Paul Valery

1871–1945
Paul Valery occupies a position in the history of French letters that is at once strategic and highly problematic. Critics have affixed to him various labels, all of them partially correct. He has been called the last French symbolist, the first post-symbolist, a masterful classical prosodist, an advocate of logical positivism, and a cerebral narcissist.

Clearly Valery was heir to the symbolist tradition of another French poet, Stephane Mallarme, whom he knew and venerated, who encouraged his early work, and whose other young disciples—Pierre Louis in particular—got Valery's work published. On the other hand, he is understood as having broken away from symbolism, as having rejected the cult of poetry for its own sake in favor of a cult of the mind. These views need not be contradictory.

In the highly formal, mannered musicality of Valery's verse, the influence of Mallarme is unmistakable. Valery's Notebooks (Cahiers) record his conviction that the subject of a poem was far less important than its "program": "A sort of program would consist of a gathering of words (among which conjunctives are just as important as substantives) and of types of syntactical moments, and above all a table of verbal tonalities, etc." Mallarme had said something very similar in "Music and Letters" ("La Musique et les lettres"): "I assert, at my own aesthetic risk, this conclusion: ... that Music and Letters are the alternate face here widened towards the obscure; scintillating there, with certainty of a phenomenon, the only one, I have named it Idea."

For Mallarme, as for his younger disciple, Idea was not a theme that could be formulated in a sentence or two; it was not a thought but rather the ongoing process of thought within the mind. Yet although Mallarme believed that the end product of thought had to be a poem, Valery disagreed. In his view, thought—the mirror-like refraction of the human mind—was always an end in itself; poetry was simply a more or less desirable by-product, to be pursued as long as it stimulated the mental processes. As he put it in his Notebooks, "In sum, Mallarme and I, this in common—poem is problem. And this, very important." But Valery also declared: "For him: the work. For me, the self.... Poetry has never been an objective for me, but an instrument, an exercise." Responding to seventeenth-century poet and critic Nicolas Boileau's time-honored dictum that "my verse, good or bad, always says something," Valery asserted in the Notebooks, "There is the principle and the germ of an infinity of horrors."

A corollary of these convictions was the idea that no pure literature was possible as long as the writer thought of himself as addressing a public. As long as the audience for a text was kept in mind, Valery wrote in his Notebooks, "there are always reserves in one's thoughts, a hidden intention in which is to be found a whole stock of charlatanism. Therefore every literary product is an impure product." The relative purity of Mallarme, "the Master," as Valery called him, was thus entirely congruent with and dependent on both Mallarme's total disregard for—indeed, ignorance of—the public taste and his consequent obscurity (no one outside of a very small Parisian circle had read his poems or knew of his existence until well into the twentieth century). For Valery, as he reported in his Notebooks , "if a poet is allowed to use crude means, if a mosaic of images is a poem, then damn poetry."

A brief comparison of Valery's famous poem "The Young Fate" ( "La Jeune Parque") to Mallarme's "Herodiade" concretely illustrates the nature of the older writer's influence on the young one. Both poems depict a young woman engaged in narcissistic introspection, both embody a severely formal, musical prosody, and both deliberately reject any identifiable "content," or theme. Valery's poem is, in fact, more obscure and less musical than Mallarme's simply because it is more purely metaphysical (one is compelled to use the term despite Valery's abhorrence of it as connoting a certain intellectual frivolity).

Valery's passion for "scientific speculation," which is how he preferred to label his metaphysical writing and that of others, was the reason for his lifelong fascination with American writer Edgar Allan Poe. In The Tell-Tale Heart: The Life and Works of Edgar Allan Poe, Julian Symons has described Poe as divided between two obsessive tendencies in his writings, a visionary one and a logical one. Although Mallarme and French poet Charles Baudelaire had celebrated the visionary qualities in Poe, Valery most fully admired his powers of reason, as revealed through Poe's pseudo-scientific meditation on the nature of human knowledge, "Eureka," and through his brilliant practical logician, Auguste Dupin, the detective of "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" and "The Purloined Letter." "Valery's unyielding positivism (rationalism) is thus another characteristic setting him apart from other French writers. In an early letter to Andre Gide, Valery wrote: "Poe, and I shouldn't talk about it for I promised myself I wouldn't, is the only writer—with no sins. Never was he mistaken—not led instinctively—but lucidly and successfully, he made a synthesis of all the vertigoes."

James Lawler, probably the most prominent and reliable American critic of Valery's work, has, in The Poet as Analyst: Essays on Paul Valery, convincingly explained Valery's interest in "Eureka": "Quite apart from Poe's poetics, here was a work that fascinated [Valery] by its scientific theories, by its poetic subject ... [`the expression of a generalized will to relativity'] and, significantly, by the form adopted, which coincides, one may say, with Valery's own literary practice in La Jeune Parque [The Young Fate] and Charmes [Charms] ... [`example and enactment of the reciprocity of appropriation']." In "Eureka" Poe described knowledge and being as part of an interconnected system: "In the original unity of the first thing lies the secondary cause of all things, with the germ of their inevitable annihilation." From Poe's theory Valery extracted his own, odd fusion of the visionary and the logical, the mystical and the rational, which he however refused to admit as anything but pure science and logic. "The cosmogonic form," he wrote in his essay on "Eureka," "comprises sacred books, admirable poems, excessively bizarre stories, full of beauty and nonsense, physico-mathematical researches of a profundity sometimes worthy of an object less insignificant than the universe. But it is the glory of man to be able to spend himself on the void; and it is not only his glory. Lunatic researches are akin to unforeseen discoveries. The role of the nonexistent exists; the function of the imaginary is real; and pure logic teaches us that the false implies the true. It seems then that the history of the mind can be resumed in these terms: it is absurd by what it seeks, great by what it finds.... As for the idea of a beginning,—I mean of an absolute beginning—it is necessarily a myth. Every beginning is a coincidence; we would have to conceive it as I don't know what sort of contact between all and nothing. Trying to think of it one finds that all beginning is a consequence—every beginning completes something."

