Mallarmé’s Apparition : Paintings of London:

Mallarmé ‘s Apparition is one of my favourite poems. I am a true Londoner at heart. I lived there four years, but my heart has always resided in London. To a certain extent, you might still be able to find it there, tucked in the corner of Brook mews north and the Craven Road, unless you find it in that dainty cul-de-sac of a street named Pembroke Mews. This painting was performed in 1994. It is not only an illustration of Mallarmé’s poem but also a poetical representation of the London and England I love so much. Mallarmé – like Beaudelaire – had grown a passion for Edgar Allan Poe’s prose and poetry. He even decided to learn the English language to be able to read Poe in the text and eventually became a teacher of English (although he resented his job).

Apparition by Mallarmé : Paintings of London

His poetry is extremely difficult to understand for it doesn’t really follow the logic of the language but rather invents one of its own. Many references are made to his own life and personal experience, like in Brise Marine where he describes his frustration as a young father who can’t really cope with his newborn baby.

The Apparition describes Mallarmé’s unexpected encounter with a beautiful lady in London.
I have nonetheless tried to provide a translation of the poem:

English Translation

And the moon was overcome with sorrow
Weeping cherubs were dreaming, bow in hand
They played their dying viols, quiet vaporous flowers around them
Their music shed white tears on the sky-blue petals

That was the sacred day of our first kiss
And I became martyr to my own dreams
The dreams which fed on that twinge of sadness
Which, even without regrets or mishaps, drives
a dream back home to the heart from where it once sprang

Here I was, wandering, with my eyes riveted on the ancient cobbles
When with sunshine in your hair, in the street, you appeared
And I thought I could see the fairy with a hat of light
That once visited my beautiful spoiled childhood’s slumbers
And from whose ever opened hands
White bunches of scented stars kept snowing in

Original Text in French

La lune s’attristait. Des séraphins en pleurs
Rêvant, l’archet aux doigts, dans le calme des fleurs
Vaporeuses, tiraient de mourantes violes
De blancs sanglots glissant sur l’azur des corolles.

C’était le jour béni de ton premier baiser.
Ma songerie aimant à me martyriser
S’enivrait savamment du parfum de tristesse
Que même sans regret et sans déboire laisse
La cueillaison d’un Rêve au coeur qui l’a cueilli.

J’errais donc, l’oeil rivé sur le pavé vieilli
Quand avec du soleil aux cheveux, dans la rue
Et dans le soir, tu m’es en riant apparue
Et j’ai cru voir la fée au chapeau de clarté
Qui jadis sur mes beaux sommeils d’enfant gâté
Passait, laissant toujours de ses mains mal fermées
Neiger de blancs bouquets d’étoiles parfumées

Yann Gourvennec
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  1. I’m a professional opera singer and I have to say that over the years this poem (set by Debussy) has brought to many different levels of understanding of his text. Thank you for this translation, it is a work of art in itself and has given me some more insights into this brilliant word-painting. I appreciate your visual depiction as well!

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