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David Brooks

Le Panier Fleuri:

The Text and Texture of Les Déliquescences of Adoré Floupette

This piece is 5,800 words or about 8 printed pages long. It is from a book provisionally entitled The Collected Works of Ern Malley and Adoré Floupette forthcoming from Purdue University Press. See also link David Brooks, ‘Petit Testament’: A Reading, in this issue of Jacket.

The essay that follows is a part of a larger project investigating the French dimensions of the Ern Malley Hoax, and in particular its relation to a set of parodies of the ‘decadent’ poetry of Rimbaud, Verlaine, Mallarmé and others, created as deliberate nonsense by the poets Henri Beauclair and Gabriel Vicaire and published in Paris in 1885 in a collection entitled Les Déliquescences under the name of the non-existent poet ‘Adoré Floupette’. The ‘painted surfaces’ of my opening line refers to Harold Stewart and James McAuley’s statement in Fact on June 25, 1944 that the work they had been trying to parody in the Ern Malley poems had appeared to them to be ‘a collection of garish images without coherent meaning and structure; as if one erected a coat of bright paint and called it a house’. The translations of Floupette’s ‘Sonnet Libertin’, ‘Remords’ and ‘Idyll Symbolique’, printed below, were by myself and John Scott. The occasional fragments of Mallarmé are in my own translation. A full account of the Malley hoax is given in Jacket 17.

When we turn to the painted surfaces of the Floupette poems we find them significantly similar to, and significantly different from, those of The Darkening Ecliptic. In their own way they are just as busy as Ern Malley’s, but their target is more fixed, their focus narrower, and, since their criticism of their target poets is mixed with admiration and their purpose as much a kind of back-handed praise, they are less subtle, more light-hearted, and far more single-minded in their employment of target texts. Both the Malley and the Floupette sequences are concerned to parody the excesses of a style contemporary to them, but in the Malley poems this ostensible concern reflects a deeper one with identifying and taking a position toward the sources of a contemporary malaise, and with suggesting why it should be seen as a malaise in the first place. These concerns divide and complicate its voice. The Floupette poems are more up front. While in some respects they are just as concerned to diagnose a literary illness — a kind of ’flu (‘Floupette’) — they are less concerned with trammelling its root-systems in their own textual fabric, and far more concerned to have the public recognize quickly and be entertained by their parodies.

The authors of each sequence, for example, draw upon very contemporary texts — McAuley and Stewart upon recent issues of Angry Penguins, collections by Max Harris and the English Apocalyptic poets, the Four Quartets just released in a single volume, etc.; Beauclair and Vicaire upon Les Poëtes Maudits, A Rebours, recent issues of La Review Indépendante and other literary journals, and recent volumes by poets writing in the styles they target (Moréas’ Les Syrtes, for example, and Verlaine’s Jadis et Naguère were both published in 1884) — but whereas in the Floupette these and a few other very-near contemporary sources (Les Fleurs du Mal, Le Parnasse Contemporain) dominate the parodies, in the Malley the contemporary work accounts for so small a proportion that one either doubts it has been the real target of the parodies at all, or assumes that, because the hoax is intended to fool the very targets it parodies, it cannot afford to employ very much of the work of those targer poets lest they recognise themselves and are put on their guard too soon.

To take another example, the poetry of Mallarmé is important to each sequence, but each sequence employs it differerntly. The Malley hoaxers come almost fifty years after Mallarmé. Not only can they see his work more or less entire, but they can draw upon several decades of commentary and analysis. They recognize all too well his mastery, have themselves felt the attraction of his thought and style, and, having found him at last inadequate to their own spiritual and poetic needs, have come to believe that his philosophy and poetics comprise one of the sources of the current malaise. This means that his presence in their parodies will be very different from what it is in the poems contrived by the authors of the Floupette, for whom his work is a fairly recent discovery, and who have available to them only the handful of poems published in Le Parnasse Contemporain (1866) and Les Poëtes Maudits (1883) one or two others from journals such as La Revue Indépendante (January 1885) and, if they have been lucky enough to be able to borrow a copy of the very expensive and limited Derenne edition of 1876, L’après-midi d’un faune. Their parodies cannot involve much more than early and, if they are not actually confused or uncomprehending (indeed, in some respects they are very well informed), then at least tentative encounters with this part of his work — its apparent style — because these, for the time being, are all they have.

