Sunday, March 18, 2012

Born One Hundred-Seventy Years Ago Today


Stéphane Mallarmé
Translated by Henry Weinfield

Orphan, I was wandering in black and with an eye vacant of family: at the quincunx, the tents of a fair were unfolded; did I experience the future and that I would take this form? I loved the odor of the vagabonds, and was drawn toward them, forgetting my comrades. No cry of a chorus clamoring through the canvas rift, nor distant tirade, the drama requiring the holy hour of the footlights, I wanted to speak with an urchin too unsteady in his wavering to figure forth among his people, in a nightcap cut like Dante's hood—who was already returning to himself, in the guise of a slice of bread and soft cheese, the snow of mountain peaks, the lily, or some other whiteness constitutive of internal wings: I would have begged him to admit me to his superior meal, which was quickly shared with some illustrious older boy who had sprung up against a nearby tent and was engaged in feats of strength and banalities consistent with the day. Naked, he pirouetted in what seemed to me the surprising nimbleness of his tights and moreover began: "Your parents? — I have none. — Go on, if you knew what a farce that is, a father...even the other week when he was off his soup, he still made faces as funny as ever, when the boss was flinging out smacks and kicks. My dear fellow!" and triumphantly raising a leg toward me with glorious ease, "Papa astounds us"; then, biting into the little one's chaste meal: "Your mama, maybe you don't have one, maybe you're alone? Mine eats rope and everyone claps his hands, you have no idea what funny people parents are, how they make you laugh." The show was heating up, he left: myself, I sighed, suddenly dismayed at not having parents.