In the chapters “M” from Paul Valéry’s Alphabet, we are now half-way through our day, the 12th hour. If my day began at 6am, it would be 6pm. I would be preparing my dinner, or “supper” as we say here in the U.S.

Valéry includes three poems in the chapters for “M”. According to his PLANS in the appendix, the themes of “M” are a continuation of the themes in  “L”- Arbre. Amour.

Mille fois, j’ai déjà ressenti l’Unique…

A thousand times over, he still feels unique. Our narrator has a thirst for knowledge which brings a joy in feeling the coming of the next idea! I love this. This is how I feel each week as I translate Valéry’s poems, chapter by chapter, never knowing what will come in the next hour of the day. My days are very predictable, planned, intentional. I like it that way. However, there is a great abandon in Alphabet through the day of our narrator. [Of course there is–He lives on the Mediterranean Coast of Southern France!]

This thirst for knowledge that he has brings a feeling of being “reborn, indefinitely, from the secret aches of the soul”.

Chaque aurore est première. L’idée qui vient crée un homme nouveau.

 Each dawn is first. Each dawn creates a new man.

Alas, How often, our life offered turns into smoke at the feel of the idols of intellect. Our acts and prayers transform our love, our blood, our time, into works and thoughts. The drudgery of the daily routines. How often do we surprise ourselves through novelty?

At the same time that he is contemplating his thirst for knowledge to enrich his mind, our narrator becomes aware of the repetitions in his physical body: every beat of his heart, every breath through his mouth…

la chose la plus importante est celle qui se répète le plus.

“The most important thing is that which is repeated the most.”

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 my body allows me: 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. My expectation is a silence which is sufficient.

2nd “M” chapter of 12th hour: Me voici, tel que je suis, baignant dans l’air indispensable.

It is bath time, en plein air! Our narrator is bathing outside, perhaps in the Mediterranean, in the “essential air which seems so pure and deliciously fresh”. He feels alive. He is unaware of the presence of earth. He is only aware of his mind and body at this moment. He has everything he needs.

He ends his bath time reconnecting to the earth. He notices a large tree nearby. The tree itself forms one more knot, as it rises to its blossoming. In the same way, as our bodies form “knots” which rise into blossoms, these knots harden into new ideas.  

In the 3rd “M” Chapter of the 12th hour, we are introduced to “Madam, mon amie”. Her flowers are beautiful and fragrant. They bring great pleasure and he wants to tell her about it. He tries to find flattering words that can match her beauty.

Que si je m’oubliais et ne disais que ma pensée…

I forgot myself and spoke only my thoughts. She likes flowers, he likes trees. Des fleurs sont choses et les arbres sont des êtres. Flowers are things and trees are beings. He calls to the “l’abre de vie qui es ten moi”-the tree of life which is in me. Tree, my tree, Love would be your name.

Je t’aime, je voudrais aimer comme toi, être aimé comme tu aimes, frémir, grandir, périr….

I love you, I would like to love like you, to be loved as you love, to shudder, to grow, to perish….

Work Cited

Valéry, Paul. Alphabet. Paris: Librairie Générale Française. 1925