The Art of Poetry

The Art of Poetry

PAUL VALÉRY
Translated by Denise Folliot
With an Introduction by T. S. Eliot
Copyright Date: 1958
Pages: 372
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7zv5kr
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    The Art of Poetry
    Book Description:

    All of the major meditations on the theory and practice of poetry by one of the greatest poets of our time--and perhaps the one who has most scrupulously analyzed his art--are included in The Art of Poetry.

    Originally published in 1985.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6447-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. vii-2)
    T. S. ELIOT

    Among the several motives which may impel a poet to write about poetry, we must not overlook those arising from necessity or obligation. A young poet may find himself writing essays on poets and poetry, simply because a young poet, if he has any talent for journalism at all, can earn more money by writing about other poets’ poetry, than he can by selling his own. If he hopes that success in later years will free him from this kind of distraction, his hope is vain: he will merely, if successful, exchange one form of constraint for another. There is...

  4. Preamble
    (pp. 3-7)

    This volume contains various essays which have appeared here and there, and which deal with the poet’s state and the art of verse; but there is hardly anything to be found in it that would explain poetry itself.

    Poetry, an ambiguous term, sometimes means a feeling that leads to creation, and sometimes, a production that tends to affect us.

    The first case refers to an emotion whose peculiar effect is to fashion for itself in us and through us a WORLD that corresponds to it.

    By the second sense of this word is meant a certain industry that may be...

  5. Concerning Adonis
    (pp. 8-34)

    Thisessay on “Adonis” was written in a beautiful stretch of country, so vast, and enclosed at such a distance by forests and gentle curves, that only the deepest peace seemed to come as the fruit of that expanse lying open to the sun and girded by enormous trees.

    In that favorable spot I had no difficulty in feeling everything in the way we may imagine La Fontaine felt it. There are uncounted hours in which one seems to hear the murmur of pure time flowing by; one watches a whole day melt in the sky without interrupting one’s musing...

  6. Funeral Oration for a Fable
    (pp. 35-38)

    Daphnis loves Alcimadura. Alcimadura loves neither Daphnis nor Love.

    Daphnis very soon dies of the rejection of his great love, bequeathing all he has to the callous one, of whom, so as to waste no words, it is not said whether she accepts the legacy.

    In the evening of the very day of the lover’s death, Alcimadura, freed from a nuisance and all overjoyed at having gained a fortune, gives a dance for her young friends. These maidens, who seem to be happy only among themselves, do not fail to go leaping and twirling, doubtless lightly clad, around the statue...

  7. A Foreword
    (pp. 39-51)

    About forty years ago a doubt was lifted from our minds. Conclusive proof dismissed as an illusion the ancient ambition of squaring the circle. How fortunate are the geometricians, who can from time to time resolve this kind of nebula in their system; but the poets are less fortunate; they are not yet assured of the impossibility ofsquaringevery thought in a poetic form.

    As the operations by which desire is led to build language into a harmonious and unforgettable shape are extremely secret and complex, it is still permissible—and will always be so—to doubt whether speculation,...

  8. Poetry and Abstract Thought
    (pp. 52-81)

    The idea of Poetry is often contrasted with that of Thought, and particularly “Abstract Thought.” People say “Poetry and Abstract Thought” as they say Good and Evil, Vice and Virtue, Hot and Cold. Most people, without thinking any further, believe that the analytical work of the intellect, the efforts of will and precision in which it implicates the mind, are incompatible with that freshness of inspiration, that flow of expression, that grace and fancy which are the signs of poetry and which reveal it at its very first words. If a poet’s work is judged profound, its profundity seems to...

  9. Problems of Poetry
    (pp. 82-99)

    In the course of some forty-five years I have seen Poetry subjected to many enterprises and very diverse experiments, seen it venture down entirely unknown paths, return at times to certain traditions; share, in fact, in the sudden fluctuations and in the regime of frequent change which seem characteristic of the world at present. Variety and fragility of combinations, instability of taste and rapid alteration of values, and, lastly, belief in extremes and the disappearance of what is enduring are features of this epoch, and they would be even more noticeable if they did not satisfy very exactly our own...

  10. Memoirs of a Poem
    (pp. 100-132)

    I was living remote from all literature, innocent of any intention of writing to be read, and therefore at peace with all who read, when, about 1912, Gide and Gallimard asked me to collect and print some verses I had written twenty years before, which had appeared in various reviews at the time.

    I was completely taken aback. For no more than a moment could I even consider this proposal, which made no appeal to anything still active in my mind and aroused no feeling that could tempt it. My indistinct recollection of these little pieces gave me no pleasure:...

  11. The Prince and La Jeune Parque
    (pp. 133-139)

    I know not by what mysterious revival, by what return to my youth, I came back to being interested in poetry more than twenty years after I had broken with it.

    Perhaps there is in us a slow, periodic memory, deeper than the memory of impressions and objects, a long-term memory or echo of ourselves which carries us back and unexpectedly restores to us our former inclinations, powers, and even hopes of long ago.