In as much as their target texts — those of Mallarmé especially — are characterised by a certain ostentatious exoticism of imagery, the reach of the parodic texts is also in this direction, but the exoticism of the Floupette poems is more superficial, less a matter of root-systems and imported contexts than it is in the Malley poems. The target poets of the Floupette, and Mallarmé in particular (‘Les Fleurs’, ‘Prose (pour des Esseintes)’), use the names of flowers almost prodigiously, for example, and one senses that the parodists have gone into a florist or consulted a florilegium to garner a few exotic names with which to lace their nonsense texts, but, when they do deploy it, the ‘corylopsis of Japan’ (for example) does not appear to bring with it anything other than itself. While they are conscious of the roots of the style they parody, and so pepper their work with references and/or allusions to or fragmentary quotations from Baudelaire, de Nerval, Moréas, Verlaine, Mallarmé and others, they are less inclined to use these and their contexts to reflect negatively upon the caliber of their targets.

Only a reading of the poems themselves, in what Ern might have called their ‘autarchic’ dimension, will show us how such matters intertwine. It may help us, too, to come a little closer to an answer to one question particularly pertinent to the project at hand, namely the extent to which what was clearly intended as a parody might also — by virtue of something in the quality of the poetry — have functioned as hoax. Is their nonsense purely and unambiguously so? To what extent is it possible that it have been taken as something else?

‘Sonnet Libertin’ (‘Licentious Sonnet’)

With the assent of the great sunflowers

 — Arthur Rimbaud

When, with azure contemplations, we have
Wept for what sings and laughed for what suffers,
When, kicked aside, we roll into the Abyss,
Irritated and perverse, inclement troubles;

What can we do? One must leave to stupid lovers
Bright Swayings and Effervescences;
We will languish among suitable essences,
Evoking the roseur of future errant ways.

I will place in the gold of your wounded eyes
The insateity of Cyprian philtres
— The roses of your breast, what lovers of mine! —

And as in the times when the great Vestris triumphed,
So plaintive, we will commit exquisite indiscretions,
— With the assent of your Callybistris. —

From the distance of well over a century, ‘Sonnet Libertin’ seems a fairly straightforward poem about Verlaine and Rimbaud — let’s say Verlaine to Rimbaud, or vice versa — such as we find in Verlaine’s bitter and ironic love poem ‘Vers pour être calomnié’, which gives another of Adoré’s poems (‘Pour être conspué’) its title. ‘After we have written our lyrics’, it says, ‘after we have been kicked aside’ — Verlaine and Rimbaud had been socially outcast after their behaviour during the early stages of their relationship — ‘“What can we do?”‘. While the rhetorical response is ambiguous — is it that ‘one must leave “bright Swayings and Effervescences” to stupid lovers like us’? or is it that ‘we’ are somehow different from them, beyond such things? (probably the latter, and the gist that to the effervescence of love they counterpose something more languid [a deliquescence?]) — the rest, a bold announcement of the intention of homo-erotic love, is not. The poem — a problem, as we have seen with the Malley, when ‘nonsense’ is put together by accomplished poets — is actually well-fashioned, and one can imagine, if a reader were to come across it as part of a fortuitous selection from the collection, then that reader might, for the time being, take this poet seriously, or at least take him for a poet with serious, if misguided, intentions. There are some interesting touches. The gist of its opening statement, for example, is not just ‘After we have written our lyrics’, of course, but a suggestion, at the same time, of the perversity, the contrariness, of those lyrics: they have ‘Wept for what sings and laughed for what suffers’ (‘Pleuré de ce qui chante et ri de ce qui souffre’). It may be, too, that ‘le Grand Vestris’ — a reference, presumedly (the gender is indicated clearly enough), to Gaetan Vestris (1729-1808), the pioneering dancer as famous for his looks as for his ballet, or perhaps to his son Auguste Vestris (1760-1842), regarded as the greatest male dancer of his time, who made his debut with the Paris Opéra at the age of twelve and was its leading dancer for thirty-six years — is foreshadowed in ‘Les Balancements clairs’ of the second stanza. There is, for a further example, and if only for those who do not immediately recognise the references, an interesting veil of sexual ambiguity over the boldness of the conclusion. ‘Vestris’ might also be taken, so close is it to ‘Vestal’, for a priestess’ or a goddess’ name, as might ‘Callybistris’ for that of a lover or courtesan, if one did not know that it signified the penis (to which, as it happens, the poem could be said to have returned us, the assent [assentiment] of its epigraph, from Rimbaud’s Oraison du Soir, being to that poet/persona’s pissing toward the evening sky).

