Mallarme's works are difficult, but rewarding. Sometimes, through the barriers of death, isolated human souls, and the thickets of two languages, he speaks to me. At least I want to believe he does ^^;
The White Waterlily shows the ultimate failure of human communication. In the online world Second Life, I attend several discussion groups. After each meeting, I come away with the feeling that the words mean something different to each of us, based on our education, bias, and life experiences. How can we comprehend all that context in a few short sentences? The word God, for example, is often connected with the word Father. If you has a good father, or a terrible father, then that word drags in a whole set of concepts to enliven God. But what if you never knew your father? Then, that word would bring none of the meaning the communicator expects us to be hearing.
In Mallarme's prose poem, the rower sets out with specific goals, a search for water plants, to survey the property line, and to say hello to a friend. In his little boat the fragile self is carried along until a swamp halts his progress. In my mind, the swamp is all the clog of sensory data that is hurled at us day by day, compounded so very much since Mallarme's day. Then, he sees the "other"...he senses her presence, he imagines her thoughts...but he cannot ever know them. She makes no indication that she has even seen him. At last, he gives up and departs, taking one flower as a memory of the (non)-event.
In speaking to others, we use words that we hope will cut through the swamp and reach them intact and full of our intentions. But these words arrive naked, and are re-clothed by the hearer. So we must not only judge our own, posssible hidden, intentions, but guess at the mind of the hearer...what do they think we mean? In that moment, human communications fail, and we drift back downstream, clutching our version of the memory of what may have occurred.