The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The form of A Dice-Throw does not resemble that of other poetry. Instead of arranging words in regular verses and meter, Stéphane Mallarmé seems to have flung them in random patterns and in four different typefaces across a series of ten double (that is, verso joined to the following recto) pages. Close analysis reveals, however, that the positioning of the words is closely linked to their meaning, while the patterns they form have been recognized as schematic representations of themes of the poem.

The subject of the poem, the dice-throw, is the act of poetic creation. Mallarmé reveals this most specifically with one sentence at the end of the final page, the only sentence syntactically distinct from the body of the poem, that states, “Each thought throws the dice.” Prior to this, an extremely elaborate construction spread over ten double pages has interwoven several lines of thought all syntactically connected and all related to the poetic process.

The central sentence, or main clause, of the poem is spread in four pieces on pages I, IV and VIII. (Critics have designated the double pages of the poem with roman numerals.) This sentence, entirely in large capitals, reads: “A DICE-THROW/ NEVER/ WILL ABOLISH/ FATE.” If the dice-throw represents poetic creation, its inability to abolish fate, or le hasard, which also contains a suggestion of randomness, reflects the inability of the poet to express the absolute in his...

(The entire section is 487 words.)