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Lesson: Mallarmé

“A Throw of Dice Never Will Abolish Chance”

By Stéphane Mallarmé; Trans. A.S. Kline

Level: College

After assigning “A Throw of Dice Never Will Abolish Chance” and its accompanying preface for your students to read and annotate out of class, have several students take turns reading parts of the poem aloud during the next class period. If read closely, students begin to pick up on the concept that the lines do not necessarily have to be read in order, and that the reader can choose whether to read the different font sizes together or to read the phrases of a similar font size as consecutive. If, from the primary reading in class, your students do not pick up on this facet of the poem, discussion should focus on the sense of a reader’s choice. The students can re-read the poem in a new light after the discussion.

Once this reading takes place, return to the preface and ask your students the following questions:

  1. In his preface, Mallarmé posits that the blank spaces “indeed take on importance.” How does he further explain the importance of these blank spaces? Point to a place in the poem where you think the blank space is crucial to the piece.

  2. Why are the words “A Throw of Dice Never Will Abolish Chance,” the poem’s title, cut up and placed throughout the poem? How do the parts of the title integrate into the other material in the poem?

  3. Before mentioning the Master, the poem references “a vessel / rocked from side to side.” To what extent is this rocking reflected in the form of the poem itself? In the context of the poem, how much control does this Master have over his vessel?

  4. Why does Mallarmé include several different font sizes throughout this poem? How does this strategy affect the way you read the poem?

  5. Towards the end of the poem, the speaker mentions a constellation, calling it “cold with neglect and desuetude / not so much though / that it fails to enumerate / on some vacant and superior surface.” How is this poem working to fulfill this sense of the constellation? What does this section posit about our reading process?

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