    I perceived that I was again becoming sensitive to the ring of language. I lingered to catch the music of speech. The words I heard touched...

  12. Concerning Le Cimetière marin
    (pp. 140-152)

    I do not know whether it is still the fashion to elaborate poems at length, to keep them between being and nonbeing, suspended for years in the presence of desire; to nourish doubts, scruples, and regrets—so that a work perpetually resumed and recast gradually takes on the secret importance of an exercise in self-reform.

    This way of producing little was not uncommon among poets and some prose writers forty years ago. For them, time did not count; in that, they were rather like gods. Neither the Idol of Beauty nor the superstition of Literary Eternity had yet been destroyed;...

  13. Commentaries on Charmes
    (pp. 153-158)

    A certain Amateur of Letters had, one day, the imprudence (which was a happy one) to entrust Alain with a very beautiful copy of a particular collection of poems. This volume had rather wide margins and its text much freedom for interpretation.Charmes,which was the book in question, divides its readers. It is well known that some see nothing in it; and that it is only too lucid for others, who judge it insipid by reason of the simplicity they find in it, once the futile defenses of expression are breached. Still others become attached to it.

    After a...

  14. On Speaking Verse
    (pp. 159-166)

    I might have expected any number of riddles, but not to be asked anything about the theater. I do not think there is anyone in France who knows less about such matters and who is more inexperienced or more naïve when faced with the magic of the stage and, moreover, more easily dazzled by the slightest talent displayed there. I admire anything I am unable to do myself even when it is ill done. If I now had to give you a conception of how marvelous I find everything that happens in the theater, I should merely elaborate certain ideas...

  15. Letter to Madame C.
    (pp. 167-168)

    Others, dear Croiza, will praise the singer.

    But I—kept by circumstances from such a desirable dinner, which I so fully visualize—I will say something else. Allow the absent one to borrow from a friend enough presence and breath to pay you his compliments.

    A long time ago the idea came to me to win a singer to poetry. How did it come, and from what reflections?

    Poetry is not music; still less is it speech. It is perhaps this ambiguity that makes its delicacy. One might say that it is about to sing, rather than that it sings;...

  16. The Poet’s Rights over Language
    (pp. 169-172)

    Please forgive me. I am worn out by various tasks, the most futile of which are the most urgent. The proofs of theRevue de Philologieare at hand—or, to be exact, under a copy of the first edition of yourDictionary.This book never leaves me. I “used” and thumbed it to an amazing extent during the lengthy elaboration of theJeune Parque,a labor that I pursued—although you will never believe it—with a constant care for linguistics. I did not imagine, however, that it would one day afford me the pleasure of discussing a point...

  17. A Poet’s Notebook
    (pp. 173-183)

    Poetry. Is it impossible, given time, care, skill, and desire, to proceed in an orderly way to arrive at poetry?

    To end byhearingexactly what one wished to hear by means of a skillful and patient management of that same desire?

    You want to write a particular poem, with a certain effect, more or less, on a particular subject: first of all, you have images of variousorders.

    Some are people, landscapes, points of view, attitudes; others are undefined voices, notes. . . .

    So far, words are only placards.

    Other words or scraps of phrases have no particular...

  18. Pure Poetry Notes for a Lecture
    (pp. 184-192)

    There is a great stir in the world (I mean in the world of the most precious and useless things), there is a great stir in the world about these two words:pure poetry.I have some responsibility for this stir. A few years ago, in a preface I wrote for a volume of poetry by one of my friends, I happened to use these words without attaching very much importance to them and without foreseeing the consequences that various minds interested in poetry would draw from them. I knew very well what I meant by these words, but I...

  19. Contemporary Poetry
    (pp. 193-195)

    This is the great problem of our art: in some measure to prolong the happiness of a moment. There are happy minutes for everyone; no work is without its beauties. But I know of nothing rarer than a composition of some length—say a hundred lines—in which there are no inconsistencies and irregularities.

    For each of us, therefore, there is an extreme rigor of desire, astandard difficulty.A certain unattainable point is essential for the movements of an artist’s mind.

    But in practice it is enough for a poet to have touched or charmed or enlivened someone—even...

  20. Remarks on Poetry
    (pp. 196-215)

    We are here today to talk about poetry. This subject is now the vogue. It is wonderful that in an age which is able to be at once practical and careless and which, one might suppose, is quite remote from all matters of speculation, so much interest should be given not only to poetry itself but also to the theory of poetry.

    I shall therefore take the liberty today of being somewhat abstract, but I shall thus be able to be brief.

    I shall set before you a certain idea of poetry, with the firm intention of saying nothing that...

  21. The Necessity of Poetry
    (pp. 216-230)

    Before I speak of poetry, allow me to say a few words about a poet who has just died, a great poet and for forty years a friend of mine; a French poet of his own will, although a native and citizen of the United States. I refer to Francis Vielé-Griffin who recently died at Bergerac, and whose death is a great loss. I speak of him this evening because there is a certain justice to be done him. This poet, who for many years lived in retirement, first in Touraine and then in Périgord, had taken France for his...

