Stéphane Mallarmé

 

 

Selected Poems

 


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                Translated by A. S. Kline © 2004-2009 All Rights Reserved.

This work may be freely reproduced, stored, and transmitted, electronically or otherwise, for any non-commercial purpose.

 


 

Contents

 

A Toast 5

Futile Petition. 6

A Negress. 7

Distress. 8

Summer Sadness. 9

The Clown Chastised. 10

The Poem’s Gift 11

L’Apres-midi d’un Faune. 12

Funeral Libation (At Gautier’s Tomb) 17

The Tomb of Edgar Allan Poe. 19

The Tomb of Charles Baudelaire. 20

Tomb (Of Verlaine) 21

Prose. 22

A Fan. 24

Another Fan. 25

Album Leaf 26

Note. 27

Little Air 28

Sonnet: ‘Quand l’ombre menaça…’ 30

Sonnet: ‘Le vierge, le vivace…’ 31

Sonnet: ‘Victorieusement fui le suicide…’ 32

Sonnet: ‘Ses purs ongles très haut…’ 33

Sonnet: ‘Pour votre chère morte, son ami…’ 34

To The Sole Concern. 35

All Summarised The Soul…... 36

What Silk…... 37

To Introduce Myself…... 38

Crushed by…. 39

My Books…... 40

Sigh. 41

Homage. 42

…Mysticis umbraculis. 43

Fan. 44

O so dear 45

Sonnet 46

Autumn Plaint 47

Sea Breeze. 48

Index of First Lines. 49

 


                    A Toast

 

Nothing, this foam, virgin verse

Depicting the chalice alone:

Far off a band of Sirens drown

Many of them head first.

 

We sail, O my various

Friends, I already at the stern,

You at the lavish prow that churns

The lightning’s and the winters’ flood:

 

A sweet intoxication urges me

Despite pitching, tossing, fearlessly

To offer this toast while standing

 

Solitude, reef, and starry veil

To whatever’s worthy of knowing

The white anxiety of our sail.

 


                    Futile Petition

 

Princess! In jealousy of a Hebe’s fate

Rising over this cup at your lips’ kisses,

I spend my fires with the slender rank of prelate

And won’t even figure naked on Sèvres dishes.

 

Since I’m not your pampered poodle,

Pastille, rouge or sentimental game

And know your shuttered glance at me too well,

Blonde whose hairdressers have goldsmiths’ names!

 

Name me…you whose laughters strawberry-crammed

Are mingling with a flock of docile lambs

Everywhere grazing vows bleating joy the while,

 

Name me…so that Love winged with a fan

Paints me there, lulling the fold, flute in hand,

Princess, name me the shepherd of your smiles.

 


A Negress

 

Possessed by some demon now a negress

Would taste a girl-child saddened by strange fruits

Forbidden ones too under the ragged dress,

This glutton’s ready to try a trick or two:

 

To her belly she twins two fortunate tits

And, so high that no hand knows how to seize her,

Thrusts the dark shock of her booted legs

Just like a tongue unskilled in pleasure.

 

Facing the timorous nakedness of the gazelle

That trembles, on her back like an elephant gone wild,

Waiting upside down, she keenly admires herself,

Laughing with her bared teeth at the child:

 

And, between her legs where the victim’s couched,

Raising the black flesh split beneath its mane,

Advances the palate of that alien mouth

Pale, rosy as a shell from the Spanish Main.

 


Distress

 

I don’t come to conquer your flesh tonight, O beast

In whom are the sins of the race, nor to stir

In your foul tresses a mournful tempest

Beneath the fatal boredom my kisses pour:

 

A heavy sleep without those dreams that creep

Under curtains alien to remorse, I ask of your bed,

Sleep you can savour after your dark deceits,

You who know more of Nothingness than the dead.

 

For Vice, gnawing this inborn nobleness of mine

Marked me, like you, with its sterility,

But shroud-haunted, pale, destroyed, I flee

 

While that heart no tooth of any crime

Can wound lives in your breast of stone,

Frightened of dying while I sleep alone.

 


                    Summer Sadness

 

The sun, on the sand, O sleeping wrestler,

Warms a languid bath in the gold of your hair,

Melting the incense on your hostile features,

Mixing an amorous liquid with the tears.

