Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

If Mallarmé could never directly state the meaning of his poem except through oblique analogies, must poetry remain incapable of expressing a transcendent vision? Mallarmé remained optimistically dedicated to the creation of his Book and saw the blank paper in front of him as a kind of stage on which the drama of poetry would ultimately unfold. Immediately after “LE HASARD” closes the principal element of the poem on page VIII, the final passage in italics states, “Falls/ the pen/ rhythmic suspending of the sinister/ to bury itself.” As the text has reached again the bottom of a page, the fall of the dice seems preempted by that of the pen, denoting a cessation of composition.

As the reader turns to the next page, however, the text naturally begins again at the upper left. The turn of the page brings a return to hope. Here a final segment in large capitals spread across pages IX and X concludes that “NOTHING/ WILL HAVE TAKEN PLACE/ BUT THE PLACE/ EXCEPT/ PERHAPS/ A CONSTELLATION.” The linking of place with nothingness evokes the empty page on which the poem has not yet been written, but “PERHAPS,” the first word to appear on the upper left of the final page, marks the last resurgence of hope that something will fill the emptiness.

The last image Mallarmé offers the reader, the enigmatic CONSTELLATION, must then represent the long-awaited poetic utterance. The CONSTELLATION contains, however, an essential ambiguity....

(The entire section is 499 words.)