The Afternoon of a Faun

by Stéphane Mallarmé

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Last Updated September 6, 2023.


In the poem, the drowsy faun awakes from a deep afternoon sleep and thinks he's seen two nymphs move across the field. He is not sure if they actually exist, but he lusts after them nonetheless. The faun's desire is not rooted in whether or not the nymphs actually exist, but in the desire to know what the nymphs are like—thus, he is lusting over the idea of the nymphs. The notion that the nymphs could indeed have existed is enough for the faun to fantasize about his desires. The poem is driven by the faun’s desire for the nymphs, thus illustrating how desire can act as an overwhelming and powerful force.

The Subconscious

The dreamlike state of the faun and the descriptions of the nymphs are both rooted in the faun’s subconscious. The faun is unsure of his reality and explores his desires based on a subconscious urge. He is not sure if the nymphs exist, but his mind and body want them to—thus, his desire is born out of what his subconscious wants. The faun’s desire to pursue the nymphs and explore his sexuality are born from his subconscious, and the descriptions in the poem are based off of his intrinsic desires instead of reality.

Human and Animal Nature

Fauns are mythological creatures that are half man and half goat. They are known for being mischievous, sexually aggressive, animalistic, and crude. In the poem, Mallarmé explores the blurred lines between man and beast that are inherent to the faun. The faun has the ability to be introspective and ponder the nature of his desires, while his lust and clear primal urges are based in his animal nature. However, there is a blurring of these natures through his thought processes, which encompass both the thinking and behavior of a human and that of an animal. The animalistic aspect of the faun is not concerned with thinking about the feelings and desires of other individuals, such as the nymphs.

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