In the face of such statements, Valery's scorn for the mystical may seem incongruous, but this attitude is nevertheless a prominent feature of his thought, evident most of all in his contempt for the seventeenth-century mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal. One might say that he projected the visionary aspect, usually recognized in Poe, onto Pascal, while making Rene Descartes, Pascal's contemporary, a figure of what he admired in Poe, a logician and scientist. His recurrent, even obsessive, denigration of Pascal may reflect Valery's fear that his own distinction between science and metaphysics, rationalism and mysticism, might not hold up, that in fact—as is so evident in Valery's own "scientific" musings—there might be some mutual contamination of the categories. This suspicion is also borne out by Valery's response to the Jewish philosopher Henri Bergson during the German occupation of France during World War II; Valery publicly admired Bergson but added that he could not accept Bergson's belief that scientific knowledge was antithetical to the human spirit.

Valery conceived himself as an anti-philosopher, and he despised the new discipline of psychology as it was emerging in the work of neurologist and psychoanalytical pioneer Sigmund Freud, because both philosophy and psychology sought to do precisely what he wished to avoid: to interpret, to reduce, the form of thought, event, and act to a content. He criticized French novelist Marcel Proust for this very tendency, though in doing so he misread Proust. Valery, it must be admitted, was blinded to a great deal in literature by his obsessive commitment to purity of thought. In Margins of Philosophy Jacques Derrida has discussed Valery's aversion to Freud: "We will not ask what the meaning of this resistance is before pointing out that what Valery intends to resist is meaning itself. What he reproaches psychoanalysis for is not that it interprets in such or such a fashion, but quite simply that it interprets at all, that it is an interpretation, that it is interested above all in signification, in meaning, and in some principal unity—here, a sexual unity—of meaning."

Derrida sees Valery's formalism as both reflection and instrument of his "repression" of meaning, and indeed, Valery's rigid adherence to classical prosody is another trait that sets him very much apart from other twentieth-century French poets. He is undoubtedly the last French poet to write such intensely regular verse; to this extent at least his influence on later French poetry has been nil. Yet his reasons for remaining faithful to form—more so, in many instances, than Baudelaire and Mallarme who were formalists but innovative ones—were much more interesting than a mindless traditionalism. "To write regular verses," he declared in the Notebooks, "is without a doubt to submit oneself to a law which is strange, rather meaningless, always difficult, and sometimes atrocious.... Let us however try to find a matter for rejoicing in this.... The exigencies of a strict prosody are the artifice which confers upon natural language the qualities of a resistant matter."

Perhaps the most salient characteristic of Valery's work and person, and certainly the one to which he himself would have attached greatest importance, was his cult of the intellectual self. His fascination and personal identification with the Narcissus myth is well documented. Of an early poem on this subject, "Narcissus Speaks" ("Narcisse Parle"), he wrote (quoted in volume I of Oeuvres [Works]): "The theme of Narcissus, which I have chosen, is a sort of poetic autobiography which requires a few explanations and indications. There exists in Montpellier a botanical garden where I used to go very often when I was nineteen. In a rather secluded corner of this garden, which formerly was much wilder and prettier, there is an arch and in it a kind of crevice containing a slab of marble, which bears three words: PLACANDIS NARCISSAE MANIBUS (to placate the spirit of Narcissa). That inscription had brought on reveries in me, and here, in two words, is its story. In 1820, at this place, a skeleton was discovered, and according to local traditions, it was thought to be the tomb of the poet [Edward] Young. This girl, who died in Montpellier toward the end of the eighteenth century, couldn't be buried in the cemetery, since she was a Protestant. Her father is supposed to have buried her, on a moonlit night. The dead girl's name was Narcissa. The remains that had been found were identified as hers. For me the name Narcissa suggested Narcissus. Then I developed the idea of the myth of this young man, perfectly handsome or who found himself so in his reflection. I wrote at the time the very first Narcissus, an irregular sonnet...."

Why the young man should have been so inspired by this circumstantial evocation of the Narcissus story is perhaps suggested by a line—"I endlessly delight in my own brain"—appearing in a poem written in 1887. Indeed, Valery's poetic output slowed to the merest trickle from 1892 to 1912 because at that time he apparently judged literature not the best medium for "enjoying his brain."

The events of Valery's life clearly influenced the development of his poetic theories and practices. He was born in the small western Mediterranean village of Cette, now spelled Sete, in the same year as Proust, the year of the Paris Commune and the Franco-Prussian War: 1871. Because his mother was Italian and his father was Corsican, Valery was probably as comfortable speaking Italian as French. He attended school at the College de Sete, now renamed in his honor, and at the lycee of the nearby city of Montpellier. In 1888, he passed the baccalaureat and entered law school, where literature first began to strike a responsive chord in him and he began to make contacts with the Parisian literary group surrounding Mallarme. In 1889 he read Joris Karl Huysmans's novelistic manifesto of decadence, Against the Grain (A rebours), in which Mallarme's poem "Herodiade" is discussed admiringly, and the following year he met the young writers Pierre Louis and Andre Gide. It was the former, editor of a small literary magazine called La Conque , who first showed Valery's work to Mallarme and got several of his early poems into print, including "Narcissus Speaks."

Valery's introduction to Gide, by Louis, began a friendship that lasted throughout Valery's life and that has been documented in Robert Mallet's Self-Portraits: The Gide/Valery Letters, 1890-1942. Mallarme's ambiguously positive response to Valery's early work was reported by Gide: [Gide to Valery, July 12, 1892] "My friend, Mallarme has given me your poems; since he criticized them, he must esteem them. I was delighted by a few that I didn't know; some of them are much less good—that is, in comparison with others of your own. On reading them, I imagined them published, but Mallarme, when I saw him again, didn't seem to think it desirable." [Valery to Gide, July 13, 1892] "[Louis] and You are beastly Semites: one of you, for having underhandedly and covered with a cloak of distance, dared to present my vague alchemies to Mallarme, the other of you, for having dared even more, in not repeating to me textually the precious and pure panning I deserved from the Master. [Louis] is completely mute. Whereas you merely hint. Whom shall I kill? All joking apart, you are loathsome. If I knew [Gide's friend, writer Maurice] Quillot better, I should have you poisoned. Speak then, with no fear of stating every lamentable word." [Gide to Valery, July 25, 1892] "Here is what he said about your poems—and don't have me poisoned: `I'm surprised that with the tact and knowledge of poetry he sometimes shows, he leaves, here and there, some that would seem to me facile .' The remark surprised me. And that's about it."

