In the poet:
The ear speaks
The mouth listens;
It is intelligence, vigilance, that gives birth to dream;
It is sleep that sees clearly;
It is the image and the phantom that look;
It is the lack and the blank that create.
A poem must be a holiday of Mind. It can be nothing else.
Poetry: It is the attempt to represent, or to restore, by means of articulated language those things, or that thing, which cries, tears, caresses, kisses, sighs, etc., try obscurely to express, and which objects seem to want to express in all that is lifelike in them or appears to have design. In no other way can that thing be defined. It is of the nature of that energy which spends itself in responding to what is….
The subject of a poem is as foreign to it and as important, as his name is to a man.
Poetry is a survival.
Poetry, in a period of language simplification, of changing forms and insensibility in regard to them, of specialization—is a thing preserved. I mean that today verse would not be invented. Nor, indeed, rites of any kind.
The poet is also the one who looks for the comprehensible and conceivable system that would have a place in its expression for a beautiful accident of language: a certain word, a certain chord of words, a certain syntactic progression—a certain opening—that he has encountered, awakened, stumbled on by chance—thanks to his poet’s nature.
Translated by Louise Varèse
Selected Writings of Paul Valéry. (1964) New York: New Directions Publishing.