Translation:À Eugène Lefébure - Monday 27 May 1867

Correspondence 1862-1871, To Henri Cazalis  (1867) 
by Stéphane Mallarmé, translated from French by Wikisource

Besançon, Monday 27th of May 1867

How do you do? Melancholic lake stork, motionless, does not your soul see itself appear, in their mirror, with boredom in excess — which, cloudy from its hazy twilight, the magical and pure charm, reminds you that it is your body that, on one leg, the other sickly folded into your feathers, holds itself, forsaken? Returned to the feeling of reality, listen to the guttural and friendly voice from another plumage, heron and crow at a same time, who swoops down near you. Provided that all this painting does not vanish, for you, into the shudders and the dreadful wrinkles of suffering! Before letting us go to our whisper, genuine bird talk like the reeds, and mixed to their vague astonishment when we return from our immutability on the pond of dreams to life — on the pond of dreams, where we never fish but our own image, without pondering on the silver fish scales! — let us however ask ourselves how we are in it, in this life! I then repeat my first question, brother: “How are you? And of how much has this recovery progressed?”

I shall send you tomorrow two divine short stories volumes from Madame Valmore: “Huit Femmes.” Women like her!

The “Parnassiculet” — hideous word! — is exhausted, but I will know how to extract it, as the “Nain Jaune” (and send them to you) from des Essarts' dread, who must contain mysterious heaps of it, stolen by him from posterity. As for my pencil lines, they are quite frail — but my thought is still so bare and so horribly sensible — that I fear touching it. My heart is near you, what is left from it! — and it is so little, that I would rather leave it for you in deposit than use it, being afraid to use it: it is then my good old feline body that caresses itself against your armchair, hoping to draw a few sparks from it. — You understand me enough, friend, for not having to ask me more.

Nor have I gathered anything, worthy to be repeated to you, in the newspapers and magazines' review that I do on Mondays — except an article by Montégut, from the 15th of May Revue des deux mondes, in the beautiful four or five pages of which I have felt and seen with emotion my book. It speaks of the modern poet, the last, which, thoroughly, “is a critic before everything”. And this is what I observe on me — I have only created my Work by elimination, and all acquired truth was merely springing from an impression's loss, which, having twinkled, had burnt itself and allowed me, thanks to its cleared darkness, to progress further in the Absolute Darkness' sensation. The Destruction was my Beatrice.

And if I speak of me in such a way, it is because Yesterday I completed the first sketch of the Work, perfectly delineated, and imperishable if I do not perish. I gazed upon it, without ecstasy as without dread, and, closing the eyes, I saw that this was. (The Vénus de Milo ― that I like to attribute to Phidias, so much the name of this great artist has become generic to me; Da Vinci's Mona Lisa; seem to me, and are, the two great scintillations of the Beauty on this earth and this Work, such as it is done [sic], the third. Complete and unconscious Beauty, unique and unalterable, or Phidias' Venus, Beauty, having been bitten at the core since Christianity, by the Chimera, and grievously re-emergent with a smile filled with mystery, but with forced mystery that it feels to be the condition of its being. Beauty, lastly, having through man's science found in the entire Universe its correlative stages, having had the supreme word from itself[1], having recalled the secret horror that was forcing it to smile in Da Vinci's time, and to smile mysteriously — now smiling mysteriously but with happiness and with the eternal tranquility of the Vénus de Milo found again — having had the idea of the mystery for which Mona Lisa only knew the fatal sensation.

— But I do not pride myself, my friend, on this result, but rather sadden. Because all of this has not been found by the normal development of my faculties, but by the sinful and hasty way, diabolic and easy, of the Destruction of myself, yielding not strength, but a sensibility that, fatally, has driven me there. I have, personally, no merit; it is exactly to avoid this remorse (to have disobeyed natural law's slowness) that I like to take refuge in impersonality — that seems to me a consecration. However, in sounding myself, here is what I believe. "I do not think that my brain extinguishes itself before the Work fulfillment, since having had the strength to conceive, (to understand it), it is likely that it has the strength to realize it. But it is my body that is entirely exhausted. After a few days of spiritual tension in an apartment, I freeze myself and gaze at myself in the diamond of this mirror, — until an agony: then, when I wish to revive myself under earth's sun, it thaws me — and shows me the deep disintegration of my physical being, and I feel my complete exhaustion. I believe, however still, supporting myself with the will, that if I have all the circumstances (and I have none so far), for me — i.e. if they do not exist anymore, I will finish my work. Rout must be avoided, above all, by an exceptional life of care — that will start with the chest, unfailingly.)

To be continued.

  1. Beauty as conscious of itself.
Copyright.svg PD-icon.svg This work is a translation and has a separate copyright status to the applicable copyright protections of the original content.

This is a posthumous work and may be copyrighted in certain countries and areas, based on how many years after posthumous publication, rather than how many years after author's death.


This work is licensed under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.

Nuvola apps important.svg

The Terms of use of the Wikimedia Foundation require that GFDL-licensed text imported after November 2008 must also be dual-licensed with another compatible license. "Content available only under GFDL is not permissible" (§7.4). This does not apply to non-text media.