Remords’ (‘Remorse’)

The spectral church was in festival.
In a flutter, the women passed quickly by.
White on white, in his narrow gown,
Tingling, softly, the altarboy.

Was it a cow with her ding-a-lings?
When the black priest came to sing of it
My remorse began jigging.
Oh! Oh! Oh! remorse! How you torture me!!!

Yet it’s true, I am a miscreant.
I’ve been a swine so often,
But, O Queen of the Flowering Stars,
Chaste lily! have pity on my Nothingness!

If eight days a week I offered you a candle,
Couldn’t I then be pardonned?
I am a heathen, I am damned,
But I love you so, Riff-Raff of the Virgin!

For reasons which should become apparent below, ‘remorse’ (remords) was a key emotion — or at least a key word and notion — for the target poets, and a key rhyme. Perhaps its rhyme-partner, death (mort) had something to do with this: poets write poems, but so — as any Symboliste would agree — does Poetry. And perhaps this rhyme — or at least the new concentration upon it, the new fashion for it — begins with Baudelaire. Remords is used at least seventeen times in Les Fleur du Mal, and in several instances is paired with mort. By the 1880s the combination has become a tic. The pairing of remords and mort (or morts) appears twice in Jean Moréas’s Les Syrtes, one of the key target texts for Beauclaire and Vicaire, and one finds it in Mallarmé’s Angoisse, one of the target poems. Adoré, good proto-Symboliste that he is, uses it in the first poem of Les Déliquescences:

Comme sur la grêve,
Le vent des remords,
Passe, en vos yeux morts,
Une fleur de rêve!

It is not the only rhyming tic that the parodists pick upon: in fact the use of such tics is almost a tic of their own. Moréas, for example, uses eglantiers/sentiers — unusual as one might think it — twice in Les Syrtes, and we find Adoré borrowing it for the Finale of his Symphonie en Vert Mineur. So too rose/morose, a real favourite for Moréas (four times in Les Syrtes), turns up twice in Les Déliquescences (in Suavitas and in the Andante of the Symphonie).

It should not surprise us, then, to find that Adoré has a poem actually entitled Remords, nor that — although he resists remords/morts — he uses remords itself twice therein and succumbs to at least two of the other rhyme-tics of his fellows, cierge/vierge, another of Moréas’ problems (three times in Les Syrtes, but see also Corbière’s ‘Le Fin’, in Poètes Maudits), and pardonné/damné, almost a signature-rhyme for Baudelaire, and perhaps a signature for the period:

Si tous les huit jours je te paie un Cierge,
Ne pourrais-je donc être pardonné?
Je suis un païen, je suis un Damné,
Mais je t’aime tant, Canaille de Vierge!