 

The immutable calm of this white burning,

O my fearful kisses, makes you say, sadly,

‘Will we ever be one mummified winding,

Under the ancient sands and palms so happy?’

 

But your tresses are a tepid river,

Where the soul that haunts us drowns, without a shiver

And finds the Nothingness you cannot know!

 

I’ll taste the unguent of your eyelids’ shore,

To see if it can grant to the heart, at your blow,

The insensibility of stones and the azure.

 


 

                    The Clown Chastised

 

Eyes, lakes of my simple passion to be reborn

Other than as the actor who gestures with his hand

As with a pen, and evokes the foul soot of the lamps,

Here’s a window in the walls of cloth I’ve torn.

 

With legs and arms a limpid treacherous swimmer

With endless leaps, disowning the sickness

Hamlet! It’s as if I began to build in the ocean depths

A thousand tombs: to vanish still virgin there.

 

Mirthful gold of a cymbal beaten with fists,

The sun all at once strikes the pure nakedness

That breathed itself out of my coolness of nacre,

 

Rancid night of the skin, when you swept over me,

Not knowing, ungrateful one, that it was, this make-up,

My whole anointing, drowned in ice-water perfidy.

 


                    The Poem’s Gift

 

I bring you the child of an Idumean night!

Black, with pale naked bleeding wings, Light

Through the glass, burnished with gold and spice,

Through panes, still dismal, alas, and cold as ice,

Hurled itself, daybreak, against the angelic lamp.

Palm-leaves! And when it showed this relic, damp,

To that father attempting an inimical smile,

The solitude shuddered, azure, sterile.

O lullaby, with your daughter, and the innocence

Of your cold feet, greet a terrible new being:

A voice where harpsichords and viols linger,

Will you press that breast, with your withered finger,

From which Woman flows in Sibylline whiteness to

Those lips starved by the air’s virgin blue?

 

 


                    L’Apres-midi d’un Faune

 

                                                  Eclogue

 

                                                 The Faun

 

These nymphs, I would perpetuate them.

                                                    So bright

Their crimson flesh that hovers there, light

In the air drowsy with dense slumbers.

                                           Did I love a dream?

My doubt, mass of ancient night, ends extreme

In many a subtle branch, that remaining the true

Woods themselves, proves, alas, that I too

Offered myself, alone, as triumph, the false ideal of roses.

 

Let’s see….

                    or if those women you note

Reflect your fabulous senses’ desire!

Faun, illusion escapes from the blue eye,

Cold, like a fount of tears, of the most chaste:

But the other, she, all sighs, contrasts you say

Like a breeze of day warm on your fleece?

No! Through the swoon, heavy and motionless

Stifling with heat the cool morning’s struggles

No water, but that which my flute pours, murmurs

To the grove sprinkled with melodies: and the sole breeze

Out of the twin pipes, quick to breathe

Before it scatters the sound in an arid rain,

Is unstirred by any wrinkle of the horizon,

The visible breath, artificial and serene,

Of inspiration returning to heights unseen.


 

O Sicilian shores of a marshy calm

My vanity plunders vying with the sun,

Silent beneath scintillating flowers, RELATE

That I was cutting hollow reeds here tamed

By talent: when, on the green gold of distant

Verdure offering its vine to the fountains,

An animal whiteness undulates to rest:

And as a slow prelude in which the pipes exist

This flight of swans, no, of Naiads cower

Or plunge…

          Inert, all things burn in the tawny hour

Not seeing by what art there fled away together

Too much of hymen desired by one who seeks there

The natural A: then I’ll wake to the primal fever

Erect, alone, beneath the ancient flood, light’s power,

Lily! And the one among you all for artlessness.

 

Other than this sweet nothing shown by their lip, the kiss

That softly gives assurance of treachery,

My breast, virgin of proof, reveals the mystery

Of the bite from some illustrious tooth planted;

Let that go! Such the arcane chose for confidant,

The great twin reed we play under the azure ceiling,

That turning towards itself the cheek’s quivering,

Dreams, in a long solo, so we might amuse

The beauties round about by false notes that confuse

Between itself and our credulous singing;

And create as far as love can, modulating,

The vanishing, from the common dream of pure flank

Or back followed by my shuttered glances,

Of a sonorous, empty and monotonous line.


