How to translate Mallarmé’s poem Apparition in English and realize…

There are maybe four great French poets of this time : Verlaine, Rimbaud, Baudelaire, and… Mallarmé.

Mallarmé’s poetry is haughty, “learned”, puzzling, abstract. Thus, it’s a game for the poetry lover – and impossible to translate properly!

Here’s the end of Apparition :

Qui jadis, sur mes beaux sommeils d’enfant gâté
Passait, laissant toujours de ses mains mal fermées
Neiger de blancs bouquets d’étoiles parfumées.

I found this translation :

Who, in the blissful dreams of my happy childhood
Used to hover above me sprinkling from her gentle hands
Snow-white clusters of perfumed stars.

Okey, but no… It should be more like…

Who, long ago, along my spoiled child lovely sleeps
Was passing, always letting, from her improperly closed hands,
Snow some bouquets white of perfumed stars.

As always, translation poetry is a mess, and with this guy it’s worse, because… even in French we’re not sure!

  • Enfant gâté means spoiled child, but it’s ALSO a positive happy thing, it can be “overly happy childhood” (mmmh maybe it’s the same in English?).
  • And here, sprinkling sounds wrong to me. She doesn’t “sprinkle”, but, as her hands are “mal fermées” (“incompletely closed”, but on purpose, right?), she from her hands lets perfumed stars… snow.
  • The color white must be placed after the word in French : “un bouquet blanc”. If you put it before, you sound “poetic”, which made me write “a bouquet white”. How does it sound?

Ahhh, have fun, thanks for reading!

I added Mallarmé painted by Manet, his friend – who could perfectly paint him academically, but chose, I suppose, to show something else…

Apparition

La lune s’attristait. Des séraphins en pleurs
Rêvant, l’archet aux doigts, dans le calme des fleurs
Vaporeuses, tiraient de mourantes violes
De blancs sanglots glissant sur l’azur des corolles.
— C’était le jour béni de ton premier baiser.
Ma songerie aimant à me martyriser
S’enivrait savamment du parfum de tristesse
Que même sans regret et sans déboire laisse
La cueillaison d’un Rêve au coeur qui l’a cueilli.
J’errais donc, l’oeil rivé sur le pavé vieilli
Quand avec du soleil aux cheveux, dans la rue
Et dans le soir, tu m’es en riant apparue
Et j’ai cru voir la fée au chapeau de clarté
Qui jadis sur mes beaux sommeils d’enfant gâté
Passait, laissant toujours de ses mains mal fermées
Neiger de blancs bouquets d’étoiles parfumées.

portrait_mallarme_900.jpg

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