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Nijinsky’s Poème ChoreographiquedeL’Après-midi d’un faune



It is 1932.

Niinsky sits in a Swiss sanatorium, the wilting rose in a schizophrenic haze.

His overdeveloped thighs going to seed,

The tartar cheekbones lost in flaccid flesh.

At times, in the somber slanted eyes, there is a glimmering of times past

When he was the Faun:


It is Wednesday, May 29, 1912.

Serge Diaghilev, Auguste Rodin, and Claude Debussy

Take their seats for the premiere of Nijinsky’s L’Après-midi d’un faune

At the Theatre du Chatelet in Paris. The curtain rises

On Bakst’s backdrop of waterfalls, cypresses, and rocks.


We see Nijinsky, Mallarmé’s faun, reclining on a rocky knoll

Supporting himself on his left arm, right knee bent, playing a pipe.

The breathy warble of a flute is echoed by horns.

He is a dappled animal with large brown patches on his flesh

And a girdle of grapes hung about his waist

His ears are drawn up to points with wax

Beneath the wig of plaited gold thread crowned with horns.


On a harp arpeggio, seven nymphs enter

To wait upon their leader’s bath.

With snake-like tresses, they walk barefoot

In profile like dancers on Hellenic bas relief.

From his knoll, the faun catches their scent

And steals backward watching

The lead nymph as she removes her outer veils,

Which drift to the ground.


With splayed thumbs, the faun stalks his prey.

All run away terrified, except for the lead nymph

In her golden undergarment, but when he snatches at her,

She escapes.

The faun picks up the scarf.

A solo cello joins the flute familiarly

As he takes the fetish to his lair,

Lowering his pelvis on to it,

Arching his back in the final orgasmic release.


A din follows the astonished silence.

Shouts of “Bravo!” from Rodin are greeted with hisses and boos.

Cries of “wonderful!” alternate with “unspeakable!”

Some shout “Encore!”

And Diaghilev orders a repeat performance.

The entire cast takes a second curtain call.


Dripping with sweat and caked make-up,

Nijinsky returns to his dressing room.

Rolling down his hide,

He reveals his voluminous and powerful thighs.

As he dislodges his wig and removes his grease paint,

He anticipates his nightly jaunt through the Paris underworld,

Where he will look for prostitutes.

These nymphs he will catch!


Mary Barres Riggs

Dance Poetry
A comprehensive anthology
Edited by Alkis Raftis
Copyright 2012