Try then, instrument of flights, O malign

Syrinx by the lake where you await me, to flower again!

I, proud of my murmur, intend to speak at length

Of goddesses: and with idolatrous paintings

Remove again from shadow their waists’ bindings:

So that when I’ve sucked the grapes’ brightness

To banish a regret done away with by my pretence,

Laughing, I raise the emptied stem to the summer’s sky

And breathing into those luminous skins, then I,

Desiring drunkenness, gaze through them till evening.

 

O nymphs, let’s rise again with many memories.

My eye, piercing the reeds, speared each immortal

Neck that drowns its burning in the water

With a cry of rage towards the forest sky;

And the splendid bath of hair slipped by

In brightness and shuddering, O jewels!

I rush there: when, at my feet, entwine (bruised

By the languor tasted in their being-two’s evil)

Girls sleeping in each other’s arms’ sole peril:

I seize them without untangling them and run

To this bank of roses wasting in the sun

All perfume, hated by the frivolous shade

Where our frolic should be like a vanished day.’


I adore you, wrath of virgins, O shy

Delight of the nude sacred burden that glides

Away to flee my fiery lip, drinking

The secret terrors of the flesh like quivering

Lightning: from the feet of the heartless one

To the heart of the timid, in a moment abandoned

By innocence wet with wild tears or less sad vapours.

Happy at conquering these treacherous fears

My crime’s to have parted the dishevelled tangle

Of kisses that the gods kept so well mingled:

For I’d scarcely begun to hide an ardent laugh

In one girl’s happy depths (holding back

With only a finger, so that her feathery candour

Might be tinted by the passion of her burning sister,

The little one, naïve and not even blushing)

Than from my arms, undone by vague dying,

This prey, forever ungrateful, frees itself and is gone,

Not pitying the sob with which I was still drunk.

 

No matter! Others will lead me towards happiness

By the horns on my brow knotted with many a tress:

You know, my passion, how ripe and purple already

Every pomegranate bursts, murmuring with the bees:

And our blood, enamoured of what will seize it,

Flows for all the eternal swarm of desire yet.

At the hour when this wood with gold and ashes heaves

A feast’s excited among the extinguished leaves:

Etna! It’s on your slopes, visited by Venus

Setting in your lava her heels so artless,

When a sad slumber thunders where the flame burns low.


I hold the queen!

 

                              O certain punishment…

                                                                No, but the soul

Void of words, and this heavy body,

Succumb to noon’s proud silence slowly:

With no more ado, forgetting blasphemy, I

Must sleep, lying on the thirsty sand, and as I

Love, open my mouth to wine’s true constellation!

 

Farewell to you, both: I go to see the shadow you have become.

 

 


Funeral Libation (At Gautier’s Tomb)

 

To you, gone emblem of our happiness!

 

Greetings, in pale libation and madness,

Don’t think to some hope of magic corridors I offer

My empty cup, where a monster of gold suffers!

Your apparition cannot satisfy me:

Since I myself entombed you in porphyry.

The rite decrees our hands must quench the torch

Against the iron mass of your tomb’s porch:

None at this simple ceremony should forget,

Those chosen to sing the absence of the poet,

That this monument encloses him entire.

Were it not that his art’s glory, full of fire

Till the dark communal moment all of ash,

Returns as proud evening’s glow lights the glass,

To the fires of the pure mortal sun!

 

Marvellous, total, solitary, so that one

Trembles to breathe with man’s false pride.

This haggard crowd! ‘We are’, it cries,

‘Our future ghosts, their sad opacity.’

But with walls blazoned, mourning, empty,

I’ve scorned the lucid horror of a tear,

When, deaf to the sacred verse he does not fear,

One of those passers-by, mute, blind, proud,

Transmutes himself, a guest in his vague shroud,

Into the virgin hero of posthumous waiting.

A vast void carried through the fog’s drifting,

By the angry wind of words he did not say,

Nothing, to this Man abolished yesterday:

‘What is Earth, O you, memories of horizons?’

