Mother Goose and Mallarmé

Daniel Tiffany

in Infidel Poetics

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print October 2009 | ISBN: 9780226803098
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226803111 | DOI:
Mother Goose and Mallarmé

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Lyric obscurity serves, however, as a medium linking vernacular poetry to its literary counterpart. Stéphane Mallarmé, for example, whose verse represents a kind of gold standard, one might say, of lyric obscurity, toiled as a young writer in one of poetry's frivolous underworlds, the topsy-turvy realm of Mother Goose, converting 141 English nursery rhymes into veritable prose poems. One would want to mention that he was sampling Mother Goose at about the same time he first began translating the verse of Edgar Allan Poe, but it is more important to stress that he produced these nursery rhymes for his day job as an English teacher, as grammatical exercises for a classroom of chattering ten-year-olds. Mallarmé discovered in the verbal prosthetics of the classroom, comprising mnemonic phrases, philological jargon, and antiquarian kitsch, a sort of glamour akin to the netherworld of his own poetry. This chapter reviews Mallarmé's transactions in lyric obscurity—between the illogic of Mother Goose and his own, evolving Symbolist doctrine. From this perspective, the correspondences between Mallarmé's formidable poems and his nursery rhymes offer a striking illustration of the hypothesis that obscurity in literary poetry owes a general and sometimes quite specific debt to vernacular forms and idioms. Yet it is precisely the vernacular and pedagogical orientation of these writings that inhibited not only their publication but closer examination of their relation to Mallarmé's poetry.

Keywords: vernacular poetry; Stéphane Mallarmé; Mother Goose; poetic obscurity; lyric obscurity; obscurantism

Chapter.  6481 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (Poetry and Poets)

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