Au plus haut lieu de sa puissance et de sa gloire, hélas!Alas, in the highest place of his power and of his glory, Alas! 8th hour.
In poems 1-6 of Alphabet (letters A-G representing the first seven hours of the day), Paul Valéry writes about the awakening of the body, especially of the mind “looking towards the imminence of possibilities of the day’’. This is not an itinerary of the day as we plan the busyness of our lives: arise, exercise, eat breakfast, shower, dress, go to work…rather, this is our narrator’s process of a renewal, each day, of consciousness after a night of sleep followed by an awareness of our body, soul, spirit, mind, and how we relate to our world-nature.
Every twenty-four hours, the body, soul, and mind are “reborn”. This twenty-four-hour period is divided into X- twelve hours of the night and Y-twelve hours of the day. The most important part of the day, according to Valéry, is what is repeated the most: each beat of my heart repeats, each breath of my mouth reminds me, that the most important thing is the one that is repeated the most (BnF ms: 728-29).
As our narrator connects to nature, the role of Expectation is perceived as the ability “to excite, to expand, to regenerate, to form the desire that one has opened, and to reopen this desire ”.
We see this in the opening of the poem “H”, in which our narrator notes that, “Nothing escapes the light.” When the sun is absent, in all its strength, all things are invisible to the eyes.
Unlike the “perfection” of the daytime, however, he finds terror in the night. His hands become marked with a living stain of a dark, purplish stain “une mosure de pourpre renaît devant moir sur toute chose”, a bite of purple is reborn before me, on everything. What is this stain of purple? This purple “mark” accuses him. He flees down to the flowers, to the groves, under the trees trying to escape the stain.
He will no longer rid his eyes of the crime of having lived by them in the sun.
Hontebeyrie, Micheline. “L’équation attente/surprise dans ‘Alphabet’”. Bulletin des études valéryennes, No. 98;99, Le laboratoire génétique “feuilles volantes” et Cahiers (Janvier 2005).
Valéry, Paul. Alphabet. Paris: Librairie Générale Française. 1925