THE WHITE WATERLILY
by Stephane Mallarme
I had been rowing for a long while with wide, sweeping, rhythmical strokes, with inward eyes fixed upon complete forgetfulness of motion, as on all sides the laughter of that hour rippled on. So much immobility was aiding me in idling away the hour that, when suddenly tapped awake by a dull sound struck by my boat, I could only tell that I had stopped by way of the insistent sparkling of initials on the lifted oars; only then was I recalled to my place in the world of reality.
What was happening? I wondered. Where was I, anyway?
In order to retrace the course of my adventure, I had to go backwards in memory to my early morning departure, in the midst of this flaming-hot July, along the glittering interval lying between banks of sleeping vegetation, the space of a consistently narrow yet absent-mindedly wandering stream, in quest of water-flowers; but also with the specific intention of looking over the estates of a country retreat belonging to the lady friend of a lady friend of mine, to whom I was supposed to attempt to improvise the best greetings I could. With no particular ribbon of grass to tie me to one landscape rather than another -- all terrains driven back by the same impartial gesture of the oar -- I had just run aground on some tuft of reeds, a most peculiar terminal to all my travels, there in the very midst of a river. An ambiguous place, where all at once enlarged to a veritable grove of the waters, the flowing stream presented the unruffled casualness of a pond, faintly rippled by the intermittent hesitations of a spring as it departs from beneath the ground.
Upon closer examination, I discovered that this tuft of greenery in the very midst of the current, concealed the single arch of a bridge prolonged on land on both sides by the kind of hedge by which large lawns are usually surrounded. Then it came too me: Simply the grounds here of the estate belonging to Madame . . ., the unknown lady I had to greet.
It was a most attractive surrounding for this particular season; and surely the nature of any individual who would choose for a retreat a place so watery and impenetrable, could only conform with my own taste. Surely, she had made of these crystal-line surfaces an inner mirror to shelter her from the brilliant indiscretion of the afternoons; she had made her entrance, and so the silvery mist of the willows had soon become the lucidity of her vision, as gradually it grew familiar with the outlines of each leaf.
I invoked her in utter lustrousness.
Bent forward in the sporting posture in which my own curiosity held me -- also as if trapped beneath the force of the spacious silence produced by the stranger's presence to be -- I smiled at the thought of the possible bondage such a feminine presence might lead me into -- symbolized quite nicely by the strap which fastens the rowers shoe to the bottom of the boat, since we must always be one with the instrument of our enchantment.
"She or perhaps even anyone . . ." I was just about to sum it all up.
But then an almost imperceptible sound made me wonder whether the inhabitant of these shores was not at this very moment haunting my leisure; or, contrary to hope, whether it was only the sound of the pool.
The step stopped. But why?
O subtle secret of feet as they come and go, leading my imagination on, in the direction desired by the darling shadow buried deep in the cambric and lace of a skirt flowing down to the ground as if to surround from heel to toe, with a kind of floating boundary-line, that forward thrust by which a step elegantly -- with all its folds thrown back in a train -- opens the way for itself, speeding ahead with its skillful double arrow.
Or else does the promenader herself have a reason for standing there; and is it for me, by lifting my head too high to the tops of these reeds and dispersing this total mental somnolence in which my lucidity is veiled, to further interrogate this mystery? --
"Whatever your features may be, Madame, I truly feel the precision of their outlines threatening to interrupt an indefinable something created here by the rustling of an arrival -- something instinctive, some charm of what lies beneath which cannot be denied to the explorer, even by a diamond buckle such as yours, with its most explicitly knotted sash. An image as vague as the one I hold now is quite sufficient; it will not violate the delight stamped specifically by Generality, which permits and commands the exclusion of all faces, to the point where the revelation of any single face (O do not tilt yours toward me, definitive, beyond the shadow of a doubt, beyond the ephemeral threshold over which I have the right to reign!) would banish my excitement, a feeling, after all, generated so entirely independently of it."
I might also very well explain my appearance in the disguise of water marauder as being entirely the product of chance.
Separated so, we are yet united; and I immerse myself within this mingled intimacy, in this watery suspension, where my dreaming further delays the hesitant lady, binding her here, more firmly than even the lengthiest series of visits might permit. In comparison with the dialogue I have just held in order not to be heard, how many fruitless conversations would it take before we could recapture as intuitive an accord as we have here now, with my ear lowered among these planks of mahogany, cocked toward an expanse of sand now fallen silent.
This pause will be measured by the duration of my determination.
O my dream, advise me now, what to do?
I shall, with a single last look, gather up the virgin absence populating this solitude; and -- just as for a souvenir of some special place we pluck one of those magical, still unopened waterlilies which have suddenly appeared, enclosing within their hollow whiteness made out of yet unbroken dreams, made also out of my breath held now, for fear that she may yet show herself -- I shall steal away from this place. Leaving silently, rowing backwards, bit by bit so that no stroke will shatter the illusion; and so that, as I flee, no visible bubble's foamy bursting will fling down accidentally at the passing feet even the palely transparent reflection of the abduction of my flower of the Ideal.
If, sensing something unusual near here, she had appeared -- the Meditative Lady, or the Haughty Lady, or the Naughty Lady or the Cruel One -- so much the worse for that ineffable face I intend never to know! All in all, I accomplished the rower's maneuver correctly according to the rules; for I pushed off, turned back, and was already skirting the banks of a bend of the stream, carrying off like some noble swan's egg from which flight will never spring my imaginary trophy cup, filled only with that exquisite loss of self which, in summertime, along the pathways of her park, many a lady loves to pursue, as she sometimes pauses and lingers, as if at the edge of a spring which must be crossed or by some other body of water.
A Very Long Prose Poem by Stephane Mallarme
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