If Baudelaire and Moréas are here, so too are Verlaine and Mallarmé, and the poem is as good a piece as any in the collection to demonstrate its characteristic mélange of styles. Verlaine is not here through any specific verbal cue, but in the use of words we might associate more with comic poetry, if we associate them with poetry at all — froufrou, tintinnabula, gigoter (the entire collection is heavily larded with terms such as these) — the poem catches his characteristic, irreverant mixture of high and low (‘Et tout le reste est littérature’). Mallarmé, on the other hand, is summoned quite specifically. His Apparition, for example, with its ‘laissant toujours de ses mains mal fermées / Neiger de blancs bouquets d’étoiles parfumées’, seems to have provided the original for Adoré’s ‘Queen of the Flowering Stars’, and his Angoisse a good deal of the rest. Indeed, if there is any one poem that the Floupette parodists have most in mind here — any poem that they work their own poem around — it is almost certainly ‘Angoisse’ (‘Anguish’), an emotion, after all, not far removed from remorse, or at least that could be expected to keep it company. As already stated, ‘Angoisse’ mentions remords — in fact contains the remords/morts tic. It contains, too, one of the first uses in his poetry of what will become one of Mallarmé’s central conceptions, le néant, a term which, appearing as it does in Adoré’s ‘Remords’, can have no other source.

In Mallarmé’s poem the persona addresses someone to whom he has come for consolation or respite. Some commentators have taken this person to be a prostitute, by virtue of the lines ‘ô bête / En qui vont les pêchés d’un peuple’. The person who addresses her does not come to use her body (‘Je ne viens ce soir vaincre ton corps’), and asks only a dreamless sleep in her bed, for Vice has marked him, like her, with its sterility. Adoré’s poem is very light by comparison, but has similar contours. His persona goes not to a prostitute, but to a church, though at the same point in the poem (where, were it a sonnet, as is Mallarmé’s, the sestet would begin) admits his Vice (‘Yet it’s true, I am a miscreant, / I’ve been a swine so often’). Adoré’s poem may be a parody only, but it makes some interesting points. People bring their sins to the Church. Adoré’s poem opens with the church ‘en Gala’, and with people bustling through it: are we reminded of the ‘beast / Through whom flow the sins of a people’? Although the poems might not tolerate such specific correlation, the possibility opens that the parodic poem amplifies a possibility in the original — of the prostitute as metaphor — that we might otherwise miss.

Clearly Adoré’s poem has its theme, its story, its scene, its structure — is, again, not quite the nonsense that it might have been presented as, or that we might at first have taken it to be. Its church, for example, is ‘spectrale’, its priest ‘noir’. Whether or not the latter hints, à la Baudelaire, of the Satanic, the ‘spectral’ suggests that this church is not a church proper, but virtual, the church sustained by imagery and preoccupation — to the point of obsession — in the work of the poets being parodied. And the parodists themselves — or is it only Adoré (for again there is that oscillation in the hoax voice) — seem to be in two minds about this. That the remorse of the speaker can be set jigging (it’s an allusion to Verlaine’s ‘Streets (I)’) by the appearance of the priest, and that he can bargain for absolution at the same time as he vaunts his own perversity suggests that they are at once preoccupied by the perverse insincerity of these poets who make poetic mileage out of their putative spiritual condition, and bemused by a church that has set up this situation in the first place.

When we return, these things in mind, to Mallarmé’s poem, and to the prostitute as metaphor, it is possible that we find, in its bleakly disarming conclusion, that it is now the original that amplifies/explains the parody. That the church now tolerates so much seems to have destroyed, for the poet/persona, its potency. If, as sterilised by his own Vice as the church has become by the Vice brought to it (and which it has absolved), he returns nonetheless, it is not for a meaningless pardon, but simply out of fear of dying alone.

Do we sense, behind this, a kind of outrage on the parodists’ part at the apparent claim — is it so apparent, at this point? — that poetry — art — can be a kind of church, in the failure/demise/sterility of the church proper? Certainly, if we do, this is (albeit most likely ironic, unconscious) a link — a deep link — to the position of the Malley hoaxers.

