Chapter four, “D” of Paul Valéry’s Alphabet corresponds to the fourth hour of our narrator’s day: his bath. In the previous Chapters 1-3, “A, B, C”, or the first three hours of his day, our narrator has left his dreams, awoken from his sleep, become aware of his mind and body, meditation before thought, and has reconnected to his world. In “C”, Comme le temps est calme, we became aware through his thought processes of the “repeating systems” that are vital to life: breathing, heart beating, blood circulating—all which continue to perform their function during sleep. The body requires rest through sleep, as well as our mind, our soul, our cells.
And now the rejuvenation of a morning bath. This ritual has become a thing of the past, unfortunately. In our hurried lives and routines, it is faster (and probably healthier) to hop in and out of a shower. But what are we missing in our haste? Our narrator reminds us of this.
“Dans le pur et brilliant sarcphage, douce est l’eau qui repose, tiede et parfait epouse de la forme du corps”(Alphabet, 55).
In the pure and brilliant sarcophagus, sweet is the water that rests, warm and perfectly married to the shape of the body. In the nude, free and light, it settles down and calms down. His height and stature change; he can stretch until he reaches his elasticity, feeling his full power. The weight of the blissful bathed flesh is almost imperceptible; the heat of his blood being a little different from that of the water, very near, his blood expands under his skin. The living body is barely distinguishable from the formless body whose substance replaces it with each movement.
Oh, the healing, relaxing properties of water. To be immersed in water, once again, baptized, cleansed. Stripped down to the essentials in which we came into the world. The weightlessness of being buoyant. All of the pressures of our world lifted, if for just a moment. Our narrator releases his will into the freedom of l’aise de l’onde, the ease of the waves of le bain. The weight of the world is eased. The whole body now is more than a pleasant dream vaguely made by thought.
His body descending into the transparency, like an oceanic island that emerges and plunges at whim from the bottom of the sea. The eyes are lost or closed. L’esprit s’ouvre les veines un rêve.
Valéry, Paul. Alphabet. Paris: Librairie Générale Française. 1925