Despite Mallarme's reservations, several of the poems were published. "Narcissus Speaks" was immediately celebrated by the Paris literary establishment and selected by Adolphe Van Bever and Paul Leautaud for their important anthology Poets of Today (Poetes d'aujourd'hui). In fact, if not for Van Bever and Leautaud's recognition of the merit of his early work, Valery might have been completely forgotten during the long period when he wrote almost no poetry.

In 1892, Valery completed work on his law degree and embarked upon an unrequited and, by his own admission, "ludicrous" love affair. Similar more or less debilitating infatuations symptomatic of Valery's extreme but repressed emotionalism and sensitivity occurred throughout his life. This first love probably had something to do with the intellectual and spiritual crisis of 1892 that caused him to renounce poetry for twenty years. He took up poetry again, of course, but even as an old man he would continue to be profoundly troubled by what he regarded as the unsolvable equation of love.

One of his last works, a two-part dramatic work called My Faust (Mon Faust), attempted to deal with the issue and was never completed. As Charles G. Whiting has written in Paul Valery, "The unfinished play `Lust' ... remains as a testimony of his longing for a perfect communion he never found." In "Lust" and "The Solitary" ( "Le Solitaire" ), which together comprise My Faust, one finds the most frank treatment by Valery of his profound fear of sensuality. This fear probably accounts more than any other factor for his emotional crisis and twenty-year renunciation of poetry, since poetry, despite his attempts to purify or sterilize it, emblemized for Valery a certain sensuality of mind. His fear of sensuality may also explain his violent intellectual prejudices—against Freud, for instance, or against philosophy. According to Derrida, Valery rejected psychoanalysis and metaphysics because they focused upon meaning, and for Valery meaning was associated with the elevation of the physical, the sensual, over the formal properties of `pure' intellect. Furthermore, Freud offered the obvious explanation of why Valery might so vociferously vilify a belief in and search for meaning: the mind's repressed contents are always sexual. "Lust" allegorizes this profound conflict, never resolved by Valery.

Whiting's brief account of the play may thus help explain Valery's twenty-year refusal to embrace poetry as a career: "Before Faust's conclusion by exhaustion of possibilities, liberation, and death, there is in `Lust' a remarkable apotheosis of life in the garden-scene of the second act. Here the magical, musical spell of a beautiful evening brings Faust rapidly to a high point of pure enjoyment of being.... `Lust' ... attempts to synthesize extreme existence of mind and body with the extreme experience of love, even if in a very incomplete fashion. Almost from the beginning of the garden-scene Lust shows her love for Faust, and immediately after Faust's great monologue, she unconsciously places her hand upon his shoulder. Faust addresses her as `tu' and there is a brief moment of emotional communion with a birth of intimacy and tenderness, those beginnings of love which Valery prized above all other joys. Immediately, however, Faust retreats, and the apotheosis of the garden-scene comes to an end as he turns again to the dictation of his memoirs."

This "dictation of memoirs" appears to represent Valery's own intellectual narcissism, the self-directed literary activity of the Notebooks; Lust with her other-directed emotion seems to symbolize poetry that is meant to be read. Since Valery castigated all such audience-directed writing, he clearly must have felt comfortable with Faust's activities and motivations and anxious about Lust's. Indeed, his anxiety about Lust's appeal must have been extreme, for he was unable to finish the work. As Whiting explains, "Valery planned a fourth act for `Lust' which would have developed the love theme but he found the project too difficult for theatrical creation, perhaps in large part because of his own defensive attitudes. Already in the first act, Faust tells Mephistopheles that he wants only tenderness, not love, from Lust.... Love is a danger because [it is] so closely related to instincts, to the cyclical and repetitive functions of life.... And so the intimacy of Lust and Faust is only a fleeting moment in the second act, and the too difficult fourth act was never written."

Valery himself wrote in his Notebooks that "Lust and Faust are me—and nothing but me. Experience has shown me that what I wanted most is not to be found in another—and cannot find the other capable of trying without reserve to go to the end of the will to ... take love where it has never been." Neither the period of relative silence from 1892 to 1912 nor the resumption of a poetic vocation resolved this crisis, the dilemma of all Valery's life and work: he was never able to bring himself to embrace Lust, though at the end of his life he admitted that she was as integral to him as was the austere, argumentative, and intellectually prudish Faust.

Valery's crisis occurred during an October, 1892, stay in Genoa, Italy. During a stormy and sleepless night, he decided that poetry was not the loftiest and purest expression of the mind's activity. From then until 1912, he wrote little poetry, instead devoting most of his creative energies to the Notebooks. Every morning he would get up at around five o'clock and write meditations, notes, and speculations in small volumes that he intended for no one but himself. There were more than 250 of these notebooks at the end of his life, and they are not only now available in published form, but are, ironically, among the most important and most read—most public—of his writings.

During the years from 1892 to 1922, Valery first worked as a bureaucrat in the French War Office and then as secretary to Edouard Lebey, director of the French Press Association; he attended the Tuesday evening gatherings of artists, writers, and intellectuals at the home of Mallarme, and he married Jeannie Gobillard, a friend of Mallarme's daughter. He continued writing his Notebooks and began to publish essays—"Introduction to the Method of Leonardo da Vinci" ("Introduction a la methode de Leonard de Vinci" ), and his inquiry into dreams, "Studies" ("Etudes"). He also wrote and published "The Evening With Monsieur Teste" ("La Soiree avec Monsieur Teste") , in which he created the fictional character of Edouard Teste, a paragon of intellectual austerity and self-absorption, an "ideal" thinker, and therefore a role model for Valery himself. Teste might be thought of as a precursor of the figure Faust, but without the opposing figure of Lust. What Valery admired so much in Teste was that, as "The Evening With Monsieur Teste" reveals, he had "killed his puppet." That is, he did nothing conventional, "never smiled, nor said good morning or good night, ... seemed not to hear a `How are you?' " In "Letter From Madame Emilie Teste" ("Lettre de Madame Emilie Teste"), Valery's narrator imagined in him "incomparable intellectual gymnastics. This was not, in him, an excessive trait but rather a trained and transformed faculty. Here are his own words: `I gave up books twenty years ago. I have burned my papers also. I scrape the quick .... I keep what I want.' "

