The third poem of Paul Valéry’s Alphabet, “C”, opens out upon the world: “comme le temps est calme, et la jeune fin de la nuit délicatement colorée! (Alphabet, 51)”[How calm the weather is, and the youthful end of the night, delicately, colored!] It is the whole “moi”, both body and soul which takes possession of the world. Our narrator steps out on the balcony with a feeling of adoration and of coming to life! (Franklin, 6). He approaches the things which are coming to life as he experiences them with his senses and constructs them in his consciousness.
Walking, sleeping, day and night, infinite love and fear without measure whose soul drinks in the morning hour.
The exaltation of the beginning of birth—au commencement—contains the nostalgia to return to this innocent time. This prose poem was written at the end of Valéry’s life where our narrator, our author, both behold the sky, the “first light”. But the stars are dying, like the moon. “Je sais qu’un enfant aux cheveux gris contemple d’anciennes tristesses à demi mortes…dans cet objet celeste de substance étincelante et mourante…”. The gray-haired child comprises the past and future, the moment of twilight. Valéry once said: “ce qui me frappe le plus dans la mémoire, ce n’est pas qu’elle redit le passé—c’est qu’elle alimente le present”(what strikes me most in my memory is not that it repeats the past—it is that it feeds the present, Franklin, 14).
Youth and old age both meet at this hour of dawn.
The self “moi” contemplates life without understanding. “Le matin est mon séjour”(Alphabet, 54). (Morning is my journey). At this hour, one finds a past, sober and transparent.
Valéry states “the body teaches me that the most important is what repeats the most” (26). As I thought about what repeats in my body, I recall: breathing, blinking, and my heart beating. Could these be the “most important? I was recently discussing this chapter of Alphabet with my Son-in-law Phillip, a Pediatric Hospitalist, and he stated that the “repeating” systems of our body are the most important and function involuntarily: respiratory, cardiovascular, nervous/sensory, etc. These systems continue to repeat in our sleep, rejuvenating our bodies and minds to start the new day ahead.
The whole “moi”, both body and soul which takes possession of the world.
Our narrator steps out on his balcony with feelings of adoration and of coming to life! As my mind longs for what seems unprecedented to it, and as I hope in exceptional states, every beat of my heart repeats, every breath of my mouth reminds me of who I am and for the purpose in which I was created. The repetition of the body that the narrator speaks of is the repetition of each day: to love my husband, to love my family, to love my friends, to mold young minds and hearts in higher education, to serve Christ in my community and world.
I saw this same morning in my youth and I see myself next to my young self.
“How to pray when another self would listen to the prayer? That is why one must pray in words unknown. Render enigma to enigma, enigma for enigma. Raise up that which is an enigma in you to that which is an enigma in itself. There is something in you that is equal to what is happening to you”(Alphabet, 53).
Franklin, U. THE ABC’S OF LITERARY COMMERCE: VALÉRY’S “ALPHABET”, Fall, 1981, Vol. 22, No. 1 (Fall, 1981), pp. 3-9 Published by: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for its Department of Romance Studies.
Gide, Andre. “Paul Valéry”. The Kenyon Review, Spring 1946. Vol 8, No. 2 pp. 277-290.
Hontebeyrie, Micheline. “L’ équation attente / surprise dans ‘ Alphabet ‘”. Bulletin des études valéryennes, No. 98/99, Le laboratoire génétique “feuilles volantes” et Cahiers (Janvier 2005), pp. 201-215 Published by: L’Harmattan Stable URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/44858426
Jarrety, Michel. Introduction to Alphabet. (1999). Paris: Librairie Générale Française.
Valéry, Paul. Alphabet. Paris: Librairie Générale Française. 1925