Few poets have written with as much density of meaning and association as the great symbolist poet Stephane Mallarme. In the face of the deadening materialism and spiritual crises of the late nineteenth century, Mallarme saw poetry as a principal avenue to spiritual truth, “the Orphic explanation of the earth.” In his works the sound and meaning of individual words take on enormous significance, and he revelled in syntax that allowed for multiple meanings and interpretations. The body of Mallarme’s work is not large, and over the years this self-proclaimed alchemist of language continued to hone and revise his already published verse. He took great care with the visual presentation of each poem and engaged in revolutionary experiments with typeface and layout. As a poet and theorist, Mallarme’s influence upon writers such as Paul Valery and William Butler Yeats has been broad and deep; just as he was influenced by the music of Richard Wagner, his poetry exerted a fascination for composers such as Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel.
The notorious difficulties involved in translating Mallarme, who himself made his living as an English teacher and translator, reside within the very musicality of his language and the layered interrelationships between sonority and meaning. In this dual-language edition of all of Mallarme’s verse and prose poetry, Henry Weinfield has successfully captured in English what he calls the musical or spiritual essence of Mallarme’s poetry. His thoughtful introduction, bibliographies of primary and secondary sources, and extensive annotation and interpretation for each poem make this beautifully produced volume a compelling encounter with a seminal figure of our modern literary heritage.