The Afternoon of a Faun

by Stéphane Mallarmé

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Last Updated on September 6, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 327

The Faun

The main character of this poem is the faun of the title, who narrates the poem. A faun is a mythological creature that is half man (on top) and half goat (on the bottom). This faun evidently fell asleep near a marshy stream somewhere in Sicily, and he either had been dreaming of two nymphs just as he awoke, or he saw two nymphs near him when he awoke, but they fled. He is not sure which is the case, because, either way, the nymphs seem to be gone.

Though he is just waking up, he is feeling very amorous because the nymphs were very beautiful. He is a descendant, as a faun, of the nature god Pan, who was also associated with sex. In fact, the faun recalls the story of Syrinx, a chaste nymph who was so desired by Pan that he chased her near the stream. When she begged the water nymphs to help her, they changed her into the reeds that now grow there so that Pan could not rape her. He then cut some of those reeds in order to make his famous pipe, a flutey type of instrument consisting of reeds of varying lengths tied together side-by-side. This faun seems as lusty as Pan.

The Two Nymphs

The two nymphs may only be a dream or may exist in reality. If they were real, they likely did well to flee the scene of the faun's nap before he was awake enough to pursue them. Nymphs are mythological female creatures who inhabit natural places, like woods or bodies of water. They are always very beautiful, and gods and men alike often desire them. The nymphs spotted, or dreamed, by the faun are likewise beautiful and inspire lustful feelings within him; however, he does note that one of them seemed rather cold, while the other seemed much more warm and alive to the nature around her. They never do return to the scene.

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