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At his home outside Paris, in Valvin, Stéphane Mallarmé spent much time on his small boat dreamily sailing upon the Seine, seeing this body of flowing water as a site for inspiration and inscription. Indeed, Mallarmé once confided to a friend, “I no longer write a poem without an aquatic reverie running through it,” and that, for him, poetry was like an “oar stroke,” and the sail, a “white page.” When Mallarmé was invited to lecture at Oxford University in 1894, he did not speak specifically of time spent on the water, his life on the Seine, but his own pronouncements on poetic form and function seem inspired by his own aquatic reveries about surfaces and depths, transparency and opacity, and of those fluid spaces of the imagination that can be approached but not penetrated, of liquid impressions seen but not solidified. In my essay, I discuss Mallarmé’s seminal Oxford lecture and the manner in which his time on the water, his reveries floating upon its surface, offer a way into his poetic pronouncements, as well as into a poetry that remains to this day rich in mystery, power, and enduring inspiration. The essay concludes with a discussion of my own “Writing on Water” art and poetry installation, in 2017, at Oxford University, a project presented in conjunction with the conference “Power of the Word | The Prophetic Word” where I delivered a variation of the essay that follows.


Published in the Journal of Foreign Languages and Cultures (Dec. 2019). Vol. 3, No. 2: 55-63.

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