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About this poet

Born on March 18, 1842 in Paris, Etienne (Stéphane) Mallarmé was the son of Numa Mallarmé, a civil servant, and Elisabeth Desmolins.

Mallarmé did not follow his father's or grandfather's path of civil servitude, instead excelling at languages and writing often, influenced by poets Victor Hugo and Charles Baudelaire. Mallarmé received his baccalaureate in 1860 and went on to publish his first poem "Placet" in the French magazine Le Papillon in 1862. He pursued further studies in London to improve his knowledge of English. In 1863, he married German governess Christina "Maria" Gerhard and obtained his certificate for teaching English. He and Maria traveled to Tournon where he taught in a provincial secondary school. In 1864, Maria gave birth to their daughter, Genevieve. Mallarmé's teaching career took him to Besancon, Avignon, and back to Paris again until he retired in 1893.

One of Mallarmé's most well-known poems, L'Aprés Midi D'un Faun (The Afternoon of a Faun) (1865), inspired Debussy's tone poem (1894) of the same name and was illustrated by Edouard Manet. Among his other works are Hérodiade (1896) and Toast Funèbre (A Funeral Toast), which was written in memory of the author Théopile Gautier. Mallarmé's later works include the experimental poem Un Coup de Dés (1914), published posthumously.

Besides his own writings, Mallarmé was well-known for his Tuesday evening salons at his home on the Rue de Rome in Paris. These gatherings were a hub of Parisian intellectual life and attracted the likes of writers André Gide, Paul Valéry, Oscar Wilde, Paul Verlaine, Rainer Maria Rilke, and W.B. Yeats, the painters Renoir, Monet, Degas, Redon, and Whistler, and the sculptor Rodin, among others. Those who attended became known as Les Mardistes, derived from the French word for Tuesday.

In the 1880s, Mallarmé was at the center of a group of French writers including Andre Gide, Paul Valéry and Marcel Proust. Mallarmé referred to their group as The Decadents, a comment on their bohemian lifestyles. He and Valéry, following Baudelaire, would later become known as two of the leaders of the Symbolist movement in poetry. While French poetry had traditionally held fairly strict conventions of rhyme, meter and theme, Mallarmé and his contemporaries departed from these traditions, employing condensed figures and unorthodox syntax. Mallarmé's work was often termed as difficult or obscure. His later works, including Un Coup de Des, explored the relationship between content and form, between the text and the arrangement of words and spaces on the page.

Mallarmé died in Valvin, Vulaines-sur-Seine on September 9, 1898, before finishing what he called his "Grande Oeuvre."

A Selected Bibliography

French translation of The Raven, (with illustrations by Edouard Manet) by Edgar Allan Poe (1875)
L'après-midi d'un faune (1876)
Les Mots anglais (1878)
Les Dieux antiques (1879)
Divagations (1897)
Un Coup de Dés jamais n'abolira le hasard (1897)
Poésies (1899) (posthumous)

A Throw of the Dice [excerpt]

Stéphane Mallarmé, 1842 - 1898
     NOTHING




              of the memorable crisis
                       or might
                                  the event        have been accomplished in view of all results  null
                                                                                                                             human

                                                                                               WILL HAVE TAKEN PLACE
                                                                        an ordinary elevation pours out absence

                                                                                                                 BUT THE PLACE
                                          some splashing below of water as if to disperse the empty act
                                                                                 abruptly which otherwise
                                                                            by its falsehood
                                                                      would have founded
                                                                                      perdition

                                           in these latitudes 
                                                           of indeterminate
                                                                      waves
                                                                           in which all reality dissolves

EXCEPT
           on high
                       PERHAPS
                                  as far as place            can fuse with the beyond

                                                                                        aside from the interest
                                                                                    marked out to it
                                                                                                           in general
                                                              by a certain obliquity through a certain declivity
                                                                                                               of fires
                                                                     toward
                                                                         what must be
                                                                              the Septentrion as well as North
  
                                                                                                             A CONSTELLATION

                                                                          cold from forgetfulness and desuetude
                                                                                                         not so much
                                                                                                 that it doesn't number
                                                                                on some vacant and superior surface
                                                                                                    the successive shock
                                                                                                            in the way of stars
                                                                                of a total account in the making

                                                         keeping vigil
                                                                    doubting
                                                                           rolling
                                                                                shining and meditating

                                                                                            before coming to a halt
                                                                                     at some terminus that sanctifies it


                                                                                  All Thought emits a Throw of the Dice

From Collected Poems (University of California Press, 1994) by Stéphane Mallarmé. Reprinted by permission of the publisher.

From Collected Poems (University of California Press, 1994) by Stéphane Mallarmé. Reprinted by permission of the publisher.

Stéphane Mallarmé

Stéphane Mallarmé

Born on March 18, 1842 in Paris, Etienne (Stéphane) Mallarmé was

by this poet

poem

Orphan, I was wandering in black and with an eye vacant of family: at the quincunx, the tents of a fair were unfolded; did I experience the future and that I would take this form? I loved the odor of the vagabonds, and was drawn toward them, forgetting my comrades. No cry of a chorus clamoring through the canvas

poem
child sprung from
the two of us — showing
us our ideal, the way
— ours! father
and mother who
       sadly existing
survive him as
the two extremes —
badly coupled in him
and sundered
— from whence hi death — o-
bliterating this little child "self"