THE AFTERNOON OF A FAUN 1
L’Après-midi d’un Favne: eglogve2
~ by Stéphan Mallarmé
A translation by Kent H. Dixon
EXT. STEAMY WOODS, A BOG — AFTERNOON
In a steamy woods comes a sudden commotion, as of predator and prey—a brash frantic scramble through the brush and snapping limbs. Startling. Loud and close.
Two NYMPHS in a tumble with a rank FAUN—there is a splash; there was a splash that spooked the dream, and then all grows dark again, and then…
EXT. COPSE, BESIDE A STREAM — DAY
In a copse, near a stream, the faun wakes, blinks…
. (to the branches above him)
. These nymphs… I want… I would
. perpetuate them. Immortalize…with
. a throbbing pen:
He pushes himself onto to his elbows, looks down his length, then sits up.
. FAUN, CONT.
. ‘So bright their rosy flesh that it floats in
. the air still… ‘
. (he yawns)
. ‘This logy air, laden with wooly sleep….’
His head nods, weighted by a noseful of sleep, then jerks awake.
. FAUN, CONT.
. Did I just love a dream?
He is unsure, and that one doubt lingering from last night’s heap of putrid dreams, grows tendrils that branch and branch again ever finer, creeping forth out into the real woods, which are muggy with options.
Which goes to prove, he thinks, that he was just now giving himself to a phantom, a rosy pink salty phantom. A dry rape, if a damp dream.
. FAUN, CONT.
. Let’s think about this.
He thinks several beats, until his horns begin to itch.
. FAUN, CONT.
. (in the middle of his thought)
. … or, whether the women you are thus
. explicating represent a wink from your
. mythy mind, eh?
Faun, the illusion bursts from the blue eyes of the chaste one, cold as a virgin spring in May.
. But the other girl was in our way, flabby
. with sighs.
You think she contrasts with the first, what, like a warm breeze fluttering your fleece?
. (fingering his panpipes)
. I do not! Would it were so simple. These
. murmurs, you hear? You hear them through
. this swoon? This… tor – por…
An eerie MUSIC, Debussy meets Rapture Synthesizer. Oh, swoon that has this morning by the very throat—on this we agree. But this is no murmur from a flute, that sprays these woods with chords.
EXT. SICILIAN BOG — DAY
MUSIC and MONTAGE mingle—a coastline, a butterfly, CU of Faun’s wrist as sparse raindrops wetten it, and then in ECU evaporate, as the faun:
. FAUN, V.O.
. What is it then?
STAGE DIRECTION is becoming an active VOICE, remarkably close to the Faun’s, as montage gives ripples on the water, then steamy surface from warm rain, through next exchange.
. VOICE, V.O
. The ripples on the horizon—if not from wind,
. then think you it’s the blow of pipes so deft as
. to suck away the melody into the drone of an
. arid rain?
. FAUN, V.O.
. (determined, even earnest)
. God, man, whether that or not that, it is, on
. your lame unruffled horizon. . .
EXT. BOG — SAME
Faun drops any attitude and is most sincere, because his loss is universal:
. . . . it is the palpable, the stately, the
. unnatural sigh of inspiration, seeping
. back to heaven.
. Look, can’t you see a coast of faunland? Sicily,
. O, brink! Brink of calm Sicilian bog, which I
. plunder, vying with the sun…
. (coy, behind his hand)
. That’s my vanity.
He wets his lips and runs his fingers through his pinguid hair.
. FAUN, CONT.
. Bog, mute beneath little galaxies of flowers…
. Wake yourself up and tell it:
That I was carving here some hollow reeds to serve these lips of mine,
when set off against the greeny gold of leaf and wandering vine
thirsting for the springs about—then there, like a wave this white-like form
turning in her sleep: and that to the languid prelude from these pipes was born
a burst of startled swan…
Swan, faun? In feathery flight?
. No, not swans. A flight of flesh—two
. stampeding nymphs, plunging out of sight.
Pretty flat. Everything withers, singeing in this feral hour: he tries too hard. The bombast baffles the finer art that — poof! — makes disappear the glut of hymen sought by him who really only seeks the la.
. Solfeggios, not Sodoms. Then I’ll wake up.
Then he’ll wake to the first fervor, hard and alone, and soaked, under an ancient flood of light—, O, my dear Lily! Under one of you and—umph—under your heft of girlishness.
. Besides the sweet nothings from her spread
. lips, wasn’t there a kiss? So soft it could have
. been a lie. And yet, what’s this:
On his chest, a pristine proof, by god: testimony to a mysterious bite—some promising tooth was here.
. Basta! A secret like this gets whispered
. only into my big double reed, and plays out
. against a sheer blue sky.
Which SKY, amusing itself within his cheeks, dreams forth a long solo of seduction. Beauty all around, succumbs, fooled by false confusions between herself and a satyr’s wistful song. He may sing, his love may soar, he may squint at the dream of a back or flash of thigh—these dissolve into an empty…
…and monotonous line.
. (addressing his pipes)
. Ok, then let’s try a memory: naughty Syrinx,
. won’t you come to flower once again, on the
. shore where you escaped me…
Turned into a clump of reeds she did, rather than be mounted by a goat.
. …waiting for me still, should I choose to
. carve another reed. Sing for me now, pulp lips,
. while I, no tyro at such murmurs, will speak to
. you at length of goddesses.
. I’ll compose a tone poem of divinity—oh,
. to be admired!—and then strip it of its girdle!
. Thus, having sucked the bouquet from the
(…in order to banish his regret which his ploy could only stall, but this done languidly, as thighs might at first resist, then relent, then finally open)
He laughs, and toasts the heavens with the cluster of grapes.
