Stéphane Mallarmé, “The Swan”

Virgin, vivacious,
beautifully present day—
will it rend for us
with a beat of drunken wings
this hard lake beneath whose frost

haunts the transparent
glacier of flights never flown?
From days of old, one
swan recalls that it was he,
magnificent, without hope,

who gave himself up
for not having sung the land
of life, when sterile
winter glitters with ennui.
His long neck will shuffle off

this blank agony—
space that a bird disavows
but not the horror
of ground where plumage is trapped.
A phantom that his pure blaze

assigns to this one
zone, lying immobilized
in the chill dreaming
of his contempt, appareled
in a fruitless exile— Swan.

Translation by James Kirkup. The painting is Robert Motherwell’s “Mallarmé’s Swan,” from 1944.

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