Shrieks the dream: and, a voice whose clarity lessens,

Space, has for its toy this cry: ‘I do not know!’


The Master, with eye profound, as he goes,

Pacified the restless miracle of Eden,

Who alone woke, in his voice’s final frisson,

The mystery of a name for the Lily and the Rose.

Is there anything of this destiny left, or no?

O, all of you, forget your darkened faith.

Glorious, eternal genius has no shade.

I, moved by your desire, wish to see

for Him who vanished yesterday, in the Ideal

Work that for us the garden of this star creates,

As a solemn agitation in the air, that stays

Honouring this quiet disaster, a stir

Of words, a drunken red, calyx, clear,

That, rain and diamonds, the crystal gaze

Fixed on these flowers of which none fade,

Isolates in the hour and the light of day!

 

That’s all that’s left already of our true play,

Where the pure poet’s gesture, humble, vast

Must deny the dream, the enemy of his trust:

So that on the morning of his exalted stay,

When ancient death is for him as for Gautier,

The un-opening of sacred eyes, the being-still,

The solid tomb may rise, ornament this hill,

The sepulchre where lies the power to blight,

And miserly silence and the massive night.

 

 


          The Tomb of Edgar Allan Poe

 

Such as eternity at last transforms into Himself,

The Poet rouses with two-edged naked sword,

His century terrified at having ignored

Death triumphant in so strange a voice!

 

They, like a spasm of the Hydra, hearing the angel

Once grant a purer sense to the words of the tribe,

Loudly proclaimed it a magic potion, imbibed

From some tidal brew black, and dishonourable.

 

If our imagination can carve no bas-relief

From hostile soil and cloud, O grief,

With which to deck Poe’s dazzling sepulchre,

 

Let your granite at least mark a boundary forever,

Calm block fallen here from some dark disaster,

To dark flights of Blasphemy scattered through the future.

 


          The Tomb of Charles Baudelaire

 

The buried shrine shows at its sewer-mouth’s

Sepulchral slobber of mud and rubies

Some abominable statue of Anubis,

The muzzle lit like a ferocious snout

 

Or as when a dubious wick twists in the new gas,

Wiping out, as we know, the insults suffered

Haggardly lighting an immortal pubis,

Whose flight roosts according to the lamp

 

What votive leaves, dried in cities without evening

Could bless, as she can, vainly sitting

Against the marble of Baudelaire

 

Shudderingly absent from the veil that clothes her

She, his Shade, a protective poisonous air

Always to be breathed, although we die of her.

 


                    Tomb (Of Verlaine)

 

                                                                      Anniversary – January 1897

 

The black rock enraged that the north wind rolls it on

Will not halt itself, even under pious hands, still

Testing its resemblance to human ill,

As if to bless some fatal cast of bronze.

 

Here nearly always if the ring-dove coos

This immaterial grief with many a fold of cloud

Crushes the ripe star of tomorrows, whose crowd

Will be silvered by its scintillations. Who

 

Following the solitary leap

External once of our vagabond – seeks

Verlaine? He’s hidden in the grass, Verlaine

 

Only to catch, naïvely, not drying with his breath

And without his lip drinking there, at peace again,

A shallow stream that’s slandered, and named Death.

 


                    Prose

 

Hyperbole! From my memory

Triumphantly can’t you

Rise today, like sorcery

From an iron-bound book or two:

 

Since, through science, I inscribe

The hymn of hearts so spiritual

In my patient work, inside

Atlas, herbal, ritual.

 

We walked set our face

(We were two, I maintain)

Toward the many charms of place,

Compared them, Sister, to yours again.

 

The reign of authority’s troubled

If, without reason, we say

Of this south that our double

Thoughtlessness has in play

 

That its site, bed of a hundred irises,

(They know if it truly existed),

Bears no name the golden breath

Of the trumpet of summer cited.

 

Yes, on an isle the air charges

With sight and not with visions

Every flower showed itself larger

Without entering our discussions.

 

Such flowers, immense, that every one

Usually had as adornment

A clear contour, a lacuna done

To separate it from the garden.

