Un coup de dés

Page from Un Coup de Dés jamais n'abolira le Hasard (1897) by Stéphane Mallarmé
Edition of l’Imprimerie Nationale from 1990

Stéphane Mallarmé worked on his long poem Un coup de dés (A Throw of the Dice), which consists of ten printed pages, for thirty years. The first printed version that approximately conformed to his wishes was begun in 1897, shortly before his death, and thus can be considered definitive only in a limited sense. The status and esthetic intention of the work go far beyond classic pattern poetry: the main phrase—Jamais un coup de dés n’abolira le hasard (A throw of the dice will never abolish chance)—is strewn across the entire text in the largest typeface. The spaces in between have subordinate clauses using nine other typefaces and types of highlighting. The intention was to enable a reading on several levels, similar to that of a score. Large blanks spaces and entirely blank pages allow the reader to experience his or her own shipwreck (naufrage). Particularly easy to understand in French, the phonetic equivalence of, for example, maître (master) and mètre (meter) or coup de dés (throw of the dice) and coup d’idées (spontaneous insight) permit many associations. The parallels to Claude Debussy’s esthetic of surfaces are obvious: the principle of the construction of La mer (The Sea; 1905) is not goal-oriented progression but rather the simultaneity or sequence of many small, brief movements. Mallarmé’s work has inspired many, mostly unsatisfying attempts at translation, film versions, and musical settings. In 1998, it was projected onto the four walls of a room at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris and could thus be experienced spatially like a constellation of stars.


  • original Title: Un coup de dés
  • Date: 1897
  • Genre: Poem