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This review is taken from PN Review 77, Volume 17 Number 3, January - February 1991.

SOMETHING TANGIBLE Poems of Mallarmé, a bilingual edition with versions in English, an introduction and an illustration by Brian Coffey, (New Writers' Press/The Menard Press) £5

To pay homage to Brian Coffey at eighty-five, two of the independent presses most supportive of his work in old age have collaborated on this attractively produced collection of his Mallarmé translations, introduced by the poet himself, and with a pastel graphic of what looks like Dalkey Island reproduced for good measure - excellent value for the modest outlay. As a birthday tribute Poems of Mallarmé could hardly be improved on, although the translations testify to the formidable, perhaps insurmountable, problems of giving another life to words stubbornly insistent on remaining within the ambit of their origin. Keith Bosley's impressive and ambitious Penguin versions, generally if not universally welcomed on their appearance more than a decade ago, offer perhaps the most accessible measure of comparison (even if out of print), which in the aftermath of celebration must naturally occur. This is how Bosley renders the conclusion of Mallarmé's sonnet for 'The Tomb of Edgar Poe':


Calm block dropped from a dark
   catastrophe,
Let this granite at least for ever show
Bounds to black future flocks of blasphemy.


Coffey, here as elswhere freeing himself from the constraints of rhyme and rhythm, adopts a much more literal approach:


calm block fallen here below from some
   mysterious star-death
may this granite at least for ever show their
   bound
to the black flights of blasphemy scattered
   through the future.


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