In 1912, Valery was persuaded to break his poetical fast by undertaking a major revision of his earlier poems, which would be published under the title Album of Old Verses (Album de vers anciens) in 1920. Suzanne Nash, in Paul Valery's Album de vers anciens: A Past Transfigured, writes, "Valery seems to have understood that any reconsideration of his own work would perforce lead him to a deeper understanding of problems fundamental to the creative process itself....This potentially self-constitutive dimension of the Album was certainly for Valery its ultimate justification....[Its somewhat dated tone is] the result of his intention to mount a critical engagement with his heritage, to offer a portrait gallery of predecessors whose faces emerge transfigured and transvalued according to the exigencies of a new poetics." Thus, Nash continues, "The Album de vers anciens...is a particularly precious and innovative poetic document, one which holds, inscribed within its structure, the poet's interpretation of his creative confrontation with his past. It represents a kind of chronicle in which the older poet seeks to recreate the intellectual crisis which led him to reject a nineteenth-century concept of poetry founded on an ethics of Symbolist idealism in favor of a poetry which claims autonomy through critical self-reference."

By 1920, Valery had already published The Young Fate, a long, very difficult poem, to great critical and popular acclaim. He followed the Album of Old Verses with Charms ("songs" or "incantations") in 1922, and had written his first quasi-Platonic dialogues, Eupalinos; or, The Architect (Eupalinos; ou, L`architecte) and The Soul and the Dance (L'Ame et la danse) in 1921. The former dialogue treats much the same topics as "The Seaside Cemetery" ("Le Cimetiere marin"), probably Valery's best-known poem: the relationships of life and death, light and darkness, movement and stasis, which compose life itself. Phaedrus proclaims in this dialogue that "nothing beautiful can be separated from life, and life is that which dies." The Soul and the Dance deals with the power of art to transcend individuality and the body and to reach toward the Absolute.

In 1922, Edouard Lebey, Valery's employer at the French Press Association, died, and the necessity of finding a new source of income further confirmed his revived sense of a literary—a publicly literary—vocation. From this point until the end of his life, Valery was known as the French poet. In 1924, Variety (Variete), a collection of his essays, appeared. It contained the essay on Leonardo first published in 1895, the important article on Poe's "Eureka," and "Variations on a Thought" ("Variations sur une pensee"), in which he attacked Pascal as a thinker. Valery would publish four more volumes of Variety in his lifetime. In 1925, he was elected to the French Academy, and in his 1927 inaugural speech he made the unprecedented gesture of attacking his predecessor, novelist Anatole France, probably because France, as co-editor of a literary magazine, had rejected the poetry of Mallarme. In 1937 Valery was appointed to the new chair in poetry at the College de France, a position he held until his death in 1945.

Some facts about Valery might predict a less than faultless comportment on Valery's part during World War II and France's occupation by Germany: first, he had been quietly but strongly "anti-Dreyfusard" during the famous Dreyfus affair, in which Emile Zola and others accused the French army and government of anti-Semitism in making a scapegoat of Captain Alfred Dreyfus during his 1894 trial for treason. Among the celebrities who, along with Zola, took up Dreyfus's case were Proust, the painter Claude Monet, and Anatole France. Valery in fact went so far as to donate money to aid the widow of Colonel Henry, who in 1898 killed himself when it became known that he had forged the documents used to incriminate Dreyfus. "There is evidence," writes Henry Grubbs in Paul Valery, "to show that Valery was annoyed at the propaganda of his liberal friends....and personally, at least at that moment, decidedly hostile to democracy. His preoccupation with the intellectual superman had led him to a great interest in the man wielding extreme power, the dictator, the tyrant. Examples of this are the sonnet `Cesar'...and the references in the Cahiers to the Emperor Tiberius, to Napoleon, and to Caesar. A cahier written late in 1898 contains the following multilingual slogans: `Le Cesar de soi-meme/El Cesar de sumismo/Il Cesare di se stesso/The Cesar (sic) of himself.' " Furthermore, Valery was also friendly with Marshal Philippe Petain, one of the leaders of France's pro-German Vichy government.

However, the poet did prove sympathetic to the Free French Movement led by General Charles de Gaulle, and of the Nazis he wrote in "War Economy for the Mind": "As for our enemies, we, and the whole world, know that their politics with regard to the mind has been reduced or limited for ten years to repressing the developments of intelligence, to depreciating the value of pure research, to taking often atrocious measures against those who consecrated themselves to these things, to favoring, even as far as endowed chairs and laboratories, worshippers of the idol to the detriment of independent creators of spiritual richness, and they have imposed on the arts as on the sciences the utilitarian ends which a power founded on declamations and terror pursues." Moreover, his praise of Bergson was regarded as a courageous act.

Valery died on July 20, 1945, at the close of France's last twentieth-century war with Germany, having been born at the conclusion of its last nineteenth-century one. He was given a state funeral in Paris and buried at the cemetery at Sete, his birthplace and the setting for "The Seaside Cemetery."

Valery passed on an important legacy of influence in American letters, perhaps much greater than his influence on later French poets. Yves Bonnefoy, who now holds Valery's chair in poetry at the College de France and has succeeded him as the most prominent contemporary French poet, has said in L'Improbable that Valery had no real influence on his own poetic development. However, the American poet Allen Tate, a well-known member of the Southern Agrarian movement that flourished particularly during the 1920's and 1930's, has recorded in his Memoirs and Opinions, 1926-1974 that "Here, in [Valery's] `Pages Inedites' [`Unpublished Pages'], was a man educated in the French classical tradition and fired imaginatively by his early entretiens with Mallarme: whose apparently casual utterances gave me something more than the shock of recognition. It was rather the sense of my own identity, of a sameness within vast, elusive differences." It may be in the enduring classicism of Southern letters, passed from Tate to such contemporary Southern writers as Reynolds Price, Fred Chappell, and James Applewhite, that Valery's voice, through the veil of translation, can be heard most clearly today.

