No Comment — March 6, 2008, 5:20 am

Mallarmé – the Faun’s Afternoon

boecklin-pan

Ces nymphes, je les veux perpétuer.
Ces nymphes, je les veux perpétuer. Si clair,
Leur incarnat léger, qu’il voltige dans l’air
Assoupi de sommeils touffus.
Assoupi de sommeils touffus. Aimai-je un rêve ?
Mon doute, amas de nuit ancienne, s’achève
En maint rameau subtil, qui, demeuré les vrais
Bois mêmes, prouve, hélas ! que bien seul je m’offrais
Pour triomphe la faute idéale de roses —
Réfléchissons…
Réfléchissons… ou si les femmes dont tu gloses
Figurent un souhait de tes sens fabuleux !
Faune, l’illusion s’échappe des yeux bleus
Et froids, comme une source en pleurs, de la plus chaste :
Mais l’autre, tout soupirs, dis-tu qu’elle contraste
Comme brise du jour chaude dans ta toison ?
Que non ! par l’immobile et lasse pâmoison
Suffoquant de chaleurs le matin frais s’il lutte,
Ne murmure point d’eau que ne verse ma flûte
Au bosquet arrosé d’accords ; et le seul vent
Hors des deux tuyaux prompt à s’exhaler avant
Qu’il disperse le son dans une pluie aride,
C’est, à l’horizon pas remué d’une ride,
Le visible et serein souffle artificiel
De l’inspiration, qui regagne le ciel.

Ô bords siciliens d’un calme marécage
Qu’à l’envi de soleils ma vanité saccage,
Tacites sous les fleurs d’étincelles, CONTEZ
« Que je coupais ici les creux roseaux domptés
Par le talent ; quand, sur l’or glauque de lointaines
Verdures dédiant leur vigne à des fontaines,
Ondoie une blancheur animale au repos :
Et qu’au prélude lent où naissent les pipeaux,
Ce vol de cygnes, non ! de naïades se sauve
Ou plonge… »
Ou plonge… » Inerte, tout brûle dans l’heure fauve
Sans marquer par quel art ensemble détala

Trop d’hymen souhaité de qui cherche le la :
Alors m’éveillerai-je à la ferveur première,
Droit et seul, sous un flot antique de lumière,
Lys ! et l’un de vous tous pour l’ingénuité.

Autre que ce doux rien par leur lèvre ébruité,
Le baiser, qui tout bas des perfides assure,
Mon sein, vierge de preuve, atteste une morsure
Mystérieuse, due à quelque auguste dent ;
Mais, bast ! arcane tel élut pour confident
Le jonc vaste et jumeau dont sous l’azur on joue :
Qui, détournant à soi le trouble de la joue,
Rêve, dans un solo long, que nous amusions
La beauté d’alentour par des confusions
Fausses entre elle-même et notre chant crédule ;
Et de faire aussi haut que l’amour se module
Évanouir du songe ordinaire de dos
Ou de flanc pur suivis avec mes regards clos,
Une sonore, vaine et monotone ligne.

Tâche donc, instrument des fuites, ô maligne
Syrinx, de refleurir aux lacs où tu m’attends !
Moi, de ma rumeur fier, je vais parler longtemps

Des déesses ; et par d’idolâtres peintures,
À leur ombre enlever encore des ceintures :
Ainsi, quand des raisins j’ai sucé la clarté,
Pour bannir un regret par ma feinte écarté,
Rieur, j’élève au ciel d’été la grappe vide
Et, soufflant dans ses peaux lumineuses, avide
D’ivresse, jusqu’au soir je regarde au travers.

Ô nymphes, regonflons des SOUVENIRS divers.
« Mon œil, trouant les joncs, dardait chaque encolure
Immortelle, qui noie en l’onde sa brûlure
Avec un cri de rage au ciel de la forêt ;
Et le splendide bain de cheveux disparaît
Dans les clartés et les frissons, ô pierreries !
J’accours ; quand, à mes pieds, s’entrejoignent (meurtries
De la langueur goûtée à ce mal d’être deux)
Des dormeuses parmi leurs seuls bras hasardeux ;
Je les ravis, sans les désenlacer, et vole
À ce massif, haï par l’ombrage frivole,
De roses tarissant tout parfum au soleil,
Où notre ébat au jour consumé soit pareil. »
Je t’adore, courroux des vierges, ô délice
Farouche du sacré fardeau nu qui se glisse
Pour fuir ma lèvre en feu buvant, comme un éclair
Tressaille ! la frayeur secrète de la chair :
Des pieds de l’inhumaine au cœur de la timide
Qui délaisse à la fois une innocence, humide
De larmes folles ou de moins tristes vapeurs.
« Mon crime, c’est d’avoir, gai de vaincre ces peurs
Traîtresses, divisé la touffe échevelée
De baisers que les dieux gardaient si bien mêlée ;
Car, à peine j’allais cacher un rire ardent
Sous les replis heureux d’une seule (gardant
Par un doigt simple, afin que sa candeur de plume
Se teignît à l’émoi de sa soeur qui s’allume,
La petite naïve et ne rougissant pas :)
Que de mes bras, défaits par de vagues trépas,
Cette proie, à jamais ingrate se délivre
Sans pitié du sanglot dont j’étais encore ivre. »

