Tuesdays with Stéphane

Posted by on September 19, 2011

Eleven million copies of Tuesdays with Morrie have been sold.

But one hundred years before Mitch Albom began spending the-day-after-Monday with Morrie, a previous Tuesday gathering had already left its mark upon the earth and walked triumphantly into the pages of history.

You are cordially invited to the home of
Stéphane Mallarmé
89 Rue de Rome, Paris
Tuesdays, 9PM until Midnight

Stéphane Mallarmé was an English teacher who wrote a little poetry on the side.

Marcel Proust, the writer Grahame Greene would call “the greatest novelist of the 20th century,” was fond of Mallarmé but did not care for his poetry, saying, “How unfortunate that so gifted a man should become insane every time he takes up the pen.”


Other writers who spent Tuesdays with Stéphane were André Gide, Paul Valéry, Oscar Wilde, Paul Verlaine, Rainer Maria Rilke, and W.B. Yeats. Of these, only Verlaine was impressed with the poems of Stéphane Mallarmé.

Of greater consequence, perhaps, than the writers who gathered on Tuesdays were the artists who came and filled Stéphane’s house with their drawings and paintings of him. These “Tuesday” works of art are now worth tens of millions of dollars though very few people realize Stéphane Mallarmé is the man portrayed. These works of art sell for millions because they were created by Manet, Degas, Gaugin, Whistler, Renoir and Munch.

Auguste Rodin would pop in from time to time even though he was busy sculpting The Thinker. Claude Monet said very good things about the snacks. Yes, these were the days when legends walked the earth but they did not yet realize they were legends. In Paris they were known only as Les Mardistes, derived from the French word for Tuesday; “The Tuesday people of Stéphane Mallarmé.”

Mallarmé believed poetry should evoke thoughts through suggestion rather than description and that it should approach the abstraction of music.

Music! Claude Debussy, speaking of his masterpiece The Afternoon of a Faun, said “The music of this prelude is a very free illustration of Mallarmé’s beautiful poem… a succession of scenes through which pass the desires and dreams of the faun in the heat of the afternoon. Then, tired of pursuing the timorous flight of nymphs and naiads, he succumbs to intoxicating sleep…”

Likewise, Ravel wrote Trois poèmes de Stéphane Mallarmé shortly after Mallarmé died, fantastic music dedicated to his memory.

It’s easy to understand why musicians and impressionist painters liked Mallarmé. He said, “I am creating a language which must necessarily spring from a quite new conception of poetry, and I define it in these words: To paint, not the thing, but the effect which it produces.”

Mallarmé liked images of snow, ice, swans, gems, mirrors, cold stars, and women’s fans. He saw the poet’s function as being, above all, “to give a purer meaning to the words of the tribe.”

The music of Debussy and Ravel.
The sculpture of Rodin.
The words of Proust, Wilde and Yeats.
The paintings of Monet, Degas, Gaugin and Renoir.

The world may have forgotten Stéphane Mallarmé but we will never forget his tribe.

Les Mardistes.

It is enough.

Roy H. Williams

“Certainly Mallarmé prepared his conversations,” recalled André Gide of
those Tuesday night meetings, “but he spoke with such art and
in a tone that had so little of the doctrinal about it
that it seemed as if he had just that instant
invented each new proposition.

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