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Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

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...

(The entire section is 453 words.)