"A Faun's Afternoon"
Excerpts from the Original Electronic Text at the web site of Alan Edwards, translator.
Stéphane Mallarmé (1842-98) was one of the pioneers of modern poetry. He created poetry that was experimental, combining words and images that were, like music, mysterious, ambiguous, and open to interpretation. "A Faun's Afternoon," a monologue told by the Faun himself, is loosely based on the myth of the god Pan's attempt to seduce the beautiful nymph Syrinx. (Fauns and nymphs are minor forest deities in ancient mythology.) In the myth, just as Pan had caught and embraced Syrinx, fellow nymphs came to her rescue and magically turned her into a sheaf of reeds. In his sigh of regret at losing Syrinx, Pan breathes air into the reeds and discovers the beauty of music. Mallarme's poem does not follow the same story-line as the original myth, but his faun does attempt to seduce nymphs, he does play music, and he is frustrated from realizing his goal (though this is left ambiguous). The poem begins with the faun waking up from a dream and ends with him falling asleep, wine by his side, to return to his dreams. In between he tells of his efforts to seduce fauns, though it is never entirely clear whether and when he is describing real events, memories, or dreams.
Those nymphs, I want to perpetuate them.
Their light rosy flesh, that it hovers in the air
Drowsy with tangled slumbers.
Did I love a dream?
My doubt, hoard of ancient night, is crowned
In a many a subtle branch, which, remaining the true
Woods themselves, proves, alas! that alone I offered
Myself as a triumph the perfect sin of roses.
us reflect ...
or if the women you describe
Represent a desire of your fabulous senses!
Faun, the illusion flows from the cold blue eyes
Of the most chaste like a spring of tears:
But the other, all sighs, do you say she contrasts
Like the warm day's breeze in your fleece?
But no! through the still and weary rapture
Stifling the cool morning with heat should it struggle,
No water murmurs unless poured by my flute
On the thicket sprinkled with melody; and the
Only wind, quick to escape the twin pipes before
Scattering the sound in an arid rain, is,
On the smooth untroubled surface of the horizon,
The visible and serene artificial breath
Of inspiration returning to the sky.
O Sicilian shores of a calm marshland
That rivalling suns my vanity plunders,
Silent beneath the shower of glittering lights,TELL
«That here I was cutting the hollow reeds tamed
»By talent; when, upon the gold-green haze of distant
»Verdures offering up their vine to fountains,
»An animal whiteness ripples to rest: and that
»At the slow prelude in which the pipes are born
»This flock of swans, no! of naiads flees
»Or dives ...
everything burns in the tawny hour
Without revealing by what art together they fled
Too much hymen desired by one seeking the perfect note:
Then shall I rouse myself to the first fervour,
Upright and alone, under an ancient stream of light,
Lilies! and in my innocence I am one with you.
than this sweet nothing conveyed by their lip,
The kiss that so softly assures treachery,
My breast, virgin of proof, bears witness
To a mysterious wound from some sacred tooth;
But let it pass! a certain secret chose as confidant
The great twin reed we play beneath the azure sky:
Which, diverting the cheek's emotion to itself,
Dreams, in a long solo, that we seduced
The beauty that surrounds us by false confusions
Between itself and our credulous song;
And, as high as love is sung, of making
A sonorous, empty, monotonous line
Fade from the familiar dream of the back
Or purest flank that I follow with closed eyes.
then, instrument of flight, o wicked Syrinx,
To flower again on the lakes where you await me!
I, proud of my murmurings, will speak long
Of the goddesses; and in idolatrous paintings
Lift yet more girdles from their shadow:
So, when I have sucked the brightness of the grape,
To banish a regret brushed aside by my pretence,
Laughing, I raise the hollow cluster to the summer sky
And, blowing lightly into the luminous skins, thirsting
For intoxication, gaze through it until evening.
O nymphs, let us breathe new life into some MEMORIES.
«My eye, piercing the reeds, darted upon each
»Immortal neck that drowns its burning in the wave
»With a cry of rage to the forest sky;
»And the splendid bath of hair disappears
»In the lights and shiverings, o precious stones!
»I rush forward; when, at my feet, are joined (bruised
»By the languor tasted in this evil duality)
»Sleeping girls in solitary unconscious embrace;
»I carry them off, without untangling them, and fly
»To this grove, shunned by the frivolous shade,
»Where the sun drains every perfume from the roses,
»And our sport may consume itself like the day.
I adore you, rage of virgins, o fierce
Delight of the sacred naked weight slipping away,
Fleeing my fiery lip as it drinks, like trembling
Lightning! the secret terror of the flesh:
From the feet of the heartless to the heart of the
Timid one, abandoned together by an innocence,
Moist with wild tears or less unhappy vapours.
to have conquered these treacherous fears,
»My crime is to have divided the unruly tuft
»Of kisses the gods kept so carefully mingled:
»After all, I would scarcely conceal an ardent chuckle
»Beneath the sinuous curves of a single girl (holding
»With a mere finger, the naive, unblushing little one,
»So that her feathery whiteness might be tinted
»By her sister's passion taking fire:)
»When from my arms, defeated by vague deaths,
»This eternally ungrateful prey frees herself
»Not pitying the sob with which I still was drunk.
Too bad! others will lead me to happiness
By their tresses knotted to the horns upon my brow:
You, my passion, know that, purple and perfectly ripe,
Every pomegranate bursts open and murmurs with bees;
And our blood, in love with whoever will seize it,
Flows for the whole eternal swarm of desire.
At the hour when this wood is tinged with gold and ashes,
A divine celebration excites the dead leaves:
Etna! Venus herself walks among you
Setting innocent heels upon your lava,
When a melancholy slumber rumbles and the flame dies away.
I hold the queen!
certain punishment ...
but the soul
Empty of words and this weighted body
Succumb at last to the proud silence of noon:
Now we must sleep, forgetting blasphemy,
Stretched out upon the parched sand and as it pleases me
To open my mouth to the fruitful star of wine!
Couple, farewell; I go to see the shadow you became.
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