  22. Notes on Tragedy and a Tragedy
    (pp. 231-241)

    Fabre appears, disappears, and reappears in the world of Letters. One suspects, one knows, that between two manifestations of his literary self he has accomplished work of a very different kind, created a huge factory, directed a railway company, managed a mill, set a failing business on its feet, and each time has shown a new aspect and a new employment of his practical talents.

    But the diversity becomes marked, and the astonishment of the observer is the sharper for noticing that the purely intellectual productions which from time to time arise from the same center of activity, between those...

  23. The Poetry of La Fontaine
    (pp. 242-250)

    La Fontaine is, with the exception of Malherbe, the only French poet of the first rank in the seventeenth century who did not devote himself to dramatic art.

    He is also the only great poet of whom certain works have attained that rare and more or less desirable species of fame—that of being, with the nation’s universal consent, dedicated, as it were, to the earliest poetic education of childhood, so that the author’s name is forever associated with the idea of the simplicity of the very young, as though he had written especially with a view to childish recitations...

  24. Victor Hugo, Creator through Form
    (pp. 251-259)

    Victor Hugo is said to be dead, to have been dead for fifty years. . . . But an impartial observer would not be so sure. Only the other day he was being attacked just as though he were alive. An attempt was being made to destroy him. That is a strong proof of existence. However, I grant that he is dead: though not, I am convinced, to the point some say he is and wish he were.

    When, half a century after his disappearance, a writer still provokes heated discussion, one may be free from anxiety about his future....

  25. Victor Hugo’s Finest Stanza Reply to an Inquiry
    (pp. 260-261)

    You ask me, most politely, to do something I disapprove—that is, to pluck from Victor Hugo’s writings some fragment that seems to me of especial excellence. I do not at all like this process of detaching from a work the purest or happiest portion of it. Is this not treating poems as children treat cakes—picking out the almonds to crunch and giving the rest to the dog?

    There is nothing more contrary to a sense of the true nature of poetry, or more harmful to the education of the public in this regard, than to subject the structural...

  26. Fountains of Memory
    (pp. 262-268)

    Poetry needs no announcement. It is a fact, which either exists or does not. It must come into being with no promises and must penetrate, just as it is and by its own efforts, the world of a mind—as a pure sound suddenly occurs. A pure sound suddenly rises and dominates us, it destroys the bizarre babble of human words, sweeps before it the airy disorder of noises in a room of people, the creaking of doors and chairs, and the murmur of all the accidental movements of persons and things through which silence gropes, as it were, to...

  27. A Solemn Address
    (pp. 269-274)

    The Comédie Française had the idea—the very beautiful idea—of giving you today an opportunity of hearing a collection of poems, chosen from among the treasures of French poetry, from its origins to the first years of the present century.

    You are aware that this is no ordinary occasion of poetry leading and that this Sunday is not like one of our Saturdays. Circumstances have given this gathering an almost solemn character.

    We are at war. . . . The whole atmosphere of life has changed. All human feelings and values are transformed, exalted, or dominated by the strong...

  28. An After-Dinner Speech To the PEN Club
    (pp. 275-278)

    This is a mere guest rising to his feet. . . . Until a few days ago I was unaware even of the existence of the PEN Club. Now I marvel at this magnificent reunion, where I see men like Galsworthy, Pirandello, Unamuno, Kuprin, together with other writers of all nations mixing with many writers of our own.

    But allow me to tell you what a strange feeling I have, and what an odd idea comes into my head as I contemplate your assembly.

    I find this meeting almost inexplicable. There is something paradoxical about it.

    Literature is the art...

  29. Spiritual Canticles
    (pp. 279-294)

    I suggest that lovers of the beauties of our language should henceforth consider one of the most perfect poets of France in the person of the Reverend Father Cyprian of the Nativity of the Virgin, a Discalced Carmelite, hitherto almost unknown.

    I discovered him at least thirty years ago: a small discovery, no doubt, but similar to many a great one in having been, as they say, due to chance. I came across a rather large book, which was not of the kind I usually read or need to consult. It was an old quarto with faded red edges, bound...

  30. Variations on the Eclogues
    (pp. 295-312)

    One of my friends asked me, on behalf of certain persons who wish to produce a fine book, to translate theEcloguesin my own fashion. And desiring a symmetry that would make visible to the eye their plan to compose noble, firm, and well-balanced pages, they decided that it would be well if the Latin and French were to correspond line for line. They therefore set me this problem of the equality of appearance and numbers.

    Latin is, in general, a more compact language than our own. It has no articles; it is chary of auxiliaries (at least during...

  31. APPENDIX: On Literary Technique
    (pp. 313-324)
  32. NOTES
    (pp. 325-346)
  33. Back Matter
    (pp. 347-347)