L'après-midi d'un faune (poem)  

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L'après-midi d'un faune (or The Afternoon of a Faun) is a poem by the French author Stéphane Mallarmé. It is his best-known work and a landmark in the history of symbolism in French literature.

Initial versions of the poem were written between 1865 and 1867, and the final text was published in 1876. It describes the sensual experiences of a faun who has just woken up from his afternoon sleep and discusses his encounters with several nymphs during the morning in a dreamlike monologue.

Mallarmé's poem formed the inspiration for the orchestral work Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune by Claude Debussy and the ballet L'après-midi d'un faune by Vaslav Nijinsky; each of these works would be of great significance in the development of modernism in the arts.

The Poem (In English)

Although poetry always suffers in translation, this poem presents especial difficulty, in part because so many words and phrases were chosen for lyricism rather than precision. The following translation, which compromises the interpretation only slightly in order to maintain the rhyme scheme, is by Henry Weinfeld. An excellent example of an alternative translation, which does not respect the rhyme scheme, is by Alan Edwards.

These nymphs that I would perpetuate:
so clear
And light, their carnation, that it floats in the air
Heavy with leafy slumbers.
Did I love a dream?
My doubt, night's ancient hoard, pursues its theme
In branching labyrinths, which being still
The veritable woods themselves, alas, reveal
My triumph as the ideal fault of roses.
if the women of your glosses
Are phantoms of your fabulous desires!
Faun, the illusion flees from the cold, blue eyes
Of the chaster nymph like a fountain gushing tears:
But the other, all in sighs, you say, compares
To a hot wind through the fleece that blows at noon?
No! through the motionless and weary swoon
Of stifling heat that suffocates the morning,
Save from my flute, no waters murmuring
In harmony flow out into the groves;
And the only wind on the horizon no ripple moves,
Exhaled from my twin pipes and swift to drain
The melody in arid drifts of rain,
Is the visible, serene and fictive air
Of inspiration rising as if in prayer.
Relate, Sicilian shores, whose tranquil fens
My vanity disturbs as do the suns,
Silent beneath the brilliant flowers of flame:
"That cutting hollow reeds my art would tame,
I saw far off, against the glaucous gold
Of foliage twined to where the springs run cold,
An animal whiteness languorously swaying;
To the slow prelude that the pipes were playing,
This flight of swans -- no! naiads -- rose in a shower
Of spray..."
Day burns inert in the tawny hour
And excess of hymen is escaped away --
Without a sign, from one who pined for the primal A:
And so, beneath a flood of antique light,
As innocent as are the lilies white,
To my first ardours I wake alone.
Besides sweet nothings by their lips made known,
Kisses that only mark their perfidy,
My chest reveals an unsolved mystery...
The toothmarks of some strange, majestic creature:
Enough! Arcana such as these disclose their nature
Only through vast twin reeds played to the skies,
That, turning to music all that clouds the eyes,
Dream, in a long solo, that we amused
The beauty all around us by confused
Equations with our credulous melody;
And dream that the song can make love soar so high
That, purged of all ordinary fantasies
Of back or breast -- incessant shapes that rise
In blindness -- it distills sonorities
From every empty and monotonous line.
Then, instrument of flights, Syrinx malign,
At lakes where you attend me, bloom once more!
Long shall my discourse from the echoing shore
Depict those goddesses: by masquerades,
I'll strip the veils that sanctify their shades;
And when I've sucked the brightness out of grapes,
To quell the flood of sorrow that escapes,
I'll lift the empty cluster to the sky,
Avidly drunk till evening has drawn nigh,
And blow in laughter through the luminous skins.
Let us inflate our MEMORIES, O nymphs.
"Piercing the reeds, my darting eyes transfix,
Plunged in the cooling waves, immortal necks,
And cries of fury echo through the air;
Splendid cascades of tresses disappear
In shimmering jewels. Pursuing them, I find
There, at my feet, two sleepers intertwined,
Bruised in the languor of duality,
Their arms about each other heedlessly.
I bear them, still entangled, to a height
Where frivolous shadow never mocks the light
And dying roses yield the sun their scent,
That with the day our passions might be spent."
I adore you, wrath of virgins--fierce delight
Of the sacred burden's writhing naked flight
From the fiery lightning of my lips that flash
With the secret terror of the thirsting flesh:
From the cruel one's feet to the heart of the shy,
Whom innocence abandons suddenly,
Watered in frenzied or less woeful tears.
"Gay with the conquest of those traitorous fears,
I sinned when I divided the dishevelled
Tuft of kisses that the gods had ravelled.
For hardly had I hidden an ardent moan
Deep in the joyous recesses of one
(Holding by a finger, that her swanlike pallor
From her sister's passion might be tinged with colour,
The little one, unblushingly demure),
When from my arms, loosened by death obscure,
This prey, ungrateful to the end, breaks free,
Spurning the sobs that still transported me."
Others will lead me on to happiness,
Their tresses knotted round my horns, I guess.
You know, my passion, that crimson with ripe seeds,
Pomegranates burst in a murmur of bees,
And that our blood, seized by each passing form,
Flows toward desire's everlasting swarm.
In the time when the forest turns ashen and gold
And the summer's demise in the leaves is extolled,
Etna! when Venus visits her retreat,
Treading your lava with innocent feet,
Though a sad sleep thunders and the flame burns cold.
I hold the queen!
Sure punishment...
No, but the soul,
Weighed down by the body, wordless, struck dumb,
To noon's proud silence must at last succumb:
And so, let me sleep, oblivious of sin,
Stretched out on the thirsty sand, drinking in
The bountiful rays of the wine-growing star!
Couple, farewell; I'll see the shade that now you are.

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