Book Description: Stéphane Mallarmé's reputation as a poet grew slowly. In his own lifetime recognition came only from such contemporaries as Verlaine or such younger poets as Valéry; the public, when it noticed him at all, had only jeers for his obscure, strangely beautiful poems. But beginning with Mondor's Vie de Mallarmé (1941) and the Pléiade Oeuvres Complètes (1945), Mallarmé's importance as the chief French poet after Baudelaire has been clearly recognized. In this volume, Wallace Fowlie, one of the foremost American critics of French literature, distinguishes Mallarmé's place in the history of modern poetry and analyzes his principal poems.
From close thematic analysis of the principal sonnets and separate studies of each of the long poems - Hérodiade and L'Après-Midi d'un Faune - Mr. Fowlie reconstructs the temperament and design of Mallarmé's poetic vision.
The recurring use of such symbols as the mirror, the night, the river, and the poet himself provides a series of glimpses into Mallarmé's mysterious subject. For his subject never becomes distinct, in the sense that it comprises a systematic organization of experience; his subject was poetry itself. The matter of a poem, the experience that evoked it, was for Mallarmé unimportant, an extraneous detail necessary to the poet but obstructive to the pure experience of the poem. Thus, Mallarmé occupies the central position in the century between Baudelaire's translation of Poe and the last poems of Valéry; he sharpened and continued the concern for the mechanisms of poetic language and texture which entered French literature from Poe's works and is today a dominant characteristic of French poetry.
This concern with poetry as function leads directly to Mallarmé's theories of symbolism and the poet as ritualist - aspects of Mallarmé's work which raised it far...