The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Azure,” a dramatic lyric poem that consists of nine quatrains and contains thirty-six lines in the original French, utilizes a melodic rhyme scheme that is characteristic of the French Symbolist school of poetry.

The poem reflects on the blue sky, a typically Symbolist aspect of nature, which the poet interfuses with his creative personality; thus art, nature, and the poet merge, and what transpires is a state of poetic meditation of thought, mood, and creativity.

The poem merges the idea of the infinite azure with creativity to develop an artistic and poetic aesthetic. Creativity is blended with the poet’s empty soul, the ephemeral fog (an image that appears in the works of Charles Baudelaire, a Symbolist, and T. S. Eliot), and ennui (vexation—a condition of the poetic spirit that also appears in the works of Baudelaire) to represent a poetic state.

The poem presents the nineteenth century in negative terms, in images such as those of “the sad chimneys,” chimneys filled with smoke—which reminds one of Charles Dickens’s prison of soot. For Stéphane Mallarmé, however, smoke and soot are not related to social or economic oppression; they may represent instead a stifling of poetic creativity. Instead of inspiring the artist, as nature did for the Romantics, the sun in “The Azure” is “dying yellowish on the horizon”—an image that reflects the poet’s own mood and soul. There is a sense of stasis in the...

(The entire section is 451 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Azure” utilizes the techniques and devices of Symbolism, a nineteenth century poetic movement in France, whose exponents included Charles Baudelaire, Arthur Rimbaud, and Paul Verlaine as well as Mallarmé.

The Symbolist poetic doctrine advocated using language to suggest rather than to explain. The Symbolists used words to evoke moods and feelings, not to name things or describe them in precise terms. Their approach to poetic language was magical and transformational; Rimbaud endorsed what he called “verbal alchemy” (l’alchimie du verbe), and Baudelaire described his approach as “an evocative sorcery” (une sorcellerie évocatoire). Mallarmé himself believed that a poem was a mystery whose key must be sought by its readers.

The blue of the sky and the ennui that figure so prominently in the poem are symbols that are used frequently in the poetry of the Symbolists. The blue sky, which represents the eternal, the ideal, is particularly important to Mallarmé, who used it as a symbol in his poem “The Windows” (Les Fenêtres) as well as in “The Azure.” A mood of ennui, which in “The Azure” represents the fears, indolence, and artistic impotence that the artist must overcome in order to create, is evoked by many poems in the Symbolist tradition.

Among the many stylistic devices that Mallarmé uses in “The Azure” are condensed syntax, difficult grammar, esoteric vocabulary, and enigmatic poetic concepts, which are well suited to Mallarmé’s purpose. His intention is to depict the feelings that objects evoke, the effects that they have, rather than the objects themselves. Mallarmé’s evocative language, with its use of innovative syntax and complex metaphors, sometimes makes it difficult to determine his meaning.

The opening stanza of “The Azure” is written in the third person, thus setting up an omniscient point of view and casting the poet as the narrator of the poem. The second stanza introduces the pronoun “I,” and the first-person point of view is used throughout the rest of the poem.