Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 499

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. There are many constellations in the heavens, each with a distinct form. Just before the CONSTELLATION, however, Mallarmé has provided the hint of “towards/ it must be/ the Septentrion so North.” A northern constellation might prove to be the Big Dipper, and indeed the words on page X, with a handle of four phrases extending to the upper left, form a pattern suggesting that constellation.

Why did Mallarmé choose the constellation, however, as his emblem of poetry? Furthermore, why did he choose this one? The constellation provides an apt image in that, like the poem, it is composed of a number of separate elements, its stars, drawn together to form a recognizable pattern. Yet this pattern is not inherent in the stars themselves. The perception of human observers posits the pattern, as the poet posits the form of his poem. This essentially subjective process seems out of harmony with the absolute Mallarmé sought to express.

Here the choice of the Big Dipper comes into play. This is the star pattern that helps human beings locate the fixed point, the North Star. Thus, through recognition of the patterns fusing either stars or poetic images, one can after all find an immutable element. Mallarmé seems to have vindicated his poetry as a progression to the absolute, but one further element remains: If the words of page X represent the Big Dipper, the North Star to which they point would exist beyond the confines of the page. The poem has portrayed the progression toward the absolute but not the absolute itself.

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