‘Idyll Symbolique’ (‘Symbolic Idyl’)

The child abdicates her ecstasy
And, schooled already by the ways,
Utters the word: Anastase!
Born for eternal manuscripts,

Before a sepulchre, not to laugh,
In any climate, her grandsire,
To carry this name: Pulcheria
Hidden by the too great Gladiolus.

 — Stéphane Mallarmé

Amourous girls, hypnotised
By Indolent Hopes,
Soft ephebes, of black reflections,
With roseate immodesties,

By the murmur of an Ave
Banished! O strange miracle!
The demon supplanted by the Angel,
The vile Hyperbole saved!

They talk, with nuances,
As, at the green heart of the bowling-lawns,
Bengalis and canaries
And those who carry credences.

But they say the word: Chouchou,
— Born for Holland paper, —
And there they are alone, on the moors,
Under the too tiny raincoat.

‘Idyll Symbolique’ might help us clarify some of these themes. It is prefaced, significantly, with an epigraph from Mallarmé’s ‘Prose (pour des Esseintes)’, a virtual ars poetica that had appeared only the January before Les Déliquescences. Mallarmé’s poem uses ‘Hyperbole’ as a metaphor for art, and more particularly for the way the work of art begins with and is projected — or projects itself — from the world. ‘Prose’ accomplishes this in part by employing hyperbole itself, in the forms of flowers in a garden, singled out by the eye and the imagination and, in terms of their symbolic significance, enlarged by the imagination to the point where they are out of all proportion to the real gardens in which they began, the poem ending, accordingly, and perhaps absurdly, for anyone not following it closely and not convinced by it, with an image of Beauty hidden by a ‘too-great gladiolus’ (‘le trop grand Glaïeul’). The poem is regarded as one of Mallarmé’s most difficult, and the specific import of this closing image is not clear (apart from what seems to me an allusion to Poe’s ‘Ulalume’, which Mallarmé had translated), but it is arguable that Mallarmé was quite conscious of its absurdity, and in fact intended it: that its point was to establish the manner in which the work of art can obscure its own purpose — hide, rather than reveal, the Beauty which at first inspired it (shortly after the poem begins, we are introduced to the poet/persona’s ‘sister’, for whose charms he — with her — looks, in the garden, to attempt to find likenesses. It is he who, in youthful enthusiasm, focusses upon the flowers, enlarging them with his attention. She merely stands by, smiling enigmatically, as the gap between these flowers — too clearly defined — and the garden about them grows wider.)

Whatever else Mallarmé’s closing image serves to present — and this ‘else’ is not a small problem — it establishes his consciousness of the power and significance, for communication, of the image, or, rather, of the image-component of his sense of the symbol, the extent to which the symbol rises/emanates from the real (as opposed to ‘Real’). He seeks, this is to say, to plant — as in embed, have grow from (hence, perhaps, some part of the garden and the flower in ‘Prose’) — his concepts and abstractions in the symbol. This may seem a strange thing to say, given Malarmé’s reputation for abstraction (l’Absolute, l’absente, le néant, etc.), but, although such a thing can be readily forgotten in the face of such powerful and suggestive immensities, this is all relative, all a matter of proportion. The physical is as much a part of Mallarmé as the abstraction: he would not be half the poet he is if his poetry had not been so full of the world, albeit only in order to place so much of it under erasure, to hold it at bay. If all the accoutrements of his key abstractions — all the scaffolding required to argue and establish them — were themselves to be presented as abstractions, then his poetry would be of a very different kind, and certainly not Symboliste: indeed, the idea of la symbole, about which his poetry turns, would be out the window, would be redundant, would just not come up. The fact that all this bolstering material is not presented as abstraction focusses attention upon and serves to embed the very abstractions for which Mallarmé is notorious. A reading of ‘Prose’ is perhaps aided — some of the poem’s difficulty is perhaps reduced — if we see that Mallarmé is attempting therein to find what Eliot would later term an object correlative for his argument. That is a large part of the force of his

Nous promenions notre visage
(Nous fûmes deux, je le maintiens)
Sur maints charmes de paysage,
Ô soeur, y comparent les tiens.