 

Glories of long-held desire, Ideas

Were all exalted in me, to see

The Iris family appear

Rising to this new duty,

 

But the sister sensible and fond

Carried her look no further

Than a smile, and as if to understand

I continue my ancient labour.

 

Oh! Let the contentious spirit know

At this hour when we are silent

The stalks of multiple lilies grow

Far too tall for our reason

 

And not as the riverbank weeps

When its tedious game tells lies

Claiming abundance should reach

Into my first surprise

 

On hearing the whole sky and the map

Behind my steps, without end, bear witness

By the ebbing wave itself that

This country never existed.

 

The child so taught by the paths,

Resigns her ecstasy

Says the word: Anastasius!

Born for scrolls of eternity,

 

Before a tomb can laugh

Beneath any sky, her ancestor,

At bearing that name: Pulcheria!

Hidden by the too-high lily-flower.

 


A Fan

 

                              (Of Mademoiselle Mallarmé’s)

 

With nothing of language but

A beating in the sky

From so precious a place yet

Future verse will rise.

 

A low wing the messenger

This fan if it is the one

The same by which behind you there

Some mirror has shone

 

Limpidly (where will fall

pursued grain by grain

a little invisible dust, all

that can give me pain)

 

So may it always bless

Your hands free of idleness.

 


Another Fan

 

                              (Of Mademoiselle Mallarmé’s)

 

O dreamer, that I may dive

In pure pathless joy, understand,

How by subtle deceits connive

To keep my wing in your hand.

 

A coolness of twilight takes

Its way to you at each beat

Whose imprisoned flutter makes

The horizon gently retreat.

 

Vertigo! How space quivers

Like an enormous kiss

That, wild to be born for no one, can neither

Burst out or be soothed like this.

 

Do you feel the fierce paradise

Like stifled laughter that slips

To the unanimous crease’s depths

From the corner of your lips?

 

The sceptre of shores of rose

Stagnant on golden nights,

Is this white closed flight that shows

Against your bracelet’s fiery light.

 


                    Album Leaf
 

All at once, as if in play,

Mademoiselle, she who moots

A wish to hear how it sounds today

The wood of my several flutes

 

It seems to me that this foray

Tried out here in a country place

Was better when I put them away

To look more closely at your face

 

Yes this vain whistling I suppress

In so far as I can create

Given my fingers pure distress

It lacks the means to imitate

 

Your very natural and clear

Childlike laughter that charms the air.

 

 

(Note: Written to Mademoiselle Roumanille whom Mallarmé knew as a child.)

 


Note

 

Not meaningless flurries like

Those that frequent the street

Subject to black hats in flight;

But a dancer shown complete

 

A whirlwind of muslin or

A furious scattering of spray

Raised by her knee, she for

Whom we live, to blow away

 

All, beyond her, mundane

Witty, drunken, motionless,

With her tutu, and refrain

From other mark of distress,

 

Unless a light-hearted draught of air

From her dress fans Whistler there.

 


Little Air

 

                                                I

 

Any solitude

Without a swan or quai

Mirrors its disuse

In the gaze I abdicate

 

Far from that pride’s excess

Too high to enfold

In which many a sky paints itself

With the twilight’s gold

 

But languorously flows beside

Like white linen laid aside

Such fleeting birds as dive

Exultantly at my side

 

Into the wave made you

Your exultation nude.

                   


                                        II      

 

Unconquerably there must

As my hope hurls itself free      

Burst on high and be lost

In silence and in fury

 

A voice alien to the wood

Or followed by no echo,

The bird one never could

Hear again in this life below.

 

The wild musician,

The one that in doubt expires

As to whether from his breast or mine

Has spurted the sob more dire

 

Torn apart may it complete

Find rest on some path beneath!

 


Sonnet: ‘Quand l’ombre menaça…’

 

When the shadow with fatal law menaced me

A certain old dream, sick desire of my spine,

Beneath funereal ceilings afflicted by dying

Folded its indubitable wing there within me.

 

Luxury, O ebony hall, where to tempt a king

Famous garlands are writhing in death,

You are only pride, shadows’ lying breath

For the eyes of a recluse dazed by believing.

 

Yes, I know that Earth in the depths of this night,

Casts a strange mystery with vast brilliant light

Beneath hideous centuries that darken it the less.

