Incipit: On Poetry and Crisis

If, in his earlier writings, Mallarmé often turns to the preposition “après,” his later writings are frequently inflected by the modifier “presque.” I show how “presque” is a key instrument in Mallarmé’s “jeu de la parole,” a word that enables the “Glorieux Mensonge” that is literature, and that, in the case of “Crise de vers,” appears to undermine central statements on language, Hugo, and vers libre. As a device that makes believe, as much as it removes the veils of illusion, “presque” is not unrelated to the roles played by magic and mysticism in Mallarmé’s concept of rhyme, as well as the historical role of religion in French prosody, explored here, alongside a close 21 reading of the central pages in “Un coup de dés.” A signature term in Mallarmé’s poetics, “presque” reminds us to return to notions of “play” and the “game,” even where Mallarmé claims to speak of “crisis.” (TC)

The broad strokes of literary and art history offer a portrait of Stéphane Mallarmé as the author of “Un coup de dés”: the poem that pivoted poetry away from metrical forms and toward visual ones. But how does rhyme figure in this narrative? An indispensable component of French verse from its medieval origins through the late nineteenth century, rhyme was as central to Mallarmé’s conception of verse as it was to his process of composition. This essay investigates rhyme’s role in Mallarmé’s thinking about le vers at the moment of its crisis, finding the poetic structure to bear a peculiar capacity to mirror the mind. The essay proposes that critical attentiveness to this capacity—which is also identified as poetry’s condition of possibility in “Crise de vers”—might point the way to a more coherent account of the crise, Mallarmé, and indeed the whole of modern poetry. (LY)

Thomas C. Connolly and Liesl Yamaguchi
Yale University and Boston College
Volume 50.1–2