[We took ourselves through
(We were two, I maintain)
The many charms of the landscape,
O sister, comparing them with you.]

Certainly, when we begin to see the ‘sister’ in this way, the poem begins to reveal its sense a little more readily. Mallarmé — or at least the poet/persona — sees himself as divided (‘Nous fûmes deux, je le maintiens’), into a conscious (living, seeing, thinking, writing self) and an unconscious part: he speaks, in the next stanza, of ‘ce midi que notre double/Inconscience approfondit’ (‘this South which our double / Unconsciousness has sounded’). This buried or unconscious part has been figured — as a great many would argue it has always been — as the feminine, the ‘sister’. And it is this part that the poet/persona wishes to evoke, to bring forth and reveal to himself, by finding things in the garden that can be likened to its various parts (charmes), much in the manner that Baudelaire seeks to chart or image a paysage d’âme (landscape of the soul) by finding things in the world about him that correspond to — enable him to intuit (through their function as symbols) — that landscape’s different aspects. There is, that is to say, some correlation between Baudelaire’s paysage and Mallarmé’s jardin. One assembles the flowers that one discovers into a bouquet that evokes or corresponds to (although for reasons I will explain in a moment, simulacrum, the ‘copy without an original’, may be a better concept here) the garden which it can nonetheless never be (which is, as it were, l’absente de tous bouquets). But the problem, of course — the error to which the poet/persona confesses — is that, in his youthful enthusiasm, he concentrated upon the flowers rather than upon assembling/ putting together the garden: that he treated the flowers — focussed upon them as symbols — in a manner that served to obscure the garden. Prose, then, becomes, ultimately, a poem about how the symbol is to be handled, what place it is to have within a poem.

All this, we could say, is technical stuff, is about how a poem produces its magic. Which brings me to the point about the simulacrum: that the garden — and the paysage d’âme — need not exist in order for the poem to make it seem as if they do. That the poet can be conjurer: indeed, that that is his function (‘Car j’installe, par la science,/L’hymne des coeurs spirituels’: ‘For I install [the word is carefully chosen], through science,/The hymn of spiritual hearts’). Mallarmé very early, in an 1866 letter to Cazalis, spoke of the glorious lies, and this is a poem about how they are in part achieved (and also, in the figure of the ‘sister’ and the acknowledgement of the subconscious, about where some of them might come from). The poem clearly announces this in its opening, with the mention of grimoire — not, as some would have it, a grammary, but a book of spells — an aspect the parodists took up when they first parodied Mallarmé, in ‘Le Pétunia Sauveur’ (‘Pour Avoir Péché’), writing of envoûtements (bewitchments) and nécromans (necromancy: presumedly in light of the way, in ‘Prose’, he asks Hyperbole to summon a ‘spell’ from the deep and otherwise inaccessible [iron-bound] book of his memory.)

The parodists, it seems clear, have read Mallarmé’s poem carefully and to some extent understood it — enough, at the very least, to know that Hyperbole and the ‘too-great Gladiolus’ are emblematic of poetry, and of Mallarmé’s sense of the spiritual role that poetry is increasingly called upon (and, in the way he understands its ‘science’, is able) to play. What they find difficult is the thought that art must transcend emotion — that it must ‘resign ecstasy’ for its ‘science’, and, more significantly, that Mallarmé can think that Art/Poetry can perform functions that religion has hitherto performed — can comfort, absolve, save, where religion can no longer do so. For it is possible to see that the poem itself performs a kind of double play: that one theme is forshadowed by reading the poem according to one frame, the other by reading it from a second that, it would seem, its structure also allows. Do we read the poem, this is to ask, as about the ‘Amorous girls, hypnotised / By the Indolence of Hope’, or as about those who write about them? Do they begin as a ‘fact’, or as a proposition — an expostulation, that is to say, concerning Mallarmé’s proposition? We seem to have a choice. Read one way it is the ‘reflets noirs’, the ‘impudeurs rosées’ that are ‘Par le murmure dún Ave, / Disparus’, whereas read in the other way it is the proposition that girls of this kind can be dismissed made disappear — that is itself being dismissed: the proposition that one can turn one’s back on one’s ecstasy in this way. According to the first approach it is the girls who talk, with nuances, in the third and fourth stanzas; according to the second, it is poets like Mallarmé himself (‘nuances’, for example, whatever other function it performs here, is also a clear reference to Verlaine’s ‘Art Poétique’) — although it may be that the two come together in declaiming the idea that art, as opposed to the church, can absolve, can banish the demon (… and so save itself [‘Le vil Hyperbole sauvé!’]: or perhaps it is that the demon can be banished at all).

