Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 453
Mallarmé, a hermetic poet who held poetic gatherings at his home on Tuesday evenings at which poets espoused the cause of art for art’s sake, writes a poetry of complex imagery and condensed syntax. His frustration at not finding the right words with which to express an idea is presented in his poetry in the symbol of a white swan whose wings are imprisoned in a frozen lake—the idea of an impasse.
The theme of the impasse that is contained in “The Azure” concerns the difficulty of expressing the artistic ideal in words, not merely the sterility or lack of creativity that hampers the act of creation. The poem’s theme is the challenge of writing, the challenge of creativity, the challenge of finding the right words and the right medium in which to express the poetic sensibility. The challenge also lies in finding the right way to connect thoughts, to create a coherent artistic form.
The azure represents the infinite and the eternal, the ideal that the poet can never hope to attain; its very existence mocks the poet, smites him “in serene irony.” The poet must struggle to come as close as possible to the artistic ideal; poems and poetic symbols may not be eternal, but they may endure beyond one’s own lifetime.
The ennui in the poem represents lamentation or boredom, a recurrent theme in Symbolist works. The death that is referred to is an artistic death; the poet’s soul is confined to a state of oblivion, emptiness, and desolation. The bells in which the poet hears the azure singing are poetic bells that awaken him from his torpor, but there is no release for him, and the concluding line of the poem focuses on his obsession with the azure. The blue sky seduces the poet, and he is caught in an inescapable trance.
The poem contains a metaphysical theme that relates to the possibility (or impossibility) of transcending reality and reaching a mysterious world of pure art that exists in the mind and can be expressed in language. Mallarmé focuses on the blue sky not in order to describe it, but in order to relate it to the artist’s creative role and to the very essence of creativity itself, thus producing a unique poetic effect. The poem expresses Symbolist critic Arthur Symons’s idea that every word is a jewel and every image is a symbol.
Stéphane Mallarmé’s “The Azure” embodies the Symbolist idea that to name an object in a poem is to suppress most of the joy of reading poetry, which is derived from divining meaning little by little. The poet who suggests is the poet who creates true poetry.