 

Space, like itself, whether denied or expanded

Revolves in this boredom, vile flames as witness

That a festive star’s genius has been enkindled.

 


          Sonnet: ‘Le vierge, le vivace…’

 

The virginal, living and lovely day

Will it fracture for us with a wild wing-blow

This solid lost lake whose frost’s haunted below

By the glacier, transparent with flights not made?

 

A swan from time past remembers it’s he

Magnificent yet struggling hopelessly

Through not having sung a liveable country

From the radiant boredom of winter’s sterility.

 

His neck will shake off this whitest agony

Space inflicts on a bird that denies it wholly,

But not earth’s horror that entraps his feathers.

 

Phantom assigned to this place by his brilliance,

The Swan in his exile is rendered motionless,

Swathed uselessly by his cold dream of defiance.

 


Sonnet: ‘Victorieusement fui le suicide…’

 

Victoriously the grand suicide fled

Foaming blood, brand of glory, gold, tempest!

O laughter if only to royally invest

My absent tomb purple, down there, is spread.

 

What! Not even a fragment of all that brightness

Remains, it is midnight, in the shade that fetes us,

Except, from the head, there’s a treasure, presumptuous,

That pours without light its spoiled languidness,

 

Yours, always such a delight! Yours, yes,

Retaining alone of the vanished sky, this

Trace of childish triumph as you spread each tress,

 

Gleaming as you show it against the pillows,

Like the helmet of war of a child-empress

From which, to denote you, would pour down roses.

 


Sonnet: ‘Ses purs ongles très haut…’

 

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.

 

(Note: The septet may indicate the constellation of Ursa Major in the north.)


Sonnet: ‘Pour votre chère morte, son ami…’

 

                    (For your dear departed wife, his friend)       2 November 1877

 

 – ‘Over the lost woods when dark winter lowers

You moan, O solitary captive of the threshold,

That this double tomb which our pride should hold’s

Cluttered, alas, only with absent weight of flowers.

 

Unheard Midnight counts out his empty number,

Wakefulness urges you never to close an eye,

Before in the ancient armchair’s embrace my

Shade is illuminated by the dying embers.

 

Who wishes to receive visitations often,

Mustn’t load with too many flowers the stone

My finger raises with a dead power’s boredom.

 

A soul trembling to sit by a hearth so bright,

To exist again, it’s enough if I borrow from

Your lips the breath of my name you murmur all night.’

 


To The Sole Concern

 

To the sole task of voyaging

Beyond an India dark and splendid

– Goes time’s messenger, this greeting,

Cape that your stern has doubled

 

As on some low yard plunging

Along with the vessel riding

Skimmed in constant frolicking

A bird bringing fresh tidings

 

That without the helm flickering

Shrieked in pure monotones

An utterly useless bearing

Night, despair, and precious stones

 

Reflected by its singing so

To the smile of pale Vasco.

 


                    All Summarised The Soul…

 

All summarised, the soul,

When slowly we breathe it out

In several rings of smoke

By other rings wiped out

 

Bears witness to some cigar

Burning skilfully while

The ash is separated far

From its bright kiss of fire

 

Should the choir of romantic art

Fly so towards your lips

Exclude from it if you start

The real because it’s cheap

 

Meaning too precise is sure

To void your dreamy literature.

 


                    What Silk…

 

What silk of time’s sweet balm

Where the Chimera tires himself

Is worth the coils and natural cloud

You tend before the mirror’s calm?

 

The blanks of meditating flags

Stand high along our avenue:

But I’ve your naked tresses too

To bury there my contented eyes.

 

No! The mouth cannot be sure

Of tasting anything in its bite

Unless your princely lover cares

 

In that mighty brush of hair

To breathe out, like a diamond,

The cry of Glory stifled there.

 


                    To Introduce Myself…

 

To introduce myself to your story

It’s as the frightened hero

If he touched with naked toe

A blade of territory

 

Prejudicial to glaciers I

Know of no sin’s naivety

Whose loud laugh of victory

You won’t have then denied

 

Say if I’m not filled with joyousness

Thunder and rubies to the hubs no less

To see in the air this fire is piercing

 

With royal kingdoms far scattering,

The wheel, crimson, as if in dying,

Of my chariot’s single evening.