For guidance in resolving this dilemma — if we see it as such — we might turn to ‘Pour Avoir Péché’, a poem that, first appearing as it did under the title ‘Le Pétunia Sauveur’ (‘The Saviour Petunia’) in Lutèce in February 1885, very shortly after the first publication of ‘Prose’ in La Revue indépendente (January 1885), and reflecting at once its floral imagery and the parodists’ amusement concerning what they perceive as its claims for Art as a new religion, suggests that the parodists had set to work upon Mallarmé’s poem almost immediately, and that ‘Idyll Symbolique’ is a sophistication of their first attempts. Indeed, the very fact that the first of the Déliquescences poems appeared this early, and not as poems by Floupette but as the work of a poet, ‘Ëtienne Arsenal’, whose name is a play on Mallarmé’s own (to reiterate: ‘with a good arsenal, one is not mal armée’), seems to confirm that Mallarmé was the parodists’ principal target, if not the impetus for the collection as a whole.

The last two stanzas of ‘Prose’, used by the parodists as epigraph for ‘Idyll Symbolique’, have been a problem for scholars and commentators ever since they first engaged with them — even today, academic reverence aside, they seem one of Mallarmé’s greater risks as a poet, one of his clear excesses — and it seems that Beauclair and Vicaire did not fare any better in trying to make sense of them (dismissing them — is this the meaning of this image? — as about as intelligible, to them, as Bengali, or the sounds of a canary). Other factors not forthcoming, we can take, I think, the degree of attention given by parodists to one textual locus to be an index of the extent to which they have found that passage ridiculous, or at least incomprehensible. And the parodists have given this particular passage a fair amount. His ‘né pour d’Ëternels parchemins’ (‘Born for Eternal manuscripts’) — a line Mallarmé had already played upon with his par chemins/parchemins rhyme — has become ‘Né pour du papier de Hollande’ (Dutch — ‘Hollande’ — was a particularly thick, high-quality, laid paper), for example, and the ‘Pulchérie’ pronounced so portentously has become ‘Chouchou’ (‘Beauté’ — the meaning of ‘Pulchérie’ — has led them to ‘Beautiful’, as one might affectionately call one’s beloved, and ‘Beautiful’ — with all respect to cabbage, which I by-pass — to ‘pet’, or ‘sweetheart’, or ‘darling’ [chouchou, albeit significantly capitalised]). Read from the one direction, the ‘sister’ of Mallarmé’s poem has become one of the ‘Amourous girls’ (‘Amoureuses Hypnotisées’) who has ‘abdicated [her] ecstasy’ simply (and so magically) by saying ‘Ave’, ‘the too great Gladiolus’ now ‘the too tiny raincoat’ — leaving them all, presumedly, in the wet. Read from the other direction it is the poets who, having made their large claims for the powers of art, are left, with so little protection, out on the moors.