Bibliography

WRITINGS:

POETRY

  • La Jeune Parque (title means The Young Fate ), Editions de la Nouvelle Revue Francaise, 1917, with commentary by Alain, Gallimard, 1936, reprinted, 1958, enlarged edition with critical document study by Octave Nadal published as La Jeune Parque: Manuscrit autographe, texte de l'edition 1942, etats successifs et brouillons inedits du poem (includes unpublished drafts), Club du Meilleur Livre, 1957, translation by Alistair Elliot published as La jeune Parque,, Bloodaxe Books, 1997.
  • Album de vers anciens, 1890-1900 (collection; title means Album of Old Verse; includes La Fileuse, Helene, Naissance de Venus, Feerie, Baignee, Au Bois dormant, Le Bois amical, Un Feu distinct..., Narcisse parle, Episode, Vue, Valvins, Ete, Anne, Orphee, Semiramis, L'Amateur de poemes), A. Monnier, 1920 , Editions de la Nouvelle Revue Francaise, 1927.
  • Charmes; ou, Poemes (collection; title means Songs; or, Poems; contains L'Abeille, Au Plantane, Aurore, Le Cantique des colonnes, La Ceinture, Le Cimetiere marin, Dormeuse, La Fausse Morte, Les Grenades, L'Insinuant, Interieur, Fragments du Narcisse, Ode secrete, La Pythie Les Pas, Poesie, Air de Semiramis, Le Vin perdu, Le Sylphe, Ebauche d'un serpent, Le Rameur, Palme), Editions de la Nouvelle Revue Francaise, 1922, French text edited by Charles G. Whiting with English introduction and notes, Athlone Press, 1973, reprinted, 1985, translation by James L. Brown published as Charms, Forsan Books, 1983.
  • Melange (collection; contains Melange, Petites Etudes, Poesie brute, Colloques, Instants, Cantate du Narcisse), Gallimard, 1941.
  • L'Ange, Gallimard, 1946.
  • Le Cimetiere marin (first published in Nouvelle Revue Francaise, June 1, 1920), preface by Henri Mondor, Roissard, 1954, introduction by Sylvio Samama, illustrations by Abram Krol, A. Krol (Paris), 1964; dual-language edition translated by C. Day Lewis as Le Cimetiere marin/The Graveyard by the Sea, Secker & Warburg, 1946; dual-language edition edited and translated by Graham Dunstan Martin as Le Cimetiere marin/The Graveyard by the Sea, University of Texas Press, 1971.
  • Abeille spirituelle(previously unpublished poem), privately printed, 1968.
  • First drafts of Valery's poem La Jeune Parque are included in Rompre le silence: Les Premiers Etats de La Jeune Parque by Bruce Pratt, J. Corti (Paris), 1976, and in Chant du cygne: Edition critique des premiers etats de La Jeune Parque, by Pratt, J. Corti, 1979.

