Mallarmé, Stéphane

Mallarmé, Stéphane stāfänˈ mälärmāˈ [key], 1842–98, French poet. Mallarmé's great importance is as the chief forebear of the symbolists; the influence of his poetry was particularly felt by Valéry. Many poets and other writers of the mid-1880s drew inspiration at the Tuesday evening gatherings where Mallarmé expounded his theories. Mallarmé held that the poet should express the ideas of a transcendental world, that poetry should evoke thoughts through suggestion rather than description, and that by combining words in new and surprising ways it should approach the abstraction of music. Though he often used traditional French forms, mainly the sonnet, and meters, often the 12-syllable alexandrine, his content is revolutionary and radical; his language defies traditional syntax and is frequently so obscure that it must be read with commentary. His best-known poems are Hérodiade (1869), L'Après-Midi d'un faune (1876; The Afternoon of a Faun), which inspired a composition by Debussy, and Un Coup de dés jamais n'abolira le hasard (1897; A Throw of the Dice Will Never Eliminate Chance). Editions of Mallarmé's poetry were published in 1887 and 1899, and a selection of prose, Divagations, in 1897. Mallarmé earned his living by teaching English.

See selected letters, ed. and tr. by R. Lloyd (1988); biographies by A. France (1967), G. Millan (1994), and R. Pearson (2010); studies by T. A. Williams (1970), D. H. Morris (1977), M. Bowie (1982), L. W. Marvick (1986), and G. Robb (1996).

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