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Sadness of Summer -- Stéphane Mallarmé

Guest poem submitted by Alisha Hamilton:
A French poem that mixes vibrant imagery and stark emotion:
(Poem #772) Sadness of Summer
 Mingling a potion for his thirst in the sun
 Dries on your cheek the tears with perfume straying,
 My sweet opponent! languorously fordone,
 Bathed in your warm hair, love's fatigue allaying.

 The stillness of burning hair, the half-won kiss
 Have saddened you, and now I hear you saying:
 "We two shall never lie embalmed as one
 Beneath the eternal sand and palm trees playing."

 Yet in your warm golden hair, downward flowing,
 I find Nirvana and leave you unknowing,
 And drown unfaltering my soul, my bane;

 And taste your darkened lashes smudged with tears
 And drugging the heart you pierced with joy and pain,
 Take on the hardness of these azure spheres.
-- Stéphane Mallarmé
Images of bright and warm colours abound.  While she knows that the love
affair will end with the coming of the fall, he buries himself in her.  She
causes so much pain, but he finds such bliss in her presence.  Melancholy
weaves itself into this poem.  The melancholy she feels is contrasted by the
Nirvana that he finds.  He is trying to take in the last memories of her
before they say goodbye forever.  A complex poem, but it needs no
interpretation.  Everyone has either felt his or her perspective in a
romance.  It's a poem that's easy to identify with.



   born March 18, 1842, Paris, France.
   died September 9, 1898, Valvins, near Fontainebleau, France.

French poet, an originator (with Paul Verlaine) and a leader of the
Symbolist movement in poetry.

Mallarmé enjoyed the sheltered security of family life for only five brief
years, until the early death of his mother in August 1847. This traumatic
experience was echoed 10 years later by the death of his younger sister
Maria, in August 1857, and by that of his father in 1863. These tragic
events would seem to explain much of the longing Mallarmé expressed, from
the very beginning of his poetic career, to turn away from the harsh world
of reality in search of another world; and the fact that this remained the
enduring theme of his poetry may be explained by the comparative harshness
with which adult life continued to treat him. After spending the latter part
of 1862 and the early months of 1863 in London so as to acquire a knowledge
of English, he began a lifelong career as a schoolteacher, first in
provincial schools (Tournon, Besançon, and Avignon) and later in Paris. He
was not naturally gifted in this profession, however, and found the work
decidedly uncongenial. Furthermore, his financial situation was by no means
comfortable, particularly after his marriage in 1863 and after the birth of
his children, Geneviève (in 1864) and Anatole (in 1871). To try to improve
matters he engaged in part-time activities, such as editing a magazine for a
few months at the end of 1874, writing a school textbook in 1877, and
translating another textbook in 1880. In October 1879, after a six-month
illness, his son Anatole died.

Despite these trials and tribulations, Mallarmé made steady progress with
his parallel career as a poet. His early poems, which he began contributing
to magazines in 1862, were influenced by Charles Baudelaire, whose recently
published collection Les Fleurs du mal ("The Flowers of Evil") was largely
concerned with the theme of escape from reality, a theme by which Mallarmé
was already becoming obsessed. But Baudelaire's escapism had been of an
essentially emotional and sensual kind -- a vague dream of tropical islands
and peaceful landscapes where all would be "luxe, calme et volupté"
("luxury, calm, and voluptuousness"). Mallarmé was of a much more
intellectual bent, and his determination to analyze the nature of the ideal
world and its relationship with reality is reflected in the two dramatic
poems he began to write in 1864 and 1865, respectively, Hérodiade
("Herodias") and L'Après-midi d'un faune ("The Afternoon of a Faun"), the
latter being the work that inspired Claude Debussy to compose his celebrated
Prélude a quarter of a century later.

Mallarmé died in 1898, at his cottage at Valvins, a village on the Seine
near Fontainebleau, his main residence after retirement.

        -- EB

[Poetic development]

By 1868 Mallarmé had come to the conclusion that, although nothing lies
beyond reality, within this nothingness lie the essences of perfect forms.
The poet's task is to perceive and crystallize these essences. In so doing,
the poet becomes more than a mere descriptive versifier, transposing into
poetic form an already existent reality; he becomes a veritable God,
creating something from nothing, conjuring up for the reader, as Mallarmé
himself put it, "l'absente de tous bouquets" -- the ideal flower that is
absent from all real bouquets. But to crystallize essences in this way, to
create the notion of floweriness, rather than to describe an actual flower,
demands an extremely subtle and complex use of all the resources of
language, and Mallarmé devoted himself during the rest of his life to
putting his theories into practice in what he called his Grand Oeuvre
("Great Work"), or Le Livre ("The Book"). He never came near to completing
this work, however, and the few preparatory notes that have survived give
little or no idea of what the end result might have been.

On the other hand, Mallarmé did complete a number of poems related to his
projected Grand Oeuvre, both in their themes and in their extremely
evocative use of language. Among these are several elegies -- the principal
ones being to Charles Baudelaire, Edgar Allan Poe, Richard Wagner, Théophile
Gautier, and Paul Verlaine -- that Mallarmé was commissioned to write at
various times in his career. He no doubt agreed to do them because the
traditional theme of the elegy -- the man is dead but he lives on in his
work -- is clearly linked to the poet's own belief that, although beyond
reality there is nothing, poetry has the power to transcend this
annihilation. In a second group of poems, Mallarmé wrote about poetry
itself, reflecting evocatively on his aims and achievements.

In addition to these two categories of poems, he also wrote some poems that
run counter to his obsession with the ideal world, though they, too, display
that magical use of language of which Mallarmé had made himself such a
master. These are the dozen or so sonnets he addressed to his mistress, Méry
Laurent, between 1884 and 1890, in which he expressed his supreme
satisfaction with reality. At that time, life was becoming much happier for
him, not only because his liaison was agreeable but also because a review of
him in the series of articles entitled Les Poètes maudits ("The Accursed
Poets") published by Verlaine in 1883 and the praise lavished on him by
J.-K. Huysmans in his novel À rebours ("The Wrong Way") in 1884 led to his
wide recognition as the most eminent French poet of the day. A series of
celebrated Tuesday evening meetings at his tiny flat in Paris were attended
by well-known writers, painters, and musicians of the time. All this perhaps
decreased his need to seek refuge in an ideal world, and in Un Coup de dés
jamais n'abolira le hasard, poème ("A Throw of Dice Will Never Abolish the
Hazard, Poem"), the work that appeared in 1897, the year before his death,
he found consolation in the thought that he had met with some measure of
success in giving poetry a truly creative function.

        -- EB


Another translation of this poem:
[broken link]

Other French poets on the Minstrels website:
Poem #534, "The Albatross", Charles Baudelaire
Poem #581, "Get Drunk!", Charles Baudelaire
Poem #556, "Ballade of the Hanged", Francois Villon
Poem #751, "Elegies", Guillevic

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