Dualism and the Concept of Fleeing in Mallarmé (Blog Post)

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The present post will address dualism in Mallarme’s poems, “L’Azur” and “Les fenêtres,” by analyzing the manner in which the poet uses the concept of fleeing to both distinguish and conflate these two worlds. In both poems, the verb “fuir” is repeated in various different conjugations and manifestations. This causes the reader to feel that the subject of the poem is trapped: he wants to leave where he is but finds that he cannot or that he does not know where to go. This, effectively, creates a dualism in both poems concerning where the subject of the poem finds himself and where he wishes to be (not there.) This distinction is then emphasized by Mallarmé with in more traditional dualistic terms, for example by reference to the soul and to different Ideal concepts, such as Beauty. In both poems, however, the distinction between these two worlds is blurred at the end and the reader is given to understand that the physical can be consumed by the Ideal and eternal. Let us now analyze some examples of this description, first in “L’Azur” and then in “Les fenêtres.”

In “L’Azur,” Mallarmé introduces the concept of fleeing in the second stanza, one may say, ambiguously. He begins the stanza with the word “fuyant” or “fleeing” but it is unclear to whom this word refers. It could refer either to the irony which was the subject of the first stanza or to the poet which is the subject of the second stanza. The reader is left feeling uncertain about what or who is fleeing. In the next line, however, we get a better idea of who is fleeing– the poet.  The poet describes the irony as scrutinizing his empty soul and, one could say, it is for this reason that he wants to flee. In this way, we get introduced to the subject’s soul which is one of the traditional markers of dualism. It should be noted that this dualism is emphasized by the fact that it is irony, an abstract concept, that is scrutinizing in a personified way the soul of the subject. In other words, an Ideal (in the Platonic sense) concept is acting upon the soul, another Ideal concept. This, however, is causing the subject, a physical entity, to want to flee a word that usually refers to the physical movement from one place to another. In this way, we see Mallarmé blurring the lines between the Ideal and the Physical or Real through the use of the concept of fleeing.

Throughout the rest of the poem, Mallarmé continues to develop this idea of dualism. The reader is given the idea that the cryptic Azur belongs in the Ideal world as it is described as “eternal” and, in the last two stanzas, as basically all-encompassing and all-powerful. Furthermore, l’Azur affects the soul of the poet as opposed to his body. The poet also realizes that trying to physically flee the all-powerful Azur is futile and, therfore, he gives in to the fact that he will be haunted by it. The repetition of “L’Azur” at the end, furthermore, gives the impression that the poet is not only being haunted by it, he is being consumed by l’Azur. This is, therefore, another instance of Mallarmé blurring the lines between the physical and ideal world as the poet, a physical being, is being consumed by L’Azur, an Ideal concept.

A very similar blurring of the two worlds is also seen in “Les fenêtres” where the concept of fleeing is, once again, prominent. In this poem, Mallarmé also makes a contrast between the idealized and physical worlds describing the setting in physical terms, as looking through a window, and describing the scene outside in great detail. This is contrasted by references made to the soul, the eternal and the infinite, as well as to other Ideal concepts such as Beauty and Bêtise (foolishness.) The reader is once again confronted with “l’azur” although this time it is in lowercase which implies that it is not the same all-powerful Ideal concept that one is introduced to in “L’Azur.” Mallarmé once again mentions fleeing which further emphasizes the dualism between the physical and Ideal worlds. Most importantly, at the end of the poem, he mentions fleeing with “two wings without feathers” and running the risk of falling into eternity. Much like “L’Azur,” “Les fênetres” ends with the hint of falling into eternity and being consumed by it. Once again, it would be a physical being that can fall into an eternal, Ideal realm.

In conclusion, Mallarmé often alludes to the idea of fleeing in his poems, especially in “L’Azur” and in “Les fenêtres.” The concept of fleeing usually has the effect of blurring the lines between the Ideal and physical worlds, a dualism which is also evident in much of his poetry. The use of “fleeing” also gives the reader the sense that the subject of the poem is trapped in the physical world yet could be consumed by the Ideal world.


– by MJL

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