PROSE

  • La Conquete allemande (first published inNew Review [London], January 1, 1897), Extrait du Mercure de France, 1915, revised edition published as Une Conquete methodique, Champion, 1924.
  • Introduction a la methode de Leonard de Vinci (first published in Nouvelle Revue, August 15, 1894 [some sources say 1895]), Editions de la Nouvelle Revue Francaise, 1919, Gallimard, 1964, translation by Thomas McGreevy published as Introduction to the Method of Leonardo da Vinci, J. Rodker, 1929.
  • La Soiree avec M. Teste (short story; first published in Centaure, September, 1896), Editions de la Nouvelle Revue Francaise, 1919 , translation by Ronald Davis published as An Evening With Mr. Teste, R. Davis (Paris), 1925; new and enlarged edition published as Monsieur Teste (contains Preface, La Soiree avec M. Teste, Lettre de Mme. Emilie Teste, Extraits du logbook de monsieur Teste, Lettre d'un ami, La Promenade avec monsieur Teste, Pour un portrait de monsieur Teste, Quelques pensees de monsieur Teste, Fin de monsieur Teste), Gallimard, 1946, revised, 1969, translation with notes by Jackson Mathews published as Monsieur Teste (contains Preface, An Evening With Mr. Teste, Letter From Mme. Emilie Teste, Excerpts From M. Teste's Logbook, Letter From a Friend, A Walk With M. Teste, Dialogue, For a Portrait of M. Teste, More Excerpts From the Logbook, End of M. Teste), Knopf, 1947, McGraw, 1964.
  • Eupalinos; ou, L'Architecte, precede de L'Ame et la danse (two dialogues; Eupalinos first published as Paradoxe sur l'architectein Ermitage, March, 1891, translation by William McCausland Stewart published as Eupalinos; or, The Architect, Oxford University Press/H. Milford, 1932; L'Ame et la danse first published in Revue Musicale, December, 1920, translation by Dorothy Busay published as Dance and the Soul, John Lehmann, 1951 ), Gallimard, 1923, reprinted, 1938, translated and edited with introduction and notes by Vera J. Daniel as Eupalinos, and, L'Ame et la danse, Oxford University Press, 1967.
  • Fragments sur Mallarme, R. Davis (Paris), 1924..
  • Situation de Baudelaire, Madame Lesafe (Paris), 1924.
  • 1927-38 Variete (essays; includes Fragment d'un Descartes Le Retour de Hollande, Sur Bossuet, Oraison funebre d'une fable, Preface aux lettres persanes, Stendhal, Situation de Baudelaire, Passage de Verlaine, Stephane Mallarme, Le Coup de des, Derniere visite a Mallarme, Lettre sur Mallarme, Souvenir de J. K. Huysmans, Petite lettre sur les mythes, Etudes, Je disais quelquefois a Stephane Mallarme, Questions de poesie, Au sujet du `Cimetiere marin,' Commentaires de `Charmes,' Amphion [melodrame], Semiramis [melodrame], Leonard et les philosophes, La `Peur des morts,' La Politique de l'esprit, Inspirations mediterraneennes, Le Bilan de l'intelligence, Remerciement a l'Academie francaise, Reponse au remerciement du Marechal Petain a l'Academie francaise, Discours en l'honneur de Goethe, Discours de l'histoire prononce a la distribution solennelle des prix du Lycee Janson-de-Sailly, le 13 juillet 1892, Discours de la Maison d'education de la Legion d'honneur de Saint-Denis, le 11 juillet 1892, Rapport sur les prix de vertu Discours prononce a l'occasion de la distribution des prix du College de Sete, Descartes, Discours prononce du deuxieme Congres international d'esthetique et de science de l'art, L'Homme et la coquille, Discours aux chirurgiens, Reflexions simples sur le corps, Fragments des memoires d'un poeme, Le Prince et la jeune parque, Poesie et pensee abstraite, Cantiques spirituels, Sur Phedre femme, La Tentation de [saint] Flaubert, Une Vue de Descartes, Seconde Vue de Descartes, Svedenborg, Enseignement de la poetique, Lecon inaugurale de cours de poetique du College de France), five volumes, Gallimard, reprinted, translation by Malcolm Cowley, William Aspenwall Bradley, and others published as Variety (includes Introduction, The Intellectual Crisis, Note, Adonis, A Foreword, On Poe's `Eureka,' Variations on a Theme From Pascal, A Tribute , An Introduction to the Method of Leonardo da Vinci , Villon and Verlaine, Concerning Carot, The Position of Baudelaire), Harcourt.
  • Durtal, Champion, 1925.
  • Etudes et fragments sur le reve, Claude Aveline (Paris), 1925.
  • Petit recueil de paroles de circonstance, Plaisir de Bibliophile, 1926.
  • Discours de la diction des vers, Le Livre, 1926, revised edition published as De la diction des vers, Emile Chamontin (Paris), 1933.
  • Durtal; ou, Les Points d'une conversion(criticism), M. Senac (Paris), 1927.
  • Maitres et amis (title means Masters and Friends), Beltrand, 1927.
  • Discours sur Emile Verhaeren(lecture), Champion, 1927.
  • Discours de reception a l'Academie francaise, Gallimard, 1927.
  • Odes: Compositions de D. Galanis(criticism), Aux Aldes, 1927.
  • Poesie: Essais sur la poetique et le poete(essays), Bertrand Guegan (Paris), 1928.
  • Remarques exterieures, illustrations by L. J. Soulas, Editions des Cahiers Libres, 1929.
  • Variation sur une "Pensee," annotee par l'auteur, Balancier, 1930.
  • Litterature (notes; first published in Commerce, 1929), Gallimard, 1930.
  • Regards sur le monde actuel (essays), Stock (Paris), 1931, introduction by Jean Danielou, Vlaletay, 1973; revised and enlarged edition published as Regards sur le monde actuel et autres essais (contains Avantpropos, Grandeur et decadence de l'Europe, De l'histoire, Fluctuations sur la liberte, L'Idee de dictature, Au sujet de la dictature, Souvenir actuel, L'Amerique, projection de l'esprit europeen, Images de la France, Fonction de Paris, Presence de Paris, Le Yalou, Propos sur le progres Pensee et art francais, Notre destin et les lettres, La Liberte de l'esprit, La France travaille, Metier d'homme, Coup d'oeil sur les lettres francaises, Economie de guerre de l'esprit, Fonction et mystere de l'academie, Le Centre Universitaire mediterraneen), Gallimard, 1945, reprinted, 1963, translation by Francis Scarfe published as Reflections on the World Today (contains Notes on the Greatness and Decadence of Europe, Of History, Fluctuations on Liberty, The Idea of Dictatorship, On the Subject of Dictatorship, America as a Projection of the European Mind, Images of France, The Function of Paris, The Yellow River, Remarks on Progress, Our Destiny and Literature, Freedom of Mind, France at Work, The War-Economy of Mind), Pantheon, 1948, Thames & Hudson, 1951.
  • L'Idee fixe (dialogue), Les Laboratories Martinet (Paris), 1932, new revised and corrected edition published as L'Idee fixe; ou, Deux Hommes a la mer, Gallimard, 1933, reprinted, 1966.
  • Choses tues, Gallimard, 1932.
  • Moralites, Gallimard, 1932.
  • Suite, Gallimard, 1934.
  • Etat de la vertu: Rapport a l'academie, L. Pichon (Paris), 1935.
  • Analecta(extracts from Notebooks and other personal records), Gallimard, 1935.
  • L'Homme et la coquille, illustrations by Henri Mondor, Gallimard, 1937, translation by Ralph Manheim published as Sea Shells,Beacon Press, 1998.
  • Discours aux chirurgiens(lecture), Gallimard, 1938.
  • Introduction a la poetique, Gallimard, 1938.
  • Degas, danse, dessin (fragments first published in Nouvelle Revue Francaise, October, 1935, April, 1938), Gallimard, 1938, reprinted, 1965 , translation by Helen Burlin published as Degas, Dance, Drawing, Lear (New York, NY), 1948.
  • Poesie et pensee abstraite(lecture), Clarendon Press (Oxford), 1939.
  • 1941-43 Tel quel (extracts; contains Choses tues, Moralites, Litterature, Cahier B 1910, Rhumbs, Autres rhumbs, Analecta, Suite), two volumes, Gallimard.
  • La Politique de l'esprit, notre souverain bien(address), introduction by Lucy Leveaux, Editions de l'Universite de Manchester, 1941.
  • Mauvaises pensees et autres(extracts), Gallimard, 1942.
  • Dialogues de l'arbre, Firmin-Didot (Paris), 1943.
  • Au sujet de Nerval, Textes Pretextes (Paris), 1944.
  • Un Poete inconnu(contains two interviews with Valery), Lettres Francaises, 1944.
  • (With Paul Eluard, Renee Moutard-Uldry, Georges Blaizot, and Louis-Marie Michon) Paul Bonet, A. Blaizot (Paris), 1945.
  • Discours sur Voltaire(lecture), Domat-Montchrestien (Paris), 1945.
  • Henri Bergson, Domat-Montchrestien (Paris), 1945.
  • Souvenirs poetiques, Le Prat (Paris), 1947.
  • Vues, illustrations by Gilbert Poilliot, Table Ronde, 1948.
  • Histoires brisees, Gallimard, 1950.
  • Ecrits divers sur Stephane Mallarme, Editions de la Nouvelle Revue Francaise, 1950.
  • Propos sur le livre, Bibliophiles Francais, 1956.
  • The Outlook for Intelligence, edited by Jackson Mathews, translation from original French manuscript by Denise Folliot and Mathews, preface by Francois Valery, Harper, 1963.
  • Reflexions simples sur le corps, de Paul Valery, ayant inspire des lithographies originales a Hans Erni, E. A. D. (Paris), 1967.
  • (With Francois Valery) Les Principes d'anarchie pure et appliquee [and] Paul Valery et la politique (the former by P. Valery, the latter by F. Valery), Gallimard, 1984.