Tant pis ! vers le bonheur d’autres m’entraîneront
Par leur tresse nouée aux cornes de mon front :
Tu sais, ma passion, que, pourpre et déjà mûre,
Chaque grenade éclate et d’abeilles murmure ;
Et notre sang, épris de qui le va saisir,
Coule pour tout l’essaim éternel du désir.
À l’heure où ce bois d’or et de cendres se teinte
Une fête s’exalte en la feuillée éteinte :
Etna ! c’est parmi toi visité de Vénus
Sur ta lave posant tes talons ingénus,
Quand tonne un somme triste ou s’épuise la flamme.
Je tiens la reine !

Je tiens la reine ! Ô sûr châtiment…

Je tiens la reine ! Ô sur châtiment… Non, mais l’âme
De paroles vacante et ce corps alourdi
Tard succombent au fier silence de midi :
Sans plus il faut dormir en l’oubli du blasphème,
Sur le sable altéré gisant et comme j’aime
Ouvrir ma bouche à l’astre efficace des vins !

Couple, adieu ; je vais voir l’ombre que tu devins.


These nymphs that I would perpetuate:
so clear
And light, their carnation, that it floats in the air
Heavy with leafy slumbers.
Did I love a dream?
My doubt, night’s ancient hoard, pursues its theme
In branching labyrinths, which being still
The veritable woods themselves, alas, reveal
My triumph as the ideal fault of roses.
Consider…
if the women of your glosses
Are phantoms of your fabulous desires!
Faun, the illusion flees from the cold, blue eyes
Of the chaster nymph like a fountain gushing tears:
But the other, all in sighs, you say, compares
To a hot wind through the fleece that blows at noon?
No! through the motionless and weary swoon
Of stifling heat that suffocates the morning,
Save from my flute, no waters murmuring
In harmony flow out into the groves;
And the only wind on the horizon no ripple moves,
Exhaled from my twin pipes and swift to drain
The melody in arid drifts of rain,
Is the visible, serene and fictive air
Of inspiration rising as if in prayer.
Relate, Sicilian shores, whose tranquil fens
My vanity disturbs as do the suns,
Silent beneath the brilliant flowers of flame:
“That cutting hollow reeds my art would tame,
I saw far off, against the glaucous gold
Of foliage twined to where the springs run cold,
An animal whiteness languorously swaying;
To the slow prelude that the pipes were playing,
This flight of swans — no! naiads — rose in a shower
Of spray…”

Finish reading Alan Edwards’s illustrated translation here

Stéphane Mallarmé, L’après-midi d’un faune first published in Poésies (1887)


This poem represents one of Mallarmé’s and the Symbolist movement’s high points and most undoubted successes. The work is simultaneously simple and adhering to a classical concept, while being very refined and ultimately modern. The faun is chosen as an image of what Nietzsche would call the Dionysian moment, the human who lives his sensual demands, avoiding all efforts at sublimation. It is an ecstatic work and an exercise in pure poetry.

Claude Debussy composed a chromatic tone poem Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune (1894) as a musical realization of scenes from Mallarmé’s work, faithful to the Symbolist precepts. The Columbia University Orchestra offers a free downloadable recording here. Debussy wrote in his explanatory note to the work,

La musique de ce Prélude est une illustration très libre du beau poème de Mallarmé; elle ne prétend pas en être une synthèse. Il s’agit plutôt de fonds successifs sur lesquels se meuvent les désirs et les rêves du faune dans la chaleur de cet après-midi. — The music of this prelude is a freeform illustration of the beautiful poem by Mallarmé; it does not attempt to be a synthesis. Rather there is a succession of scenes through which pass the desires and dreams of the faun in the heat of the afternoon.

One of the most daring aspects of Debussy’s instrumentalization is the opening flute passage, recalling the instrument associated with Pan, which launches into a chromatic descent. Leonard Bernstein later said that this opened the door to modern atonalism, but it is approachable, beautiful and mysterious, perfectly evoking the poem.

Vaslav Nijinski choreographed the Debussy prelude for the Ballets russes. It was premiered in 1912 and it was also the first Nijinski work in which he himself served as the principal performer. The work stressed the faun’s sexual libido and proved rather scandalous because of a sexual act that Nijinski improvised in the final tableau.

nijinski_apres-midi

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