Opposed to a French Poet

CONTRE UN POÈTE PARISIEN, Stéphane Mallarmé (to E[mmanuel] des [Essarts].) Opposed to a Parisian Poet, Translated by Denise DeVries

The vision of the Poet often strikes me:
Angel in a fawn breastplate – delighting
in the gladiator’s blade, or, pale dreamer
who dons a cape, a bishop’s miter and sculpted cane.

Dante in bitter laurels, draped in a shroud,
a shroud of tranquility and peace:
A nude Anacreon laughs with grape-kissed lips,
without a thought of the vine’s summer leaves.

Sequined with stars, blue-mad, great Bohemians,
In vermilion flashes of their gay tambourines,
They pass in fantastical rosemary crowns,

But O Muse, queen of poems, whose fleecy robe
glows like a Eucharistic vessel, I do so dislike
seeing a poet in a black suit doing the polka.


Souvent la vision du Poëte me frappe:
Ange à cuirasse fauve — il a pour volupté
L’éclair du glaive, ou, blanc songeur, il a la chape,
La mitre byzantine et le bâton sculpté.

Dante, au laurier amer, dans un linceul se drape,
Un linceul fait de nuit et de sérénité :
Anacréon, tout nu, rit et baise une grappe
Sans songer que la vigne a des feuilles, l’été

Pailletés d’astres, fous d’azur, les grands bohèmes,
Dans les éclairs vermeils de leur gai tambourin,
Passent, fantasquement coiffés de romarin,

Mais j’aime peu voir, Muse, ô reine des poèmes,
Dont la toison nimbée a l’air d’un ostensoir,
Un poète qui polke avec un habit noir.


I became interested in Stéphane Mallarmé when I learned that the artist Odilon Redon was a fan. Then I saw Mallarmé’s critique of a fellow poet and had to wonder, what did poor Emmanuel des Essarts do to deserve such condemnation?

Apparently, his sin against Poetry was to write the “rather fatuous” Poésies parisiennes (1862), a volume of light verse “on trifling subjects.” That’s going to the top of my reading list! He also made the mistake of alluding to to the Ideal as “une mazurke divine“(a divine mazurka)(Mallarme, 1, 1208)

I chose this Odilon Redon illustration to show the Poet falling off his high horse.


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