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Summary Article: Mallarmé, Stéphane
from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

French poet. A leader of the Symbolist school, he became known as a poet's poet for his condensed, hermetic verse and unorthodox syntax, reaching for the ideal world of the intellect. His belief that poetry should be evocative and suggestive was reflected in L'Après-midi d'un faune/Afternoon of a Faun (1876; illustrated by Manet), which inspired the composer Debussy. Later works are Poésies complètes/Complete Poems (1887), Vers et prose/Verse and Prose (1893), and the prose Divagations/Digressions (1897).

After 1863 he composed mindfully and looked for the ideal essence of things beyond everyday reality, a movement symbolized by the heroine of the poem ‘Hérodiade’ 1864 and the satyr of L'Après-midi d'un faune (first composed 1865) and their attitudes of withdrawal and refusal. Mallarmé's important poems do not progress by images or by plot and narrative; instead they are self-contained verbal artifacts built around a central object (a room, a chair, stars), symbol, or idea. He devoted his life to the creation of a language capable of transmuting everyday realities onto a higher level. He also experimented with the visual impact of written verse, notably ‘Un Coup de dés/A Cast of the Dice’ 1914, in which the words are irregularly placed on the page and differing typefaces are used.

Mallarmé was born in Paris and taught English in schools in provincial towns such as Tournon and Besançon and later in Paris. He wrote little, was essentially a thinker and a talker, and gave up a good deal of his time to humdrum tasks such as translating and writing essays, occasional verse, and text books.

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