Saturday, April 29, 2023

Paul Valéry

 Paul Valéry

"In the eyes of those lovers of perfection, a work is never finished - a word that for them has no sense - but abandoned; and this abandonment, whether to the flames or to the public (and which is the result of weariness or an obligation to deliver) is a kind of an accident to them, like the breaking off of a reflection, which fatigue, irritation, or something similar has made worthless."  

~Paul Valéry.

[Aux yeux de ces amateurs d’inquiétude et de perfection, un ouvrage n’est jamais achevé, – mot qui pour eux n’a aucun sens, – mais abandonné ; et cet abandon, qui le livre aux flammes ou au public (et qu’il soit l’effet de la lassitude ou de l’obligation de livrer) est une sorte d’accident, comparable à la rupture d’une réflexion, que la fatigue, le fâcheux ou quelque sensation viennent rendre nulle.]

Paul Valéry (1871-1945) French poet, critic, author, polymath

Whilst this translation above is one possible version the current - shall we say verbatim (via google translation) is;-

"In the eyes of these lovers of uneasiness and perfection, a work is never finished – a word which for them has no meaning – but abandoned; and this abandonment, which delivers it to the flames or to the public (and whether it is the effect of lassitude or of the obligation to deliver) is a sort of accident, comparable to the rupture of a reflection, which the fatigue, the unfortunate or some sensation come to nullify"

..if a French reader would care to correct this 'raw version' I would be honoured.

In March 1933 Paul Valéry published an essay in “La Nouvelle Revue Française” (“The New French Review”) about his poem “Le Cimetière marin” (“The Cemetery by the sea”) and this quote emerged from there.


New Criterion had a great article a few years back (imho)

Le Cimetière marin is written in alexandrine /alexandrin, a verse form that was the leading measure in French poetry a couple of hundred years ago. It consists of a line of 12 syllables with major stresses on the 6th syllable (which precedes the medial caesura [pause]) and on the last syllable, and one secondary accent in each half line.

The foundation of most alexandrines consists of two hemistichs (half-lines) of six syllables each, separated by a caesura (a metrical pause or word break, which may or may not be realized as a stronger syntactic break):

Whilst somewhat reluctant to start a poetry war it would be most interesting to examine the form in the context of the scope of the rigours and how one might port them to our time and language.

I may have to temper this with Pindar's advice;-

"Do not, my soul, strive for the life of the immortals,
but exhaust the practical means at your disposal."


"On mountain peak, the eagle spreads its wings,
And in the valley, river softly sings.
The sun sets low, the day comes to a close,
As nature rests, and peacefulness imposes."

ou de moi

"Sur le sommet de la montagne l'aigle étend ses ailes,
Et dans la vallée, la rivière chante doucement.
Le soleil se couche, la journée se termine,
Comme la nature se repose, la tranquillité impose."

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