will never abolish chance".

Joris-Karl Huysmans
Mallarmé's masterpieces .... ranked among the masterpieces of prose poetry, for their style was so magnificent that in itself it was as soothing as a melancholy incantation, an intoxicating melody, with irresistibly suggestive asides, the deep thoughts of a sensitive artist whose feelings vibrated with an intensity that fills you with a painful ecstasy."

Mallarme by Manet

Mallarmé's earlier work owes a great deal to the style of Charles Baudelaire. But his later style is his own. 

He is a very difficult poet to translate because he uses words symbolically and literally, there are meanings within the meanings, as such it is difficult to portray all the underlying sub-themes.  I have had a go at doing my own translation for this website, and there are some poems that have been translated by Arthur Symons, but some of the translations I have seen really do not capture the subtlety of his poetry – maybe I haven't either!  No translation can ever do full justice to his work.

Wikipedia agrees
The difficulty is due in part to the complex, multilayered nature of much of his work, but also to the important role that the sound of the words, rather than their meaning, plays in his poetry. When recited in French, his poems allow alternative meanings which are not evident on reading the work on the page.

Where did he derive his inspiration?  Stéphane Mallarmé was born in Paris. He worked as an English teacher and spent much of his life in relative poverty; but was famed for his 'salons', occasional gatherings of intellectuals at his house on the rue de Rome for discussions of poetry, art, and philosophy.

Mallarme's portrait by Renoir (1892).

Unlike many of his contemporaries Mallarme was not inspired by drugs or passion, but love, friendship and grief. Principally grief.

He suffered numerous tragedies. His mother died when he was just five years old, but he found love when on 10 August 1863 he married Maria Christina Gerhard. Their daughter, (Stéphanie Françoise) Geneviève Mallarmé, was born on 19 November 1864.

But in 1879 the cruellest blow of all struck when his beloved son Anatole died at the age of eight. A Tomb for Anatole presents the 202 fragments of Mallarme's projected long poem in four parts. By far the poet's most personal work, he could never bring himself to complete it. To speak publicly of his immense sorrow, Mallarme concluded, "for me, it's not possible”.

 
 

 

Mallarmé died suddenly in Valvins (present-day Vulaines-sur-Seine) September 9, 1898 aged only 56.

 

 

There is one thing worth noting from the pictures and photos - he was left handed

 

 

 

 

 

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