Selected Prose Poems, Essays, & Letters

Selected Prose Poems, Essays, & Letters

Selected Prose Poems, Essays, & Letters

Selected Prose Poems, Essays, & Letters

Excerpt

Martyr to an absolute and mystic to a beauty which were perhaps no more than the extraordinarily abstractive power of his own thought (this was his tragedy), Stéphane Mallarmé endures in the chaste and harrowing image of the poet met at midnight with his demon and tempted toward the re-creation of his universe: met-- like the most reverent and aware of victims of the Word--with prescience of defeat which, nonetheless, he sometimes overcame and so composed a perfect poem.

What lived and moved incarnate in his vision, he never truly said or ultimately defined through his esthetic. The esthetic itself appears as the attempt and inevitable failure not merely to define for others but to discover for himself as well what he thought he saw. We come away from his work with a sense of the majestic and the beautiful, mysteriously divorced from any explicable cause or effect. The work is haunted everywhere by the invisible angels of his Absolute, his Ideal, his Truth Herself Incarnate. And while the possibilities of the French language have been marvelously expanded through the slender volume of his poetry, rarely have the limitations of language been so piteously demonstrated as in the spectacle of this artist driven back time and again to the repetition and capitalization of these impalpable leitmotifs.

For his vision is never linked to living man, nor yet to any apprehensible god. The common life of mind and conscience pales before his dream of beauty. His "Infinity"--was it merely the chance focus of a centripetal esthetic?--seems not quite our own; our world of nature nor quite the "Nature" to which he bitterly and merely concedes "existence." He invites us to the contemplation of a universe incommensurate even with the most fanatical of our faculties. The imagination gladly flies with him but never comes to rest.

Mallarmé saw nothingness. The restraint and distilled horror of his early letters establish the reality of that vision. But over against the saints, who travel their abyss with hopeful eyes turned ahead to heaven, stands this figure of incredible loneliness--terrified, yet . . .

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