Towards a Poetics of Suggestion: The interplay of poetic form and thematic motif in Mallarmé’s ‘Éventail de Méry Laurent’
Stéphane Mallarmé’s éventail or fan poems, as they are widely referred to, encapsulate many different dimensions of his poetic oeuvre, such as his experimentation with the form of written texts, the incorporation of visual imagery and illustration into poetry and his interest in East-Asian art. For this paper, I will complement in particular Erin Edgington’s recent study of nineteenth-century French fan poetry by considering the éventail poems not only as the physical objects that they rightly are, but also by emphasising the interplaybetween poetic form and thematic motifs. My main focus will be on ‘Éventail de Méry Laurent’, a sonnet dedicated to Mallarmé’s dear friend Méry Laurent written on a gold fan in white ink, decorated with roses. Thematically, the sonnet juxtaposes imagery of contained and fluid fragrance and breath and alludes to sculpture as a solid form of representation compared to the suggestive fluctuating movements of a lady’s fan. These themes are connoted within the rhyme scheme of the traditional sonnet form and given the octosyllabic metre, the poem reads in a fleeting yet alert fashion, opening up the various potential relationships between its thematic images. The reading experience could thus be seen as constituted by moments of relative fluidity, which alternatewith others where the reader’s conventional patterns of sense-making are blocked or disrupted.Referring to and interlinking motifs of suspension, ‘Éventail de Méry Laurent’ playfully opens up the reading experience to allusions beyond its own poetic form. In this way, Mallarmé’s poetry playsan integral role in shaping the future poetics of suggestion for modernist literature and visual arts.