The Poem on the Edge of the Word: The Limits of Language and the Uses of Silence in the Poetry of Mallarme, Rilke, and Vallejo

The Poem on the Edge of the Word: The Limits of Language and the Uses of Silence in the Poetry of Mallarme, Rilke, and Vallejo

The Poem on the Edge of the Word: The Limits of Language and the Uses of Silence in the Poetry of Mallarme, Rilke, and Vallejo

The Poem on the Edge of the Word: The Limits of Language and the Uses of Silence in the Poetry of Mallarme, Rilke, and Vallejo

Excerpt

Words strain, Crack and sometimes break, under the burden, Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place, Will not stay still.

T. S.Eliot, Four Quartets

T.S. Eliot's verses from "Burnt Norton" express with controlled but foreboding tenor the self-conscious preoccupation with the limits of language so prevalent in modern Western poetry. An overview of poets as diverse as Rimbaud and Trakl, Rilke and Valéry, Wallace Stevens and Octavio Paz, Pierre Emmanuel and Jorge Guillén, reveals an ambivalence towards language unparalleled by anything written before the nineteenth century. Founded on extreme and antithetical reactions, this linguistic anxiety is characterized, on the one hand, by excessive and perhaps unreasonable expectations of the word; on the other, by a suspicion of language critical enough to undermine the most secure of syntaxes. In some notable cases, the poet's ambivalence towards speech, finding no resolution, turns into a veritable paranoia of the verbal medium. When this happens the poetic structure shatters; the poem is invaded by the threat of silence.

"Le credo de l'artiste modeme, c'est le silence" [silence is the modern artist's creed]. Thus did Camille Mauclair, devoted friend and disciple of the poet Stéphane Mallarmé, summarize the cornerstone of modern aesthetics in his novel Le Soleil des morts. Not surprisingly, the character who utters the oracular dictum in Mauclair's novel is patterned after Mallarmé--the poet who, in the opinion of many, was more responsible than any other single figure for transforming the course of modern Western poetry. Statements like Mauclair's punctuate with notable frequency the literary experiments of the last two centuries, leaving little doubt about the . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.