Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 460
In Les Poésies de Stéphane Mallarmé, Mallarmé combined examples of his various poetic styles and documented his own intense relationship with the creative process. Throughout the collection, the poems’ moments of renewed optimism collide with emblems of failure.
Early poems composed in the 1860’s typify the period when Mallarmé was under the influence of Baudelaire. “Le Sonneur” (“The Bell Ringer”) uses both the sonnet form and contrast of high and low objects that had appeared often in Flowers of Evil. Here the octave of the sonnet describes the situation of a child who has been sent to ring a church bell to announce the Angelus. The call to prayer rings forth in the morning air, but the child himself, inside the church, can hear it only faintly.
In the sestet, Mallarmé likens himself to the bell ringer in that he can not hear the poetry he longs to create. Unable to sound out his ideal, he desires night, emblematic of death, and considers suicide. While this sonnet expresses Mallarmé’s continuing desire, the use of imagery in which the bell ringer and night are explicitly paired with the poet and death marks this as an early composition.
A similar theme and even more Baudelairian images appear in “L’Azur” (“The Azure”). Mallarmé sees the powerless poet traversing a sterile desert, mocked by an azure sky that is described in terms of flowers. Flowers, emblematic of both life in nature and poetic productivity, remain in an inaccessible, heavenly realm. By the end of the poem, however, Mallarmé incorporates a musical element that goes beyond the visually paired images. The sky itself reasserts its presence like a ringing bell that haunts the poet.
As Mallarmé’s style matured he incorporated more varied and less defined allusions in his verse. Another sonnet, “Le Tombeau d’Edgar Poe” (“The Tomb of Edgar Poe”), commemorates the American poet in a style that requires the reader to interpret its meaning. When Mallarmé writes that eternity has made the poet even more himself, readers must interpret “eternity” as meaning death and be aware that Edgar Allan Poe’s poetry was characterized by themes involving death.
Poe also represents the superiority and the isolation of the artist. The public appears with the classical image of the hydra, a serpent with multiple heads that may represent a crowd. The public does not understand the poet, who gives a new, superior meaning to common language.
Mallarmé seeks above all to honor poetry and the poet. In the sestet, he states that he would commemorate Poe with a monument made of the stone of a meteorite, a thing fallen to earth from heaven and thus representative of the link the poet establishes between this life and a transcendent vision.
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