The Afternoon of a Faun


Frontispiece for L’après-midi d’un faune, drawing by Édouard Manet.

 

Stéphane Mallarmé as a faun, cover of the literary magazine Les hommes d’aujourd’hui, 1887

 

L’APRÈS-MIDI D’UN FAUNE

“Le Faune:
Ces nymphes, je les veux perpétuer.
Si clair,
Leur incarnat léger, qu’il voltige dans l’air
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 même, prouve, hélas! que bien seul je m’offrais
Pour triomphe la faute idéale de roses.

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.”

Stepháne Mallarmé

 

______________________________

 

“Faun:
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.”

Translation by Henry Weinfeld

 

It is Mallarme’s best-known work and a landmark in the history of symbolism in French literature. Paul Valéry considered it to be the greatest poem in French literature.

Initial versions of the poem were written between 1865 (the first mention of the poem is found in a letter Mallarmé wrote to Henri Cazalis in June 1865) and 1867, and the final text was published in 1876. It describes the sensual experiences of a faun who has just woken up from his afternoon sleep and discusses his encounters with several nymphs during the morning in a dreamlike monologue.

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