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mallarmé dixit: [Oct. 12th, 2005|09:34 pm]
Translation journal


Ses purs ongles très haut dédiant leur onyx,
L’Angoisse, ce minuit, soutient, lampadophore,
Maint rêve vespéral brûlé par le Phénix
Que ne recueille pas de cinéraire amphore

Sur les crédences, au salon vide : nul ptyx
Aboli bibelot d’inanité sonore,
(Car le Maître est allé puiser des pleurs au Styx
Avec ce seul objet dont le Néant s’honore.)

Mais proche la croisée au nord vacante, un or
Agonise selon peut-être le décor
Des licornes ruant du feu contre une nixe,

Elle, défunte nue en le miroir, encor
Que, dans l’oubli fermé par le cadre, se fixe
De scintillations sitôt le septuor.

― Stéphane Mallarmé, 1868-1887

Her pure nails sprung up exalting their onyx,
Anxiety, this midnight, bearing light, sustains,
In twilight many dreams burnt up by the Phoenix
Whose smoky ashes no sepulchral urn contains

Atop the sideboards, in the empty room: no ptyx,
That voided toy of vibrant nonsense, left inside,
(Because the Master’s gone to draw the tears from Styx
With that exclusive object wherein Naught takes pride.)

In vacant north seen through the casement frames, a gold
May agonize at times, within the setting, to behold
Fire-breathing unicorns arrayed against a nix,

She, lifeless naked mirror image, repetition
Whom in the twinkling framed forgetting, is to fix
Through sparkling timed in septet, composition.

― translated by MZ, 1996-2005

[User Picture]From: vorspeise
2005-10-18 07:45 am (UTC)


I don't know Mallarmé that well.. this poem is familiar though, and I think your translation is quite good. Thanks for posting. Which works of his should I start with if I want to know more? I've put down French for a while since I've been in Asia the past 3 years, so maybe something simple...
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[User Picture]From: larvatus
2005-10-18 12:15 pm (UTC)

Re: Mallarmé

    The latest Pléiade edition by Bernard Marchal is definitive, but heavy going in many ways, despite its excellent commentary. I recommend Selon Mallarmé by Paul Bénichou as the best entry point available at this time.
    I would not expect simplicity, since even the early poems are loaded up with abstruse allusions, whereas all mature productions are quite deliberately constructed as riddles. Thus in the above, the light borne aloft by Anxiety is the Moon, the Phoenix that leaves no ashes is the Sun, and the septet composition is the Pléiades constellation. Finally, ptyx, the derivation of πτύξ in ancient and modern Greek, standing there for a fold, is the feminine creative and erotic principle, the Mother (μήτηρ) and Receptacle (ὑποδοχή) of this generated world (Timaeus 51a). and an indestructible space (χώρα) that provides a seat (ἕδρα) for all things that have birth (52a-b); or less portentously, a decorative marine proxy for the vagina standing as a hackneyed decorative knickknack in a well-appointed drawing room:

Adolphe William Bouguereau (1825-1905), Le Coquillage, oil on canvas, 131 x 89.5 cm, 1871, Private collection
Less euphemistically, it is the organ known as the origin of the world. It was so designated by Gustave Courbet in his 1866 painting for Khalil Bey:

Jean-Désiré-Gustave Courbet, L’Origine du Monde, 1866, oil on canvas, 55 cm x 46 cm, 1866, Musée d’Orsay
It is the part ratified by Ali G in his 2004 commencement speech at my alma mater: “Let’s make it happen I look out and I see 1000s of people wiv different hopes and different dreams ― but it is important never to forget where u all came from ― becoz black, white, brown or pakistani we all come from de same place ― de punani.
    What I enjoy the most about Mallarmé is his ability to traverse the Thomistic ladder of meanings connecting the decorative, organic elements of everyday bourgeois experience, the salacious verging on the ridiculous, to timeless Platonic sublimity:
Littera gesta docet, quid credas allegoria,
Moralia quid agas, quo tendas anagogica.
    Good luck in your reading.

Edited at 2008-01-31 08:32 am (UTC)
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