Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE WHITE WATER LILY, by STEPHANE MALLARME

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Classic and Contemporary Poetry

THE WHITE WATER LILY, by                 Poet's Biography
First Line: I had been rowing for a long time with a sweeping, rhythmical, drowsy stroke
Last Line: Sometimes and lingers by a spring which must be crossed or by a lake.

I had been rowing for a long time with a sweeping, rhythmical, drowsy stroke, my
eyes within me fastened upon my utter forgetfulness of motion, while the
laughter of the hour flowed round about. Immobility dozed everywhere so quietly
that, when I was suddenly brushed by a dull sound which my boat half ran into, I
could tell that I had stopped only by the quiet glittering of initials on the
lifted oars. Then I was recalled to my place in the world of reality.
What was happening? Where was I?
To see to the bottom of my adventure I had to go back in memory to my early
departure, in that flaming July, through the rapid opening and sleeping
vegetation of an ever narrow and absent-minded stream, my search for water
flowers, and my intention of reconnoitering an estate belonging to the friend of
a friend of mine, to whom I would pay my respects as best I could. No ribbon of
grass had held me near any special landscape; all were left behind, along with
their reflections in the water, by the same impartial stroke of my oars; and I
had just now run aground on a tuft of reeds, the mysterious end of my travels,
in the middle of the river. There, the river broadens out into a watery thicket
and quietly displays the elegance of a pool, rippling like the hesitation of a
spring before it gushes forth.
Upon closer examination, I discovered that this tuft of green tapering off
above the stream concealed the single arch of a bridge which was extended on
land by a hedge on either side surrounding a series of lawns. Then it dawned on
me: this was simply the estate belonging to the unknown lady to whom I had come
to pay my respects.
It was an attractive place for this time of year, I thought, and I could only
sympathize with anyone who had chosen a retreat so watery and impenetrable.
Doubtless she had made of this crystal surface an inner mirror to protect
herself from the brilliant indiscretion of the afternoons. Now, I imagined, she
must be approaching it; the silvery mist chilling the willow trees has just
become her limpid glance, which is familiar with every leaf.
I conjured her up in her perfection and her purity.
Bending forward with an alertness prompted by my curiosity, and immersed in
the spacious silence of the worlds still uncreated by my unknown lady, I smiled
at the thought of the bondage she might lead me into. This was well symbolized
by the strap which fastens the rower's shoe to the bottom of the boat; for we
are always at one with the instrument of our magic spells.
"Probably just somebody . . ." I was about to say.
Then, suddenly, the tiniest sound made me wonder whether the dweller on this
bank was hovering about me-perhaps by the river!--while I lingered there.
The walking stopped. Why?
Oh, subtle secret of feet as they come and go and lead my imagination on, and
bend it to the desire of that dear shadow! She is hidden in cambric and in the
lace of a skirt flowing on the ground, floating about heel and toe as if to
surround her step before she takes it, as (with folds thrown back in a train)
she walks forth with her cunning twin arrows.
Has she-herself the walker-a reason for standing there? And yet have I the
right, on my side, to penetrate this mystery further by lifting my head above
these reeds and waking from that deep imaginative drowse in which my clear
vision has been veiled?
"Whatever your features may be, madame (I whisper to myself), I sense that the
instinctive, subtle charm created here by the sound of my arrival would be
broken if I saw them-a charm not to be denied the explorer by the most
exquisitely knotted of sashes, with its diamond buckle. An image as vague as
this is self-sufficient; and it will not destroy the delight which has the stamp
of generality, which permits and commands me to forget all real faces; for if I
saw one (oh, don't bend yours here, don't let me see it on this ephemeral
threshold where I reign supreme!), it would break the spell which is of another
I can introduce myself in my pirate dress and say that I happened here by
Separate as we are, we are together. Now I plunge within this mingled
intimacy, in this moment of waiting on the water, my revery keeps her here in
hesitation, better than visit upon visit could do. How many fruitless talks
there would have to be-when I compare them to the one I have had, unheard-before
we could find so intimate an understanding as we do now, while I listen along
the level of the boat and the expanse of sand now silent!
The waiting moment lasts while I decide.
Oh, my dream, give counsel! What shall I do?
With a glance I shall gather up the virginal absence scattered through this
solitude and steal away with it; just as, in memory of a special site, we pick
one of those magical, still unopened water lilies which suddenly spring up there
and enclose, in their deep white, a nameless nothingness made of unbroken
reveries, of happiness never to be-made of my breathing, now, as it stops for
fear that she may show herself. Steal silently away, rowing bit by bit, so that
the illusion may not be shattered by the stroke of oars, nor the plashing of the
visible foam, unwinding behind me as I flee, reach the feet of any chance walker
on the bank, nor bring with it the transparent resemblance of the theft I made
of the flower of my mind.
But if, sensing something unusual, she was induced to appear (my Meditative
lady, my Haughty, my Cruel, my Gay unknown), so much the worse for that
ineffable face which I shall never know! For I executed my plan according to my
rules: I pushed off, turned, and then skirted a river wave; and so, like a
noble swan's egg fated never to burst forth in flight, I carried off my
imaginary trophy, which bursts only with that exquisite absence of self which
many a lady loves to pursue in summer along the paths of her park, as she stops
sometimes and lingers by a spring which must be crossed or by a lake.

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