Collected Poems: A Bilingual Edition

Collected Poems: A Bilingual Edition

Collected Poems: A Bilingual Edition

Collected Poems: A Bilingual Edition


Stéphane Mallarmé (1842-1898) is one of the giants of nineteenth-century French poetry. Leader of the Symbolist movement, he exerted a powerful influence on modern literature and thought, which can be traced in the works of Paul Valéry, W.B. Yeats, and Jacques Derrida. From his early twenties until the time of his death, Mallarmé produced poems of astonishing originality and beauty, many of which have become classics.

In the Collected Poems, Henry Weinfield brings the oeuvre of this European master to life for an English-speaking audience, essentially for the first time. All the poems that the author chose to retain are here, superbly rendered by Weinfield in a translation that comes remarkably close to Mallarmé's own voice. Weinfield conveys not simply the meaning but the spirit and music of the French originals, which appear en face.

Whether writing in verse or prose, or inventing an altogether new genre--as he did in the amazing "Coup de Dés"--Mallarmé was a poet of both supreme artistry and great difficulty. To illuminate Mallarmé's poetry for twentieth-century readers, Weinfield provides an extensive commentary that is itself an important work of criticism. He sets each poem in the context of the work as a whole and defines the poems' major symbols. Also included are an introduction and a bibliography.

Publication of this collection is a major literary event in the English-speaking world: here at last is the work of a major figure, masterfully translated.


One does not introduce, much less sum up, the poetry of Stéphane Mallarmé. Though the quantity of the work is small, it contains a world and it is a world. My only way of encompassing that work and that world has been to translate it, poem by poem, and to interpret it, poem by poem, in the hope that the accumulation would add up to something. the translation contained in these pages includes, with the French text en face, all of the poems that Mallarmé wished to preserve and a few additional poems that have come to be regarded as central to the canon; the Poesies (poems in traditional forms), the Poëmes en Prose, and Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’Abolira le Hasard (the great free-verse poem of his final period); only the juvenilia and the occasional verse have been omitted. the interpretation, besides what is contained in the translation itself, appears as a separate Commentary at the back of the volume.

Mallarmé is at once the most musical and the most philosophical of modern poets—if we may speak of “music” and of “philosophy” not as they exist in themselves but from the standpoint of a poetry that completely transforms them to its own requirements. I would say, speaking metaphorically, that my primary struggle in this translation has been to render the “music,” or “musical essence,” or “spiritual essence,” of the poetry. We don’t have a language in which to express these things with any clarity: they are finally ineffable; but this, in a sense, is to the point, for the poetry of Mallarmé presents itself as the most resonant site that modern literature provides for coming to terms, at least in some fashion, with these ineffabilities. What I can say, with absolute certainty, is that in translating the Poesies it has been essential to work in rhyme and meter, regardless of the semantic accommodations and technical problems this entailed. If we take rhyme away from Mallarmé, we take away the poetry of his poetry. “Because, to him who ponders well, / My rhymes more than their rhyming tell / of things discovered in the deep, / Where only body’s laid asleep”: thus Yeats, who had learned an enormous amount from Mallarmé and whose work would have been impossible without him.

The music and the philosophy of Mallarmé’s poetry are ultimately one and the same; yet in order to grasp this fundamental unity, one must come to see how the vectors of form and content are turned in what may initially appear to be antithetical directions. On the level of form, we must take account of how Mallarmé “cede[s] the initiative to words” themselves—as he insists the poet must do in “Crise de Vers,” the great theoretical essay that he rewrote . . .

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