NOTEBOOKS

  • Rhumbs (notes et autres) par Paul Valery(extracts), Divan, 1926.
  • Autres rhumbs de Paul Valery(extracts), Editions de France, 1927.
  • Cahier B 1910(extracts), Gallimard, 1930.
  • Autres rhumbs(extracts), Gallimard, 1934.
  • 1973-74 Cahiers (title means Notebooks), twenty-nine volumes, Centre National de Recherche Scientifique, definitive edition presented and annotated by Judith Robinson, Gallimard.

CORRESPONDENCE

  • Lettres a quelques-uns, Gallimard, 1952.
  • Gaston Poulain, Paul Valery, tel quel(includes unpublished letters), illustrations by P. Valery, Licorne, 1955.
  • (With Andre Gide) Andre Gide—Paul Valery: Correspondance, 1890-1942, preface and notes by Robert Mallet, Gallimard, 1955, reprinted as Correspondance Andre Gide—Paul Valery, 1890-1942, 1973, abridged and translated edition by June Guicharnaud published as Self-Portraits: The Gide/Valery Letters, 1890-1942, edited by Mallet, University of Chicago Press, 1966.
  • (With Gustave Fourment) Paul Valery—Gustave Fourment: Correspondance, 1887-1933, introduction, notes, and documents by Octave Nadal, Gallimard, 1957.
  • (With Frandcois Valery) L'Entre-Trois-Guerres de Paul Valery,Diffusion, Harmonia Mundi, 1994.
  • Correspondance: 1893-1945, Felin (Paris, France), 2002.

COLLECTIONS

  • Morceaux choisis: Prose et poesie (anthology; contains Poemes, Ecrits en prose, Sur la poesie, Sur l'architecte, Sur la danse, Essais divers, Cycle Teste), Gallimard, 1930, reprinted, 1957, abridged translation published as Selected Writings, New Directions, 1950, reprinted, 1964.
  • Poesies , Gallimard, 1931, 2nd edition, 1942, reprinted as Poesies: Album de vers anciens, La Jeune Parque, Charmes, Pieces diverses, Cantate du Narcisse, Amphion, Semiramis, Gallimard, 1966, Bibliotheque des Chefs-d'Oeuvre, 1979.
  • Les Divers Essais sur Leonard de Vinci (contains Introduction a la methode de Leonard de Vinci, Note et digression, Leonard et les philosophes), Editions du Sagittaire, 1931.
  • Eupalinos, L'Ame et la Danse, Dialogue de l'arbre, Gallimard, 1944, reprinted, 1970.
  • Oeuvres choisis (includes Reconnaissance a Valery, La Crise de l'esprit, L'Europeen), introduction by Daniel Simond, Abbaye du Livre, 1947.
  • Paul Valery: Prose et vers, compiled by Henri Payre, Blaisdell (Paris), 1968.
  • La Jeune Parque; L'Ange; Agathe; Histoires brisees, edited with preface and notes by Jean Levaillant, Gallimard, 1974.
  • Paul Valery: An Anthology(excerpts from Collected Works), selected with introduction by James R. Lawler, Princeton University Press, 1976.
  • Une Chambre conjecturale: Poemes ou proses de jeunesse(juvenalia), Bibliotheque Artistique & Litterature, 1981.
  • Paul Valery secret, 1937-1945: Lettres intimes, poemes inedits, Ader, Picard, Tajan Commissaires-priseurs Associes (Monaco), 1982.

COMPLETE WORKS

  • 1933-50 Oeuvres de Paul Valery, twelve volumes, Volumes 1-2, Sagittaire, 1931; Volumes 3-12, Gallimard.
  • The Collected Works of Paul Valery (fifteen-part collection), edited by Jackson Mathews, Pantheon/Princeton University Press; Part I: Poems, translation by David Paul, [and] On Poets and Poetry, selected with translation from the Notebooks (see above) by James R. Lawler, 1971; Part II: Poems in the Rough, translation by Hilary Corke, introduction by Octave Nadal, 1969; Part III: Plays (some text in French and English), translation by D. Paul and Robert Fitzgerald, introduction by Francis Fergusson, memoir by Igor Stravinsky, 1960; Part IV: Dialogues, translation by W. M. Stewart, prefaces by W. Stevens, 1956; Part V: Idee fixe, translation by D. Paul, preface by J. Mathews, introduction by Philip Wheelwright, 1965; Part VI: Monsieur Teste, translation and introduction by J. Mathews, 1973; Part VII: The Art of Poetry, translation by Denise Folliot, introduction by T. S. Eliot, 1958, Random House, 1961; Part VIII: Leonardo, Poe, Mallarme, translation by Malcolm Cowley and Lawler, 1972; Part IX: Masters and Friends, translation by Martin Turnell, introduction by Joseph Frank, 1968; Part X: History and Politics, translation by Folliot and J. Mathews, preface by Francois Valery, introduction by Salvador de Madariaga, 1962; Part XI: Occasions, translation by Roger Shattuck and Frederick Brown, introduction by Shattuck, 1970; Part XII: Degas, Manet, Morisont, translation by D. Paul, introduction by D. Cooper, 1960; Part XIII: Aesthetics, translation by Ralph Manheim, introduction by Herbert Read, 1964; Part XIV: Analecta, translation by Stuart Gilbert, introduction by W. H. Auden, 1970; Part XV: Moi, translation by Marthiel Mathews and J. Mathews, 1975.
  • 1968-71 Oeuvres, two volumes, edited and annotated by Jean Hytier, Gallimard, reprinted.