. I raise the empty husk to the summer sky! And
. shall we, eager for our high, inflate the wrinkled
. skin just so? Peer through it comme ça? Leer and peep
. and keep on prying till night falls?
He holds a grape skin to one eye and scans the edge of woods. He exaggerates, as if performing, and now attempts to inflate a flattened grape skin with his expert air stream.
. Little darlings… O, Demigoddess One and Two…
. Shall we swell again some sundry memories…?
. Hell brands! it went like this: My gaze boring
. into the reeds, darted after a white nape of neck
. which doused its heat in the flurry of the splash…
. so I, then, with-heaved a huge HARROUGH!
A mighty cry of rage to the forest sky: panic in the canopy.
. FAUN, CONT.
. Thus that splendid splurge of gold white hair
. camouflaged itself to glitterings and shimmerings—
. O, damn this elusive pair, O, my darling precious
. jewels— O, my aching stones!
So up I rush: when there at my feet, tangled in each
other’s arms, legs entwined: would you believe these
Stunned no doubt by even just the hint that they cannot be one?
. (with gestures)
. Hoist them up, still tangled, haul them
. off to this clump of woods—no darkling
. grotto, I can tell you—
Indeed, brittle thicket scorned by the frivolous shade, a grove of roses whose sweet scent pales, all but exhausted by the sun…
. …where our little frolic be like this self-
. consuming day.
One must indeed be charmed by the anger of virgins… an exquisite, a fierce delight what with their fright and flight even as he bears them off writhing pink and white, even as the song escapes his lips—escape in both senses, both virgins…
SHEET LIGHTNING flickers in the distance, as if on cue.
. (taking up the song)
. …escapes my lips, escapes my art, escapes each
. of them the secret terror of the flesh retreating to,
. shall we say, to an interest? Terrified and…is this
. also curiosity quivering here, from the extended toe
. of the one hussy to the quick of the shy one? Her
. innocence washed away in tears—she’s all moist in
. wild tears…or…
. (beat, beat)
. …all moist period, at least.
. My only crime is that I, contented beast
. for conquering their giddy fears,
. split apart the kissy tangle of these queers
. that the gods’d seen fit to mingle,
. and with one finger in her sister’s dingle,
. to sympathetically stir a tingle in the other,
. in her folds, even as she, too naïve to even blush
. broke free—my goat-hood for the moment, mush—
. while she, my prey, ungrateful bitch, sans pity even for
. the sob
. I sucked, delicious gasp — Behold, your sob-besotted
. Tough shit! I’ll find others for leading me to bliss…
. by their braids, knotted round my forehead’s horns.
. You know, Purple Passion, how the pomegranate swells,
. past ripe, lewd, then bursts to the buzz of bees; just so
. our blood, drawn by whatever fantasy, rises to the swarm
. of lusts unending.
A pretty figure! But look out upon the waste of fallen leaves there: now when these woods dress up in gold and ashen dusk, is there not a feast at hand? See? Weep?
. Etna! Across your slopes Venus lopes—
. God, her sweet and naked feet!
Just subtract volcano and what remains, when thunder rumbles sleepily and flames wink mutely out?
. Then I have the queen!
. And certain punishment.
Not precisely, more like the marrow of empty words, plus your tired heavy body sinking, poor faun, beneath the proud, vast silence of noon.
. That would be enough. Yes, enough.
. (he sighs, lies back)
. Must sleep now, in the shade of my blasphemy.
. (closes eyes)
. Here lies faun, on the lying sand, and, as is his
. wont and pleasure…
. (opens his mouth wide)
He can’t quite smile, mouth open to the sky, which is his medicine, the stars. The heady wine of stars.
. Girls, adieu. We’ll see you in — you
. know… in our dream.
. [ ]
. Note 1: This is a somewhat free translation of Stéphan Mallarmé’s L’Après-midi d’un Favne: eglogve, though not any ‘freer,’ i.e., further from the original, I would say, than are different translations at variance with one another. Call it proportional and respectful then, modernized somewhat, with a bent toward clarifying (an un-Mallarméan impulse, to be sure), a preference for story over ambiguity, but still with an ear for sound and suggestion and even a nose for theory, and finally with a long regard for the generations of fauns that have come and come again, since this one’s coming of age in 1876.
. Fauns evolve, after all, of no less a contentious dialectic than poetic form or aesthetic desire. An interview elucidating these concerns further for Playboy Magazine with this particular faun is available with this translation.
. Note 2: An eglogve, as Mallarmé’s original is subtitled, is, in Virgil’s Eclogues at least, a short pastoral poem built around two shepherds conversing; hence, a dialogue; here, a faun’s colloquy with himself on whether he has just had a nymph, or has only dreamed he had—plus overtones and under things.
THE CORPSE WASHERS
~ by Rainer Maria Rilke
A translation by Kent H. Dixon
They’d gotten used to him, until
the kitchen lamp was lit
to flicker in the eddies of that gloom;
but the unknown one stayed all unknown.
They washed his throat and neck,
and since they knew nothing of his life,
they made another for him,
as they kept on their washing.
One girl had to cough,
and set down the sponge,
vinegar-soaked, on his face.
Then the other paused—a moment’s respite,
and from her scrub brush, the bristles dripped,
while his horrid hand…gnarled as if in cramp,
as if in protest: Tell them all,
he no longer thirsted.
It worked. They cleared their throats,
as one embarrassed and hurried up the work,
so that on the wall among the flowered patterns,
their shadows hunched and lurched,
as if taken in a net; they writhed in quiet,
until the washing ended.
The night, pressed against the bare window frame,
was pitiless, and the one without a name
lay stark and naked there,
and gave commands.