 


                    Crushed by….

 

Crushed by the overwhelming cloud

Depth of basalt and lavas

By even the enslaved echoes

Of a trumpet without power

 

What sepulchral shipwreck (you

Know it, slobbering there, foam)

Among hulks the supreme one

Flattened the naked mast too

 

Or that which, furious mistake

Of some noble ill-fate

All the vain abyss spread wide

 

In the so-white hair’s trailing

Would have drowned miser-like

The childish flank of some Siren.

 


                    My Books…

 

My books closed again on Paphos’ name,

It delights me to choose with solitary genius

A ruin, by foam-flecks in thousands blessed

Beneath hyacinth, far off, in days of fame.

 

Let the cold flow with its silence of scythes,

I’ll not ululate here in a ‘no’ that’s empty

If this frolic so white near the ground denies

To each site the honour of false scenery.

 

My hunger regaled by no fruits here I see

Finds equal taste in their learned deficiency:

Let one burst with human fragrance and flesh!

 

While my love pokes the fire, foot on cold iron

I brood for a long time perhaps with distress

On the other’s seared breast of an ancient Amazon.

 


 

Sigh

 

My soul, towards your brow where O calm sister,

An autumn dreams, blotched by reddish smudges,

And towards the errant sky of your angelic eye

Climbs: as in a melancholy garden the true sigh

Of a white jet of water towards the Azure!

– To the Azure that October stirred, pale, pure,

That in the vast pools mirrors infinite languor,

And over dead water, where the leaves wander

The wind, in russet throes, dig their cold furrow,

Allows a long ray of yellow light to flow.

 


Homage

 

Each Dawn however numb

To raise a fist obscure

Against trumpets of azure

Sounded by her, the dumb,

 

Has the shepherd with his gourd

Joined to a rod struck harshly

Along the path to be

Till the vast stream’s outpoured

 

Already thus solitary

You live O Puvis

De Chavannes

                    never alone

 

Lead our age to quench its thirst

From the shroud-less nymph, the one

Whom your glory will rehearse

 


Mysticis umbraculis

 

She slept: her finger trembled, amethyst-less

And naked, under her nightdress:

After a deep sigh, ceased, cambric raised to her waist.

 

And her belly seemed of snow on which might rest,

If a ray of light re-gilded the forest,

A bright goldfinch’s mossy nest.

 


Fan

 

(Of  Méry Laurent)

 

Frigid roses to last

Identically will interrupt

With a calyx, white, abrupt,

Your breath become frost

 

But freed by my fluttering

By shock profound, the sheaf

Of frigidity melts to relief

Of laughter’s rapturous flowering.

 

In carving out the sky

Like a fine fan you ply

Outdoing that phial’s glass

 

Without loss or violation

Unable to hold fast

Méry’s sweet emanation.

 


O so dear

 

O so dear from far and near and white all

So deliciously you, Méry, that I dream

Of what impossibly flows, of some rare balm

Over some flower-vase of darkened crystal.

 

Do you know it, yes! For me, for years, here,

Forever, your dazzling smile prolongs

The one rose with its perfect summer gone

Into times past, yet then on into the future.

 

My heart that sometimes at night tries to confer,

Or name you most tender with whatever last word

Rejoices in that which whispers none but sister –

 

Were it not, such short tresses so great a treasure,

That you teach me a sweetness, quite other,

Soft through the kiss murmured only in your hair.

 

(Note: Dated 1895. This being one of the series of poems written for Méry Laurent, a friend also of Manet and others.)

 


Sonnet

 

(Méry, sans trop d’aurore…)

 

Méry,

Without dawn too grossly now inflaming

The rose, that splendid, natural and weary

Sheds even her heavy veil of perfumes to hear

Beneath the flesh the diamond weeping,

 

Yes, without those dewy crises! And gently,

Unbroken when the sky fills with storm,

Jealous to add who knows what spaces

To simple day the day so true in feeling,

 

Does it not seem, Méry, that each year,

Where spontaneous grace relights your brow,

Suffices, in so many aspects and for me,

 

Like a lone fan with which a room’s surprised,

To refresh with as little pain as is needed here

All our inborn and unvarying friendship.

