Academic journal article French Forum

Blood and Rhythmic Analogies in Valery's Charmes

Academic journal article French Forum

Blood and Rhythmic Analogies in Valery's Charmes

Article excerpt

Or un architecte n'est pas necessairement lui-meme construit en
materiaux precieux.

Valery

  Les Grenades
Dures grenades entr' ouvertes
Cedant a 1'exces de vos grains
Je crois voir des fronts souverains
Eclates de leurs decouvertes!

Si les soleils par vous subis,
O grenades entre-baillees,
Vous ont fait d'orgueil travaillees
Craquer les cloisons de rubis,

Et que si l'or sec de l'ecorce
A la demande d'une force
Creve en gemmes rouges de jus,

Cette lumineuse rupture
Fait rever une ame que j'eus
De sa secrete architecture.

  Le Vin perdu
J'ai quelque jour, dans 1'Ocean,
(Mais je ne sais plus sous quels cieux)
Jete, comme offrande au neant,
Tout un peu de vin precieux ...

Qui voulut ta perte, o liqueur?
J'obeis peut-etre au devin?
Peut-etre au souci de mon coeur,
Songeant au sang, versant le vin?

Sa transparence accoutumee
Apres une rose fumee
Reprit aussi pure la mer ...

Perdu ce vin, ivres les ondes! ...
J'ai vu bondir dans l'air amer
Les figures les plus profondes ...

Introduction

Because of their discussion of his own mode of composition, Paul Valery's essays create a sense of continuity between his critical ideas and his poetic creations. These essays have served to form an idea of him as an almost excessively intellectual poet, one who wrote dozens of drafts for each of his poems, a math enthusiast who said of beginning a poem that "un probleme de ce genre admet une infinite de solutions" (Valery 1957, 1338-39). It may seem puzzling then, that Rainer Maria Rilke should have been so drawn to Valery on both a literary and personal level, given that the usual thumbnail sketch provided of Rilke is that of an enraptured poet caught up in fleeting moments of inspiration. One explanation suggested for Rilke's admiration of poems such as "Palmes" would be "le genie de la France, ce sens du dessin, cette lucide contrainte [que Rilke] convoitait comme antidote a la facilite de son elan et de son emotivite" (Lang 1953, 17). From this point of view, the poetry of "le metallique Valery" (Lang 1953, 39), being deliberately and carefully calculated, could share little of the sense of ephemerality and personal investment of Rilke's. I intend to propose a different view of Valery by studying two consecutive poems from Charmes which, rather than azur, are characterized by a somewhat atypically rosy palette: "Les Grenades" and "Le Vin perdu." Through the image of ripening fruit, the first of these in particular recalls Blanchot's discussion of Rilkean patience in accomplishing death.

  Telle est la tache, et qui nous invite une fois de plus a rapprocher
  le travail poetique et le travail par lequel nous devons mourir (...)
  L'image de la lente maturite du fruit, de l'invisible croissance de
  ce fruit qu'est l'enfant, nous suggere l'idee d'un travail sans hate
  (Blanchot 1955, 160-161).

My reading will attempt to establish how, in Valery's two poems, the end of the long poetic process equally implies death for the poet himself.

In the course of this argument, the two sonnets will be put into relation with analogies of harmony between music, architecture and the body suggested in Valery's essay "Poesie et pensee abstraite." Valery's essay deals with the tension between visceral inspiration and the structured, intellectual refinement of that inspiration. Ince observes that "many critics" wish "to see Charmes as a series of poems giving a chronological exposition to the various phases of poetic creation" (Ince 1956,40). I do see these two sonnets as containing figures which relate to the genesis of the poem, but more specifically they represent the poet's release of the poem from the interior, closed space of his mind to the outside world. As much may be read into the opening quatrain of "Les Grenades": "Je crois voir des fronts souverains / Eclates de leurs decouvertes" (Valery 1929, 97). Although I believe that the two sonnets deserve to be discussed together in part because they figure the relinquishing of a poem, I first intend to explore how both of them also relate to the rhythmic inception and development of Valery's poetry. …

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