The Whole Soul Summed Up

Smoke rings

Toute l’âme résumée
Quand lente nous l’expirons
Dans plusieurs ronds de fumée
Abolis en autres ronds

Atteste quelque cigare
Brûlant savamment pour peu
Que la cendre se sépare
De son clair baiser de feu

Ainsi le chœur des romances
À la lèvre vole-t-il
Exclus-en si tu commences
Le réel parce que vil

Le sens trop précis rature
Ta vague littérature.

The whole soul summed up
When slowly we exhale it
In several rings of smoke
Abolished in other rings

Attests some cigar
Burning cannily if
The ash separates at all
From its bright kiss of fire

Thus if the chorus of romances
Flies to your lips
Exclude therefrom if you begin [to compose]
The real because [it’s] vile

A too-precise meaning crosses out
Your vague literature.

Stéphane Mallarmé
Poésies (1899)

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