 


 

                              Autumn Plaint
 

Since Maria left me to go to another star - which one, Orion, Altair - or you green Venus? - I have always loved solitude. How many long days I have passed alone with my cat. By alone I mean without a material being, and my cat is a mystic companion, a spirit. I can say then that I have passed long days alone with my cat and alone with one of the last authors of the Roman decadence; for since the white creature is no more I have loved, uniquely and strangely, everything summed up in the word: fall. So, in the year, my favourite season is the last slow part of summer that just precedes autumn, and, in the day, the hour when I walk is when the sun hesitates before vanishing, with rays of yellow bronze over the grey walls, and rays of red copper over the tiles. Literature, also, from which my spirit asks voluptuousness, that will be the agonised poetry of Rome’s last moments, so long as it does not breathe a breath of the reinvigorated stance of the Barbarians or stammer in childish Latin like Christian prose. I was reading then one of those dear poems (whose flakes of rouge have more charm for me than young flesh), and dipping a hand into the pure animal fur, when a street organ sounded languishingly and sadly under my window. It was playing in the great alley of poplars whose leaves, even in spring, seem mournful to me since Maria passed by them, on her last journey, lying among candles. The instrument of sadnesses, yes, certainly: the piano flashes, the violin gives off light from its torn fibres, but the street organ in memory’s half-light made me dream despairingly. Now it murmured a delightfully common song that filled the faubourgs with joy, an old, banal tune: why did its words pierce my soul and make me cry, like any romantic ballad? I savoured it slowly and did not throw a coin through the window for fear of troubling my spirit and discovering that not only the instrument was playing.

 


Sea Breeze
 

The flesh is sad, alas! – and I’ve read all the books.

Let’s go! Far off. Let’s go! I sense

That the birds, intoxicated, fly

Deep into unknown spume and sky!

Nothing – not even old gardens mirrored by eyes –

Can restrain this heart that drenches itself in the sea,

O nights, or the abandoned light of my lamp,

On the void of paper, that whiteness defends,

No, not even the young woman feeding her child.

I shall go! Steamer, straining at your ropes

Lift your anchor towards an exotic rawness!

A Boredom, made desolate by cruel hope

Still believes in the last goodbye of handkerchiefs!

And perhaps the masts, inviting lightning,

Are those the gale bends over shipwrecks,

Lost, without masts, without masts, no fertile islands...

But, oh my heart, listen to the sailors’ chant!

 


Index of First Lines

 

Nothing, this foam, virgin verse. 5

Princess! To be jealous of a Hebe’s fate. 6

Possessed by some demon now a negress. 7

I don’t come to conquer your flesh tonight, O beast 8

The sun, on the sand, O sleeping wrestler, 9

Eyes, lakes of my simple passion to be reborn. 10

I bring you the child of an Idumean night! 11

These nymphs, I would perpetuate them. 12

To you, gone emblem of our happiness! 17

Such as eternity at last transforms into Himself, 19

The buried shrine shows at its sewer-mouth’s. 20

The black rock enraged that the north wind rolls it on. 21

Hyperbole! From my memory. 22

With nothing of language but 24

O dreamer, that I may dive. 25

All at once, as if in play, 26

Not meaningless flurries like. 27

Any solitude. 28

When the shadow with fatal law menaced me. 30

The virginal, living and lovely day. 31

Victoriously the grand suicide fled. 32

Her pure nails on high dedicating their onyx, 33

– ‘Over the lost woods when dark winter lowers. 34

To the sole task of voyaging. 35

All summarised, the soul, 36

What silk of time’s sweet balm.. 37

To introduce myself to your story. 38

Crushed by the overwhelming cloud. 39

My books closed again on Paphos’ name, 40

My soul, towards your brow where O calm sister, 41

Each Dawn however numb. 42

She slept: her finger trembled, amethyst-less. 43

Frigid roses to last 44

O so dear from far and near and white all 45

Méry, 46

Since Maria left me to go to another star - which one, Orion, Altair - or you. 47

The flesh is sad, alas! – and I’ve read all the books. 48