Academic journal article The Romanic Review

From Theory to Practice: A Musical Reading of Valery's "Profusion Du Soir"

Academic journal article The Romanic Review

From Theory to Practice: A Musical Reading of Valery's "Profusion Du Soir"

Article excerpt

Un poeme est pour moi un etat d'une suite d'elaborations. Ceux que j'ai publies sont a mes yeux de productions arretees par des circonstances etrangeres. Et gardes, je les eusse transformes indefiniment. (1)

Written over a period of more than twenty years (1898-1922) and published in its final form after his greatest late poems were written, "Profusion du soir" is a testament to Valery's belief in the act rather than the product of poetry. With the published poem's subtitle, "poeme abandonne," Valery reminds the reader that "Profusion du soir" represents one stage in a continuous transformative process. Although Valery believes that a poem's form contains its meaning, the form of "Profusion du soir" has, until recently, eluded its critics. Francis Scarfe perceives some of its central themes, yet he faults the transitions of the poem. (2) Charles Whiting, too, maintains that the poem "lacks unity," and argues that the value of "Profusion du soir" lies simply in its relation to Valery's greater works. (3) "Profusion du soir" is, however, as James Lawler contends "the most uncompromising of Valery's poems." (4) In his notebooks, Valery outlines his objective to create a poetic language able to express "des transformations incessantes de la connaissance." (5) Valery does exactly this in "Profusion du soir." He ushers us at once into a world in the midst of change and into the viewer's evolving mind, presenting no fixed portrait of either process. In order to reproduce the movement of evening and the viewer's quest, Valery creates a form and language patterned on his understanding of music. (6) It is my aim in this essay to demonstrate how closely Valery incorporates his musical ideas into "Profusion du soir," and how masterfully he composes a poetic music. (7)

As a classical sonata-form consists of three movements--exposition, development, and recapitulation--in which a composer states the central themes of the piece, draws them to a climax ultimately to return to the original themes, "Profusion du soir" is similarly circular, and encompasses three movements. In the sonnet, or first movement, Valery sounds the key of the poem, presenting the language that echoes throughout its development while he delineates the themes of the poem--the transformation from contemplation to creation and from day to night. The remaining twelve stanzas compose the development of "Profusion du soir." In contrast to the sonnet's tight form, in the development's varying, generally longer stanzas, Valery reveals in greater detail the process behind both transformations. We hear the range of tones accompanying the viewer's inner process and see how the variations in light affect the surrounding skyscape. Valery often discusses the regenerative nature of poetic form, insisting that the end of a poem does not signal its completion. Though the last stanzas of "Profusion du soir" climactically portray the darkness that threatens the speaker's vision, its final lines, calling for acceptance of mystery, recall the language of the sonnet. Closing the poem with an ellipsis, Valery thus urges the reader to return to the poem's exposition. The final movement of "Profusion du soir," then, is a "recapitulation" of the sonnet.

The composer, Valery maintains, is able to express "des transformations incessantes" due to the precision of his system and its intrinsic mobility. For the poet to do so he must recreate language--"Redissoudre et faire recristalliser les relations." (8) In "Profusion du soir" Valery musicalizes language in the poem, and creates a self-enclosed system of language analogous to the musical system he admires. The language reinforces the circularity of its overall structure, creates the sense of a world distinct from the practical world, and enables him to represent the mobility and transformations so naturally expressed in musical form.

Valery employs an extremely restricted vocabulary in "Profusion du soir. …

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