Mallarme has given us hear a poem full of atmospherics and light on meaning, a little bit like some of the poems of Nerval. The references are obscure, there is little obvious connection with everyday experience and so I guess it should be read as an exercise in style rather than a poem which informs us about life, love, death, nature or any of the more common poetic themes.
It is indeed the gift of a poem….
Stéphane MALLARME (1842-1898)
Don du poème
Je t’apporte l’enfant d’une nuit d’Idumée !
Noire, à l’aile saignante et pâle, déplumée,
Par le verre brûlé d’aromates et d’or,
Par les carreaux glacés, hélas ! mornes encor
L’aurore se jeta sur la lampe angélique,
Palmes ! et quand elle a montré cette relique
A ce père essayant un sourire ennemi,
La solitude bleue et stérile a frémi.
Ô la berceuse, avec ta fille et l’innocence
De vos pieds froids, accueille une horrible naissance
Et ta voix rappelant viole et clavecin,
Avec le doigt fané presseras-tu le sein
Par qui coule en blancheur sibylline la femme
Pour des lèvres que l’air du vierge azur affame ?
Right off the bat, in the first line, there is a challenge reference to Idumea – I had to look it up and apparently it is a mountainous region next to the Dead Sea, where Esau the brother of Jacob settled in Biblical times. So we are immediately sent back into a distant period of myth and legend, of mystery and imagination and this is the tone of the whole of the rest of the poem.
There is a child born, surrounded by ominous signs and mysterious auguries. I am particularly struck by the notion of the father “essayant un sourire ennemi”, an unsettling juxtaposition of conflicting ideas which adds to the atmosphere of unease and menace.
The second stanza continues this tone with “une horrible naissance”, and goes on to describe the newborn child, its feet cold, pressing into its mother’s breast to get milk, but what will be the outcome?
Poetry is always a partnership between the writer and the reader, but this one certainly gives the reader a lot to do if he wants to assign meaning. Better perhaps to enjoy the words, appreciate the imagery and admire the craftsmanship, rather like the uncomfortable-looking seventeenth and eighteenth century furniture you see when visiting stately homes.
The Poetry Dude