Part of the notorious difficulty of Mallarmé’s poem has come from the cross-winds of poetry itself, as is quite in accord with the work of someone who feels that the readers’desire to make sense of a poem, and the poem’s own desire to communicate sense to the reader, are not part of the poem as poem per se, and distract both reader and poem from the art of the poem, and the spiritual/alchemical functions of this art. The words themselves, in this poem, metamorphose, echo and reverse in such a manner as makes of it an ars poetica in which the art and the medium by-pass the ‘rational’ poet and speak for themselves. The reader, wrestling for meaning, enters a kind of trap, in which he or she finds themself insisting upon the rules of a game that the poem itself is only half-playing, having left it to play another, the ‘rules’ of which are not spelt out in a set of instructions, but are reflected in the form of the poem itself. So, for example, we find the word ‘maints’ in the third stanza ‘contained’ in the word ‘maintiens’; so, in the seventh stanza, ‘se para’ seeks out (a truer indication of how the poem operates here than to say ‘is rhymed with’) ‘sépara’; and so, in the eighth stanza (with thanks here to Henry Weinfield, who points this out [on page 194 of his invaluable Stéphane Mallarmé: Collected Poems, University of California Press, 1994]), ‘désire, Idées’ in the first line summons ‘des Iridées’ in the third and ‘de voir’ in the second finds ‘devoir’ in the fourth, etc. In the eleventh stanza this tour de force continues with ‘jeu monotone ment’ becoming ‘jeune étonnement’ two lines later, and this current of play — a problem for readers who cannot give themselves over to it, and a real nightmare for the translator — builds to a crescendo in the closing stanzas, where a good deal of the difficulty for the exegete, who is likely to expend a great deal of time and intellect trying to work out why the ancestor (‘aïeul’) or the paths (‘chemins’) appear where they do, is created by the way ‘par chemins’ and ‘parchemins’ have sought each other out, or the choice of the great gladiolus (as opposed, say, to the sunflower of Rimbaud, also picked up by the parodists) has been determined by (or is it the reverse?) the way ‘glaïeul’ contains ‘aïeul’.

Have the parodists picked this up too? There is, in their own final stanza, the way ‘lande’ is caught up in ‘Hollande’, or, perhaps closer, the way ‘Chouchou’ is echoed in ‘caoutchouc’, but these are not enough to go on. The point, I think, is less of a technique to be parodied here, than of a strange convergence of non sense and nonsense.

What, then, is to distinguish a parodic — for which, I think, we are asked by the parodists themselves to read ‘false’, even ‘nonsense’ — poem like ‘Idyll Symbolique’ from a ‘real’ poem like ‘Prose (pour des Esseintes)’, a part of the very poetics of which is a calculated challenge to sense? Obviously, from the perspective of someone who has taken the time to read the latter carefully, a great deal — arguably a tremendous amount. But from a more casual and contemporary perspective perhaps not quite so much. The ‘Idyll’ is, after all, a well- (if eccentrically) rhymed, well-crafted, and fairly intelligent sceptical response to a very dificult poem. One can imagine the uncued contemporary reader, trying to determine how serious a poem this was, having nothing much to go on but the particular nature of the rhymes — boulingrins/serins, for example, or Chouchou/caoutchou — but even these, had this reader come across much recent Corbière or Verlaine, are not unprecedented. True, there are lighter — or slighter — poems in Les Déliquescences, but also several others similar in caliber to this. Enough, in any case, so that, if, tongue-in-cheek, a few critics and commentators were to pretend that Adoré Floupette was in fact a ‘real’ poet of the new breed on the left bank, there was a good chance, if people went out and read the book, that they might just get away with it.

David Brooks,
Australian Literature,University of Sydney

David Broooks, Paris, 2005

David Broooks, Paris, 2005

David Brooks has published two collections of poetry, three of short fiction, and a novel, The House of Balthus. He has also published a volume of essays, The Necessary Jungle: Literature and Excess and is preparing another for publication in 2007. His work has been translated into numerous languages. His latest collection, Walking To Point Clear(Brandl & Schlesinger, 2005), was shortlisted for the Victorian and South Australian literary awards. He teaches Australian Literature at the University of Sydney, and is co-editor of Southerly. In July 2007 he will convene back-to-back a colloquium on Christopher Brennan and Mallarmé (University of Sydney) and the A.D. Hope Centenary Conference on Australian Poetry at the Humanities Research Centre (A.N.U.).

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