Tag Archives: paul valéry

Extract from a letter by Paul Valéry to his brother Jules Valéry (1898)

I have just barely started to pull myself together again after this event which is one of the greatest sorrows of my life and an irreparable loss for me.

Nothing will give back to me this friendship with a unique man, the epitome of the most daring thought, the most modest life, and of the most pure, most incomparable honour. The tenderness which he sometimes showed towards me is, and always will be, for me, the only external reason I could admit for valuing myself a little.

I found his coffin in the garden next to the Seine upon which his little boat was still floating. His daughter fell into my arms, recalling to me the sentiments of her father with regard to me. It is an immense blow for her, she had sacrificed everything to her father, the best chances of marriage, etc.

The people arrived; there were a lot of people there for Valvins, and even enough.

I had had a beautiful wreath made by Augustin, which I brought with me.

Fortunately, apart from Mendès, there were few literary undertakers.

The Church was very far off, then the cemetery in an admirable position, absolutely analogous to that of his house.

There, Roujon, who, like everyone, was dressed in country clothes (except for myself who had come from Paris – almost all like cyclists or in Summer clothing) spoke very simply and very well all in all – since he said the important thing – the assurance that the two women would be cared for.

Then I was led forcibly to the graveside and obliged to speak.

I stammered a few words with neither sense nor sequence, I was so choked up. I returned to Paris with Héredia and Régnier.

“Le Temps” attributes to me two sentences which I don’t remember at all? In the end I am indifferent to all that.

Mallarmé has died of a strange accident, for such it must be called.

Since Monday he had a slightly sore throat. The doctor came to see him on Friday and he felt much better and wanted to get up. While he was speaking with the doctor, he stood up, grabbed at him, and fell dead, asphyxiated by a sudden spasm of the glottis, which had no direct relation to his indisposition. It is, it appears, an extremely rare case in pathology.

The girdle (from Paul Valéry)

The girdle

                   from Paul Valéry

When the sky the colour of a cheek
at last allows eyes to cherish it
and when at the gilded point of dying
among roses time takes place,

before one mute with pleasure
enchained by such a painting,
there dances a Shade in a trailing girdle
the evening comes close to catching.

This girdle wandering
in aerial breath
makes the last link tremble
between my silence and this world…

Absent, present… I am truly alone,
and downcast, o sweet-talking shroud.

Disaster (from Paul Valéry)


                from Paul Valéry

What hour hurls at the timbers of the hull
this great stroke of shadow where our fate is cracked?
What impalpable power knocks together
in our apparel bones of death?

On the bare prow, the collapse of the waterspouts
washes the odour of life and wine:
the sea raises up and hollows out again tombs,
the same water hollows and fills the furrow.

Hideous man, in whom the heart capsizes,
strange drunkard astray on the sea
whose nausea tied to the ship
wrests from the soul a desire for hell,

total man, I tremble and I calculate,
brain too clear, capable of the moment
when, in a miniscule phenomenon,
time is broken like an instrument…

Cursed be the pig that rigged you,
rotten ark whose ballast is infested!
In your black depths, every created thing
beats your dead timbers drifting towards the East…

The abyss and I form a machine
that juggles with scattered memories:
I see my mother and my china cups,
the fat whore on the animal threshold of the bars;

I see Christ moored on the yardarm!…
he dances to death, sinking with his kind;
his bleeding eye lights for me this epitaph:

Insinuating II

from Paul Valéry

Wild and spiteful
as a bee
my lips caress
the burning ear.

I love your frail
into which I merge
nought but a lover’s nothing.

What a surprise…
your blood buzzes:
it is I who give
life to the breeze…

Inside your hair
tenderly, spitefully
my soul haunts
what it wants.