HÉRODIADE : Oui, c’est pour moi, pour moi, que je fleuris,
déserte ! Vous le savez, jardins d’améthyste, enfouis
Sans fin dans vos savants abîmes éblouis,
Ors ignorés, gardant votre antique lumière
Sous le sombre sommeil d’une terre première,
Vous, pierres où mes yeux comme de purs bijoux
Empruntent leur clarté mélodieuse, et vous
Métaux qui donnez à ma jeune chevelure
Une splendeur fatale et sa massive allure !
Quant à toi, femme née en des siècles malins
Pour la méchanceté des antres sibyllins,
Qui parles d’un mortel ! selon qui, des calices
De mes robes, arôme aux farouches délices,
Sortirait le frisson blanc de ma nudité,
Prophétise que si le tiède azur d’été,
Vers lui nativement la femme se dévoile,
Me voit dans ma pudeur grelottante d’étoile,
Je meurs !
HERODIAS: Yes, it is for me, for me I bloom, deserted
Gardens of amethyst, you know it, deep
In cunning chasms dazzled under the steep,
Golds guarding light that once in Eden shone
Under a soil no man has trodden on,
Ye stones whence the pure jewels of mine eyes
Borrow their limpid and melodious dyes,
And metals ye, that in my tresses young
Their fatal splendour and massive lure have hung.
But thou, O woman nurtured in the malice
Of centuries old for caverns sybilline,
Who speakest of a man, saying from the chalice
Of these sky-scented rapturous robes of mine
Should dart the white shudder of my nakedness,
Foretell, that if the summer’s blue caress,
For which a woman all her veils unfolds,
My shivering modesty of a star beholds,
J’aime l’horreur d’être vierge et je veux
Vivre parmi l’effroi que me font mes cheveux
Pour, le soir, retirée en ma couche, reptile
Inviolé sentir en la chair inutile
Le froid scintillement de ta pâle clarté
Toi qui te meurs, toi qui brûles de chasteté,
Nuit blanche de glaçons et de neige cruelle !
Et ta sœur solitaire, ô ma sœur éternelle,
Mon rêve montera vers toi : telle déjà,
Rare limpidité d’un cœur qui le songea,
Je me crois seule en ma monotone patrie
Et tout, autour de moi, vit dans l’idolâtrie
D’un miroir qui regarde en son calme dormant
Hérodiade au clair regard de diamant…
Ô charme dernier, oui ! je le sens, je suis seule.
I love my gruesome maidenhood, and will
Live in the terror that my locks distil,
So that, a reptile violated not,
My useless flesh may feel, when nights are hot,
The cold glitter of the pale clearness of thee,
Thou who art dying, burning with chastity,
White night of icicles and cruel snow!
And thy lone sister, sister of mine also,
Who diest not: to thee my dream will mount;
Truly, so rare is my heart’s limpid fount
Already, that I deem myself alone
In my monotonous land where all is grown
Idolatrous of a glass in whose calm sheen
The diamond eyes of Herodias are seen…
O ultimate charm, I feel, alone I am.
LA NOURRICE : Madame, allez-vous donc mourir ?
HÉRODIADE : Non, pauvre aïeule,
Sois calme et, t’éloignant, pardonne à ce cœur dur,
Mais avant, si tu veux, clos les volets, l’azur
Séraphique sourit dans les vitres profondes,
Et je déteste, moi, le bel azur !
Des ondes se bercent et, là-bas, sais-tu pas un pays
Où le sinistre ciel ait les regards haïs
De Vénus qui, le soir, brûle dans le feuillage :
Allume encore, enfantillage
Dis-tu, ces flambeaux où la cire au feu léger
Pleure parmi l’or vain quelque pleur étranger
THE NURSE: O mistress, diest thou?
HERODIAS: No, poor grandam.
Be calm, forgive this hard heart, and be gone,
But ere thou goest close the shutters on
This seraph azure smiling through the pane,
for I abhor the blue without a stain!
O there are cradled waves, and if thou hast
Heard of a dark land where skies overcast
Look with the hate of Venus burning in
The foliage at eve, there will I go.
Lift once again, though it is childish, I know,
These waxen torches whose fire wan and thin
Weeps strange tears in the flaunting gold
LA NOURRICE : Maintenant ?
HÉRODIADE : Adieu. Vous mentez, ô fleur nue
De mes lèvres. J’attends une chose inconnue
Ou peut-être, ignorant le mystère et vos cris,
Jetez-vous les sanglots suprêmes et meurtris
D’une enfance sentant parmi les rêveries
Se séparer enfin ses froides pierreries.
THE NURSE: Now?
HERODIAS: Farewell. My naked lips, your blossom lies.
For radiance never known awaits my brow,
But, ignorant of the mystery and your cries,
You heave the supreme and the bruisèd sighs
Of childhood feeling in its dreamy heart
Its linked and icy jewels snap and part.
Mallarmé, born into a family of civil servants, and brought up by a grandmother who left much to be desired, felt revolt welling up inside him at an early age, but was unable to give it expression. Society, nature, the family he rejected everything, even the pale and wretched child he saw in the mirror. But the efficacy of revolt varies inversely with its diffusion. The whole world needs to be blown up, of course: but the problem is to do it without getting our hands dirty. A bomb is an object just as much as an Empire armchair: it is a little more dangerous, that’s all. What intrigues and compromises are necessary in order to place it just right! Mallarmé was not, nor would ever be, an anarchist: he rejected all individualist activity. His violence – and I use the word without irony – was so desperate and total that it became transformed into a peaceful idea of violence. No, he would not turn the world upside down: he would place it in parentheses. He opted for the terrorism of politeness: between himself and other things, other men, even his own being, he always managed to preserve an imperceptible distance. It was this distance that he wanted to express at first in his poetry.
A hero, prophet, magician and tragedian all at once, this slight, feminine man, discreet in his ways and little attracted to women, deserved to die at the threshold of our century: in fact he heralded its coming. To a greater degree than Nietzsche, he experienced the death of God; well before Camus, he felt that suicide was the original question confronting man; his struggle day after day against chance would be taken up later by others, yet with no greater lucidity. In a word, what he asked himself was this: Is there a way to be found within determinism that leads outside it? It is possible to turn praxis upside-down and rediscover subjectivity by reducing the universe and oneself to objectivity? He systematically applied to art what was still only a philosophical principle and was to become a political maxim : ‘Make and in making make yourself’.
Shortly before the gigantic onrush of technology, he invented a technique of poetry; at the same time as Taylor was devising methods to mobilize men in order to give their work its maximum efficiency, he was mobilizing language in order to secure the maximum profit from words. But the most striking feature of the man, it seems to me, was the metaphysical anguish which he endured so openly and modestly. Not a single day passed without his being tempted to kill himself, and if he lived on, it was for the sake of his daughter. But this suspended death gave him a kind of charming and destructive irony – his ‘native intelligence’, which was above all the art of finding and establishing in his daily life, and even in his perception, a ‘lethal duet’ to which he submitted all the objects of this world. He was wholly a poet, wholly dedicated to the critical destruction of poetry by itself. Yet at the same time, he remained aloof: a ‘sylph belonging to cold ceilings’, he studied himself. If it was matter that produced poetry, perhaps the lucid thought of matter escaped from its determinism? So his poetry itself came to be placed in parentheses. One day someone sent him a few drawings; he liked them, but what particularly attracted him was the sketch of an old magician with a mournful smile: ‘It comes from knowing’, he commented, ‘that his art is a fraud. But at the same time he seems to be saying: Yet it might have been the truth’.