Stéphane Mallarmé


The afternoon of a faun





L’après-midi d’un faune (or “The Afternoon of a Faun“) is a poem by the French author Stéphane Mallarmé. 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.

It is Mallarmé’s best-known work and a hallmark in the history of symbolism in French literature. Paul Valéry considered it to be the greatest poem in French literature.

Initial versions of the poem, originally titled Le Faune, intermède héroique were written between 1865 (the first mention of the poem is found in a letter Stéphane Mallarmé wrote to Henri Cazalis in June 1865) and 1867. Stéphane Mallarmé submitted the first text to the Théâtre-Français in 1867, only to be rejected. Ten years later, under the title Improvisation d’un Faune the work was rejected again, this time by publisher Alphonse Lemerre, who had previously published Mallarmé’s work in Parnasse contemporain. Stéphane Mallarmé left Lemerre and found Alphonse Derenne, an editor, publisher, and bookseller of primarily medical books who sought to expand his business. The final text was published in 1876 by Derenne under the present title L’après-midi d’un faune.  (wikipedia)




The afternoon of a faun




The faun:

These nymphs, I would perpetuate them.

So bright

Their crimson flesh that hovers there, light

In the air drowsy with dense slumbers.

Did I love a dream?


My doubt, mass of ancient night, ends extreme

In many a subtle branch, that remaining the true

Woods themselves, proves, alas, that I too

Offered myself, alone, as triumph,

the false ideal of roses.

Let’s see…

or if those women you note

Reflect your fabulous senses’ desire!

Faun, illusion escapes from the blue eye,

Cold, like a fount of tears, of the most chaste:


But the other, she, all sighs, contrasts you say

Like a breeze of day warm on your fleece?


No! Through the swoon, heavy and motionless

Stifling with heat the cool morning’s struggles

No water, but that which my flute pours, murmurs

To the grove sprinkled with melodies: and the sole breeze

Out of the twin pipes, quick to breathe

Before it scatters the sound in an arid rain,

Is unstirred by any wrinkle of the horizon,

The visible breath, artificial and serene,

Of inspiration returning to heights unseen.


O Sicilian shores of a marshy calm

My vanity plunders vying with the sun,

Silent beneath scintillating flowers, RELATE

‘That I was cutting hollow reeds here tamed

By talent: when, on the green gold of distant

Verdure offering its vine to the fountains,

An animal whiteness undulates to rest:

And as a slow prelude in which the pipes exist

This flight of swans, no, of Naiads cower

Or plunge…’



Inert, all things burn in the tawny hour

Not seeing by what art there fled away together

Too much of hymen desired by one who seeks there

The natural A: then I’ll wake to the primal fever

Erect, alone, beneath the ancient flood, light’s power,

Lily! And the one among you all for artlessness.


Other than this sweet nothing shown by their lip,

the kiss

That softly gives assurance of treachery,


My breast, virgin of proof, reveals the mystery

Of the bite from some illustrious tooth planted;

Let that go! Such the arcane chose for confidant,

The great twin reed we play under the azure ceiling,

That turning towards itself the cheek’s quivering,

Dreams, in a long solo, so we might amuse

The beauties round about by false notes that confuse

Between itself and our credulous singing;

And create as far as love can, modulating,

The vanishing, from the common dream of pure flank

Or back followed by my shuttered glances,

Of a sonorous, empty and monotonous line.



Try then, instrument of flights, O malign

Syrinx by the lake where you await me, to flower again!

I, proud of my murmur, intend to speak at length

Of goddesses: and with idolatrous paintings

Remove again from shadow their waists’ bindings:

So that when I’ve sucked the grapes’ brightness

To banish a regret done away with by my pretence,

Laughing, I raise the emptied stem to the summer’s sky

And breathing into those luminous skins, then I,

Desiring drunkenness, gaze through them till evening.



O nymphs,

let’s rise again with many memories.


‘My eye, piercing the reeds, speared each immortal

Neck that drowns its burning in the water

With a cry of rage towards the forest sky;

And the splendid bath of hair slipped by

In brightness and shuddering, O jewels!


I rush there: when, at my feet, entwine (bruised

By the languor tasted in their being-two’s evil)

Girls sleeping in each other’s arms’ sole peril:

I seize them without untangling them and run

To this bank of roses wasting in the sun

All perfume, hated by the frivolous shade

Where our frolic should be like a vanished day.’



I adore you, wrath of virgins, O shy

Delight of the nude sacred burden that glides

Away to flee my fiery lip, drinking


The secret terrors of the flesh like quivering

Lightning: from the feet of the heartless one

To the heart of the timid, in a moment abandoned

By innocence wet with wild tears or less sad vapours.



‘Happy at conquering these treacherous fears

My crime’s to have parted the dishevelled tangle

Of kisses that the gods kept so well mingled:

For I’d scarcely begun to hide an ardent laugh

In one girl’s happy depths (holding back

With only a finger, so that her feathery candour

Might be tinted by the passion of her burning sister,

The little one, naïve and not even blushing)

Than from my arms, undone by vague dying,

This prey, forever ungrateful, frees itself and is gone,

Not pitying the sob with which I was still drunk.’



No matter! Others will lead me towards happiness

By the horns on my brow knotted with many a tress:

You know, my passion, how ripe and purple already

Every pomegranate bursts, murmuring with the bees:

And our blood, enamoured of what will seize it,

Flows for all the eternal swarm of desire yet.



At the hour when this wood with gold and ashes heaves

A feast’s excited among the extinguished leaves:

Etna! It’s on your slopes, visited by Venus

Setting in your lava her heels so artless,

When a sad slumber thunders where the flame burns low.

I hold the queen!



O certain punishment…

No, but the soul

Void of words, and this heavy body,

Succumb to noon’s proud silence slowly:

With no more ado, forgetting blasphemy,

I Must sleep, lying on the thirsty sand, and as I

Love, open my mouth to wine’s true constellation!


Farewell to you, both:

I go to see the shadow you have become.



Stéphane Mallarmé – The afternoon of a faun (eclogue)


Stéphane Mallarmé

All the poems





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