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Stephane Mallarme–Apparition

I cut my translator’s teeth in High School reading French novels with fairly sophisticated vocabulary (actually, the one I recall was science fiction). Leaving Paris after graduation, I had little time to continue my education in French literature–learning America was challenge enough. But recently I bought a book of 19th Century French verse with the original French texts in the back. So in the last couple of weeks Stephane Mallarme’s work has caught my attention.

Mallarme’s work is about as different from Gilgamesh as you can get. Whereas Gilgamesh tends to be precise and economical, wedded to the concrete, Mallarme was a poet of the emotions dedicated to the concept of pure poetry. His work is deliberately ambiguous and so challenges the translator to read more closely and consider unusual approaches to bringing a poem over into his own language. In particular, Mallarme’s minimal grammar and complex, multilayered images are both entrancing and difficult to work with.


In any case, here is RT’s first attempt at translating French poetry–Mallarme’s “Apparition.”



the moon disconsolate. angels in their tears,

dreaming–bow at hand, they weep

in the eye of vanishing

flowers, coax from azure throats

white, wingéd keening–

that blissful hour of your first passion

my idle thoughts, lodestone of my pain,

deliberately drank themselves into foam,

the gifts that a Dream trails behind in hearts

it harrows.

that day I drifted, eyes fixed on cobbles,

when you, sun playing at your hair, in streets

or in dusk, with sweet laughter appeared:

and I thought I saw a lady, crowned with

every light, who, in the darkness

of my gingerbread sleep, rewarded a child’s

appetite, letting fall from her half-opened hand

snowflake and star, a petal’s fragrance.


Copyright: The Rag Tree, 2012

Painting: Stephane Mallarme; Edouard Manet; WikiCmns; Public Domain.

  1. mj
    July 25, 2012 at 6:51 am

    This is beautiful… unfortunately, I don;t read French, so your translation is invaluable – thanks!
    By the way, is it ‘lodestone’.. not sure…?

    • July 26, 2012 at 11:03 pm

      mj: thanks for the copyediting–it is lodestone indeed. & thanks for your appreciation–French poets in the 19th century paved the way for contemporary western poetry, and yet they have fallen into a near-obscurity–maybe the result of too much adulation in the first half of the last century. RT

  2. July 25, 2012 at 6:21 pm

    Great job in the translation, RT! I have attempted translation here and there myself. I majored in French in my high school and college years, so it has stuck with me. Great to find someone else who loves the French literature.

    • July 26, 2012 at 11:16 pm

      Y&Y: thanks for the enthusiasm & the reblog! I can live for at least 2 weeks on a reblog! French language and culture remain an underappreciated resource, a strange fact in a country that has embraced cultural artifacts as diverse as Vietnamese Nom script and Faberge eggs. maybe it’s hard to think of a neighboring culture as exotic (especially when it governed your home country for centuries)… RT

  3. July 25, 2012 at 6:23 pm

    Reblogged this on Yin Yang and commented:
    There is a certain thrill unlocking the message from a poem written in another language other than one’s own.

  4. August 4, 2012 at 9:44 pm

    Beautiful poem and beautifully translated =D

  1. December 11, 2012 at 7:51 pm
  2. September 15, 2013 at 6:07 am
  3. September 30, 2013 at 4:52 pm

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