Mallarmé, Stéphane

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Mallarmé, Stéphane

(stāfän` mälärmā`), 1842–98, French poet. Mallarmé's great importance is as the chief forebear of the symbolistssymbolists,
in literature, a school originating in France toward the end of the 19th cent. in reaction to the naturalism and realism of the period. Designed to convey impressions by suggestion rather than by direct statement, symbolism found its first expression in poetry but
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; the influence of his poetry was particularly felt by ValéryValéry, Paul
, 1871–1945, French poet and critic. A follower of the symbolists, Valéry was one of the greatest French poets of the 20th cent. He was encouraged by Pierry Loüys and by Mallarmé to publish a few poems in several small reviews, but he
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. Many poets and other writers of the mid-1880s drew inspiration at the Tuesday evening gatherings where Mallarmé expounded his theories. Mallarmé held that the poet should express the ideas of a transcendental world, that poetry should evoke thoughts through suggestion rather than description, and that by combining words in new and surprising ways it should approach the abstraction of music. Though he often used traditional French forms, mainly the sonnet, and meters, often the 12-syllable alexandrine, his content is revolutionary and radical; his language defies traditional syntax and is frequently so obscure that it must be read with commentary. His best-known poems are Hérodiade (1869), L'Après-Midi d'un faune (1876; The Afternoon of a Faun), which inspired a composition by DebussyDebussy, Claude Achille
, 1862–1918, French composer, exponent of musical impressionism. He studied for 11 years at the Paris Conservatory, receiving its Grand Prix de Rome in 1884 for his cantata L'Enfant Prodigue.
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, and Un Coup de dés jamais n'abolira le hasard (1897; A Throw of the Dice Will Never Eliminate Chance). Editions of Mallarmé's poetry were published in 1887 and 1899, and a selection of prose, Divagations, in 1897. Mallarmé earned his living by teaching English.


See selected letters, ed. and tr. by R. Lloyd (1988); biographies by A. France (1967), G. Millan (1994), and R. Pearson (2010); studies by T. A. Williams (1970), D. H. Morris (1977), M. Bowie (1982), L. W. Marvick (1986), and G. Robb (1996).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Mallarmé, Stéphane


Born Mar. 18, 1842, in Paris; died Sept. 9, 1898, in Valvins, department of Seine-et-Marne. French poet.

The son of a civil servant, Mallarmé became a teacher of English in 1863. After first modeling his verse on C. Baudelaire and the Parnassians, Mallarmé became one of the leading poets of French symbolism in the 1870’s and 1880’s. Despite his democratic attitudes, dissatisfaction with bourgeois reality, search for an ideal (poems of the 1860’s-1870’s, such as “Azure,” “Windows,” “The Wind From the Sea”), and readiness to evaluate the multicolored beauty of the world impressionistically (“The Afternoon of a Faun,” 1876, to which music was written by C. Debussy, 1892), Mallarmé arrived at a tragic conception about the split between poetry and life (“The Swan,” 1885). He came to the idea of an extremely hermetic poetry (Prose for des Esseintes, 1885) that would convey the pure idea by means of symbols alone (the article “Mystery in Poetry,” 1896). Bourgeois critics saw Mallarmé only as a symbolist and aesthete. However, Mallarme was also attracted to the real (Occasional Poems, 1880-98; published, 1920) and to comprehensive classical forms of poetry.

The essence of Mallarmé’s poetry is contained in the narrative poem “A Cast of the Die” (1897), a merciless, self-critical summary of the attempts of symbolist poetry to rise above reality; the poem turns to those abstract and metaphorical forms of realistic reflection of the objective world that in the 20th century came to be characteristic of G. Apollinaire, V. Nezval, P. Neruda, and French poetry of the Resistance and subsequent period.


Oeuvres complètes. Edited by H. Mondor and G. Jean-Aubry. Paris, 1956. (With bibliography.)
In Russian translation:
[Verse.] In Voloshin, M. Stikhotvoreniia 1900-1910. Moscow, 1910.
[Verse.] In Briusov, V. Poln. sobr. soch. i perevodov, vol. 21. St. Petersburg, 1913.


Istoriia frantsuzskoi literatury, vol. 3. Moscow, 1959.
Verlaine, P. Les Poètes maudits. Paris, 1884.
Royère, J. Mallarmé. Paris, 1927.
Mondor, H. Vie de Mallarmé. Paris, 1941.
Roulet, C. Eléments de poétique mallarméenne … . Neuchatel [1947].
Dujardin, E. Mallarmé par l’un des siens. Paris, 1952.
Aragon, L. Journal d’une poésie nationale. Lyon, 1954.
Piselli, F. Mallarmé e l’estetica. [Milan, 1969.]


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.