The Poet’s Dilemma in Mallarmé’s “The Windows” and “The Azure” (blog post)

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Mallarmé’s poems, particularly “The Windows” and “The Azure”, dramatize the poet’s continued struggle to access and embody the Eternal and the Ideal in his poetry. In both poems, the sky and the personified Azure symbolize the Eternal and the Ideal. While in “The Windows” the poet is portrayed as relentlessly searching for a means to access the Eternal, in “The Azure”, perhaps as a consequence of realizing the impossibility of his quest for the Ideal, the poet seeks refuge from the “unerring blade” of the Eternal. These conflicting attitudes towards the Ideal, one of obsessive seeking and one of despondent fleeing, can be interpreted as symptoms of the poet’s frustration with not being able to employ words / language in order to express the Ideal and the immaterial realm which symbolist poets such as Mallarmé sought to capture in their poetry. In Crisis in Poetry Mallarmé states that “verse makes up for what language lack, completely superior as it is” (75). Yet, by the end of the poem “The Azure”, in face of the triumphant Azure, the poet has no option but to “flee in… revolt so useless and depraved”, and accept his failure as a poet.

In “The Windows”, the window functions as “art” and as a “mystic state” becoming an interface between the physically experienced and observable “life” of “fetid incense” and “banal… veils” and the mystical unseen and the unknown. The dying man drags himself to the window in order to “see the sunshine on the stones” and to feel the warmth of the sun on his face. He is also “greedy for deep azure”, indicating his yearning to access the azure sky, which is an extended metaphor used to signal the Eternal and the Ideal. As he contemplates on the “vast nonchalance charged with memories” triggered by the view of the azure, he is “filled with disgust for the man… [who is] sprawled in comforts” and who is preoccupied with the material needs of his wife and offspring. At this point, the first-person “I” poet-narrator’s voice becomes interchangeable with that of the dying man in the hospital: “I flee and cling to all the window frames / Whence once can turn his back on life in scorn”. The window definitively becomes an access point to the Eternal and a means through which to escape mundane reality. Yet, despite this discovery, the poem does not end in triumph for the poet. As “The Windows” concludes, the poet realizes that his wings are “unfeathered” and that he is at risk of “falling through eternal skies”, prefiguring the poet’s changed attitude in “The Azure”.

The possibility of escape from reality and the hope for potential access to the Ideal present in “The Windows” are entirely replaced by negativity and pessimism in “The Azure”. The poem is saturated with words connoting negativity (depresses, damns, sterile, aching, Despair, destructive, powerless, empty, scorn, distressing, monotonous, Lethean, maliciously, Boredom, dismal, horror, dead, prison, cruel, tearful, wicked, agony, useless, depraved). At the very outset, the poet is portrayed as “the powerless poet” who, above all, now seeks refuge from the “Azure’s tranquil irony” and “the cruel Ideal”. For all his yearning, the poet has failed to access the Ideal, and the Azure has triumphed with a “wicked victory”, which penetrates the poet “Like an unerring blade”. He is haunted by this impasse and concludes the poem with a desperate cry to “The Sky”. Thus, “The Azure” can be interpreted as a poetic acceptance of Mallarmé’s incapability to pierce the veil of language and to create verse that can adequately embody the Ideal. The two poems “The Windows” and “The Azure” can therefore be read as expressions of the poet’s conflicting attitudes vis-à-vis the Ideal realm that he sought so hard to embody in his poetry.

Word Count = 631

Blogged by Lana


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