OTHER

  • (Contributor to text) Tableaux de Paris(volume of illustrations), Editions Emile-Paul Freres (Paris), 1927.
  • Amphion(ballet; first produced at The Opera, Paris, France, 1931; music by Arthur Honegger), Rouart Lerolle (Paris), 1931.
  • Semiramis(three-act ballet; first produced at The Opera, 1934; music by Honegger), Gallimard, 1934.
  • (Editor and contributor) Problemes nationaux vus par des francaises(includes Avantpropos), Editions du Sagittaire, 1934.
  • (Author of text) Paraboles(collection of twelve watercolors), Editions du Raisin, 1935.
  • (Contributor) Maillol, Publications Techniques, 1943.
  • (Author of preface) E. A. van Moe, Les Fouquet de la Bibliotheque nationale, Editions de la Revue Verve, 1943.
  • (Librettist) Germaine Tailleferre, Cantate du Narcisse(opera; first produced in 1939), Gallimard, 1944, Centraux Bibliophiles, 1956.
  • Mon Faust(unfinished play), Gallimard, 1946, reprinted, 1962.
  • (Author of prefaces with Stephane Mallarme) Seize Aquarelles (title means Sixteen Watercolors), Editions des Quatres Chemins, 1946.
  • (Illustrator) Paul de Man, Les Dessins de Paul Valery(anthology of drawings), Editions Universelles, 1948.
  • (Contributor) Leonardo da Vinci, 1452-1519 (collection of paintings; includes Introduction a la methode de Leonard de Vinci), Nouvelle Revue Francaise, 1950.
  • (Author of introduction) Martin Huerlimann, photographer, La France (photographs), Braun (Paris), 1951, reprinted, 1967, translation published with historical notes by Valery as Eternal France: 216 Pictures in Photogravure, Thames & Hudson (New York), 1952, revised and enlarged edition published as France: 217 Pictures in Photogravure, Studio Publications, 1957, new and enlarged edition published as France, Studio Publications, 1968.
  • (Translator) Publius Vergilius Maro, Les Bucoliques de Virgile (verse), illustrations by Jacques Villon, Scripta & Pica (Paris), 1953, enlarged edition published as Bucoliques de Virgile, Gallimard, 1956.
  • (Author of preface) Anthologie des poetes de la Nouvelle revue francaise, 3rd edition, Gallimard, 1958.
  • (Compiler and author of explanatory notes) Rene Descartes, Les Pages immortelles de Descartes, Buchet/Chastel, 1961.
  • (Translator and author of commentary) Fragments des Marginalia (selections from Marginalia by Edgar Allan Poe), Fata Morgana (France), 1980.

Further Reading

FURTHER READINGS ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

BOOKS

  • Berne-Joffroy, Andre, Valery, Gallimard, 1960.
  • Bertholet, Denis, Paul Valery, 1871-1945,Plon, 1995.
  • Blanchot, Maurice, La Part de feu, Gallimard, 1949.
  • Bonnefoy, Yves, L'Improbable, Mercure de France, 1959.
  • Carlson, Eric W., editor, The Recognition of Edgar Allan Poe: Selected Criticism Since 1829, University of Michigan Press, 1966.
  • Charpier, Jacques, Valery, Editions Pierre Seghers (Paris), 1962.
  • Cioran, E. M., Valery face a ses idoles, L'Herne (Paris), 1970.
  • Derrida, Jacques, Margins of Philosophy, translated with notes by Alan Bass, University of Chicago Press, 1982.
  • Dragonetti, Roger, Aux frontieres du langage poetique: Etudes sur Dante, Mallarme, Valery, Romanica Gandensia (Gent), 1961.
  • Gifford, Paul, ed., Reading Paul Valery: Universe in Mind,Cambridge University Press, 1999.
  • Grubbs, Henry A., Paul Valery, Twayne (New York, NY), 1968.
  • Guerlac, Suzanne, Literary Polemics: Bataille, Sartre, Valery, Breton,Stanford University Press, 1997.
  • Harari, Josue V., editor, Textual Strategies, Cornell University Press, 1979.
  • Hartman, Geoffrey, The Unmediated Vision: An Interpretation of Wordsworth, Hopkins, Rilke, and Valery, Yale University Press, 1954.
  • Henry, Albert, Langage et poesie chez Paul Valery, Mercure de France, 1952.
  • Hytier, Jean, La Poetique de Valery, 2nd edition, Armand Colin (Paris), 1970.
  • Ince, W. N., The Poetic Theory of Valery, University Press, 1961.
  • Kluback, William, Paul Valery: Illusions of Civilization,P. Lang, 1996.
  • Kluback, William, Paul Valery: The Continuous Search for Reality,P. Lang, 1996.
  • Kluback, William, Paul Valery: The Realms of the Analecta,Peter Lang, 1998.
  • Lawler, James, Lectures de Valery: Une Etude de "Charmes,"Presses Universitaires de France, 1963.
  • Lawler, James, The Poet as Analyst: Essays on Paul Valery, University of California Press, 1974.
  • Mackay, Agnes E., The Universal Self: A Study of Paul Valery, University of Toronto Press, 1961.
  • Mallet, Robert, editor, Self-Portraits: The Gide/Valery Letters, 1890-1942, abridged and translated by June Guicharnaud, University of Chicago Press, 1966.
  • Mondor, Henri, Precocite de Valery, Gallimard, 1957.
  • Mondor, Henri, Propos familiers de Paul Valery, Grasset (Paris), 1957.
  • Nash, Suzanne, Paul Valery's Album de vers anciens: A Past Transfigured, Princeton University Press, 1983.
  • Parisier-Plottel, Jeaninne, Les Dialogues de Paul Valery, Presses Universitaires de France, 1960.
  • Putnam, Walter C., Paul Valery Revisitied,Twayne, 1995.
  • Raymond, Marcel, Paul Valery et la tentation de l'esprit, A La Baconniere, 1964.
  • Rouart-Valery, Agathe, editor, Paul Valery, Gallimard, 1966.
  • Symons, Julian, The Tell-Tale Heart: The Life and Works of Edgar Allan Poe, Harper, 1978.
  • Tate, Allen, Memoirs and Opinions, 1926-1974, Swallow, 1975.
  • Taylor, Benjamin, Into the Open: Reflections on Genius and Modernity, New York University Press, 1995.
  • Whiting, Charles G. Paul Valery, Athlone Press/University of London, 1978.

PERIODICALS

  • Georgia Review, Volume 30, 1976.
  • Letters AouvellesSeptember, 1958.
  • Renaissance, Volume 2-3, 1944-45.
  • Yale French Studies, No. 44, 1970.

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Poet Categorization

POET’S REGION France

LIFE SPAN 1871–1945

Biography

Paul Valery occupies a position in the history of French letters that is at once strategic and highly problematic. Critics have affixed to him various labels, all of them partially correct. He has been called the last French symbolist, the first post-symbolist, a masterful classical prosodist, an advocate of logical positivism, and a cerebral narcissist.

Clearly Valery was heir to the symbolist tradition of another French poet, . . .

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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