Welcome back to the Richmond Read-along! Today we are reading a poem from Stéphane Mallarmé, a French symbolist poet. Mallarmé’s early life was blighted by tragedy, as first his mother, then younger sister, and eventually father all died young – before Mallarmé was 22. Like Baudelaire, with whom he has been compared, Mallarmé’s poetry seems to have been an escape from the misery of his early life. His verse features escapism and a desire to use beauty to abandon this reality. Thought by some to be difficult and obtuse due to his innovative style, Mallarmé’s work can be seen as especially hard to translate from French; however even in English his mastery of language and strength of imagery can be seen.

Mallarmé’s poems often used unusual and irregular structures and rhyming. He fully explored the poetic form, pushing the boundaries to find ways of expressing his ideas. Mallarmé also wrote prose poems, which were novel at the time, and have since become more and more popular. However even his more traditionally structured poems show evidence of his experimentation with form and his striving towards an aesthetic ideal.

The Azure

The serene irony of the eternal Sky
Depresses, with the indolence of flowers,
The impotent poet cursing poetry
Across a sterile waste of leaden Hours.

Fleeing, with eyes shut fast, I feel it blight
With all the intensity of crushing remorse
My empty soul. Where can I fly? What haggard night
Can stifle this scornful torment at its source?

Roll in, you fogs, and pour out ashen haze
In tattered rags of mist traversing heaven;
Smother the livid swamp of autumn days
And roof them in a grand and silent haven!

And you, dear Boredom, rise from Lethean pools,
Dredging their shoals for pallid reeds and slime;
Block with unwearying hand the great blue holes
Malicious birds keep gouging time after time.

Still unremitting! let sad chimneys smoke,
And let the smothering soot, a wandering prison,
In blackening trains of horror rise and choke
The sun now fading yellow on the horizon!

– The Sky is dead. – Toward you I run!
Bestow, O matter,
Forgetfulness of Sin and the cruel Ideal
Upon this martyr who comes to share the litter
Where the happy herd of men is made to kneel.

For there I long, because at last my brain,
Like an empty rouge-pot on a dressing stand,
Has lost the art of decking out its pain,
To yawn morosely toward a humble end…

In vain! The Azure triumphs. I hear it sing
In all the bells. The more to frighten us,
It rises in its wicked glorying
From living metal, a blue angelus.

It rolls in with the fog, and like a sword
It penetrates your inmost agony.
Revolt or flight is useless and absurd;
I am haunted. The Sky! the Sky! the Sky! the Sky!

You can find this poem at Poem Hunter. Read more about Mallarmé and his works at The Poetry Foundation.

Join us tomorrow for the next Richmond Read-along!