It’s the time of the year, isn’t it, when January seems an endless tunnel -wind, rain tunnel – of grey. We are not yet quite mid-way through and I find myself yearning for spring, just the early promise of it when the air begins to soften and you can smell the earth breathing-yes, I think you really can. But at least we’re not trapped in the endless dark of December-as you can guess, this is my least favourite time of year, the lit up, convivial parts notwithstanding. A fine time for a birthday, then (!) -January 6th, Twelfth Night, Epiphany. Those ceremonies have resonance but I will swap anyone for their May or June birthday, when I can sit outside with a glass of fizz, basking in warmth. Of course, no month is reliable in what it should promise, and the afternoons are no longer evenings, and the other day I saw green shoots, daffodils I think, first signs of spring.
But these nights are still cold and I sat on my bed last night, half in, half out, in my outdoor layers, my indoor layers -dressing-gown, slipper bootees, and that’s in a centrally-heated room, heaven help me if I slipped through time and found myself in a ramshackle chateau in nineteenth-century Paris, although that brings me to what I was reading, Stéphane Mallarmé, Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’Abolira Le Hasard (A Throw of the Dice will Never Abolish Chance) specifically, in French! Please don’t imagine I do this often. My French is fairly basic and I had to glide over a lot of words but it allowed me to slow down and appreciate how Mallarme uses the page as the unit of composition, and typographical variations on it to stunning effect. This poem is a prime example of this technique, the first of its kind, if you like, and for my research purposes I investigating more inventive ways to use the page for my own collection.
The poem is reprinted in David Scott’s work, ‘Pictorialist Poetics: Poetry & The Visual arts in Nineteenth-Century France’, 1988, Cambridge University Press and Scott writes accessibly and with real clarity about technique and historical context, in this case, about nineteenth-century prose poets and their various experiments with the ‘spatial’ potential of ‘prosodic’ structures.
There is much more to say. it is the kind of poem I could stare at for ages, flicking pages back and forth, reading across the hinge of the page, reading for meaning in the fullest sense, taking in all the shapes of words, their shifts and turns, the different fonts, the white space, nothing I wouldn’t do with any poem, but here, with delight, much more so, relishing what I don’t ‘understand’ to come to new understandings.
Here is an extract, with a translated version. I love the contrasts between the large upper-case e.g. C’ETAIT and the tiny italics ‘issu stellaire’. Later, ‘UNE CONSTELLATION’, which, of course, this poem is.