This is the concluding post for Paul Valery’s Alphabet, Quelle to Zenith, the 16th to 24th hour of the day. I thought by this point, our Narrator would be wounding down his day, heading to bed, seven to eight hours sleep and all! Alas, only the last hour, “Z”, Zenith, contains the night sleep, and he is awake at dawn and ready for the next day.
Je m’éveille et me lève et vais….
In our last poem, “P”, our lovers were staring intently into each other’s eyes, through budding tears. They had had a quarrel, followed by silence, and then reconciled in the garden where they were once again “masters of life and truth”, the necessity of their existence.
In “Q”, our narrator is meditating near the Mediterranean Sea. He is witnessing the miracle of creation, of sky, of sea, of life, “a whole moment is a diadem”.
Tout ce moment est un diadéme.
His heart contains a treasury of memories, where unknown nature abounds and lifts the whole mass of living. He feels more love than he can share, more mystery than exists in the heavens, and more power than anybody can display.
In “R”, Retour, our narrator is returning to his thoughts about autumn where the golden piled leaves lay dying and everything is gradually darkening and deteriorating. Silence takes hold once again and brings weariness. The cover evening is coming, darkness and coldness of the night air have set in, life and death dance before him. He can no longer think of anything to say. Ineffable is the fate of this duration.
He takes his lover in his arms to warm her.
“S”: Diner time! Repas, In the 18th hour, “Servez-vous”! As they huddle by a campfire, Syracuse, a local fisherman is preparing his day’s catch–red mullets in wine sauce! This is very pleasing.
With the repas and wine develops stories of old. A beautiful wine has its life during which it matures and confides in itself—and so it is with us.
“T”, the 19th hour, brings the Métaphysique. Suddenly, our narrator has the feeling of a spirit close to him, a living thing that will change his life. Her lips on his neck crash down like a stone. She is behind him, and she is in his past. It is as if something was completely accomplished and yet, has never been. They become intimate. His hands find again the knowledge of the creature which engenders her Creator. “U”, the 20th hour, our narrator is deep in the “essential property of thought” in which this power passes through his body, through his soul—the C E M are reunited. It is the end of the day, time for sleep.
“V”, the 21st hour, “Come, Let there be darkness. Let the word to the breaths alone finally cede it.” The lovers no longer have names or faces or appearances. The spirit has vanished. There are limbs, masses, and powers which touch each other, compose themselves, and agree tacitly; these question each other and answer each other. They are adorned with sweetness and ineffable similarities in contrast to life.
Energies are once again born and reborn in the pursuit of intimacy.
“X”, 22nd hour, Star gazing! The Constellations become clear in the night sky: Betelgeuse, Bellatrix, Rigel, Kappa, four peaks of the X quartered on this so pure and populous night. In the center of the huge figure, Alnilam, Alnitak, Mintaka are the jewels of the knot that ties the limbs of the imaginary letter. A sign of algebra shines and throbs on the belt of our world.
Une sorte d’équilibre stationnaire entre l’homme et l’esprit de l’homme s’établir.
A stationary equilibrium between man and the spirit of man is established.
“Y” 23rd hour. Le neant. Nothingness. “Is there in me, is it possible that I find, o my virtue of thinking, through your unknown and imperceptible act, some connection / some exchange / between this sky all strewn with small luminous bodies and my moment and my presence and this remnant of love that is on me?” The view of the night sky leaves him in total thought.
“Z” 24th hour. Hymne à la nuit. Résumé du jour. Our final hour brings the Zenith, the hymn of the night. Our narrator wakes up, throws a cloak around his shoulders, opens a window, and is ready to résumé the day. Orion is ascending.
Voici une oreille, une bouche, un témoin, un poste; une écoute;
Here is an ear, a mouth, a witness, listening, of what should we translate? Silence, clarity…The deep water of the world at this hour is so still, so transparent.
Mais, il n’y a rien que ce qui est et rien de plus, rien que ce qui est et s’écoule uniformément.
But there is nothing but what is and nothing more, nothing but what is and flows unvarying.
Conclusion: In Paul Valéry’s Alphabet, there are three main themes: 1) the mind finds its body upon awakening at dawn; 2) the mind and body unite as the self arises to the new day; and 3) the united self takes possession of the world, the morning unfolding before it.
Translating this work has given me a renewed sense of re-creating myself each morning.
- I am looking at the possibilities of the day ahead with enthusiasm and insight.
- Reflecting on the previous day’s events and their impact on my life is an important part of who I am (especially as an Enneagram 4); however, after a night’s sleep and a lucid awakening, my focus is on the uniting of a renewed mind, body, and self (spirit) in “sweet anticipation of the coming day”.
- What is the fonctionnement of my total self?
- Que la chose la plus importante est celle qui se répète le plus. What is repeating the most in my life? These are the most important. As a whole person, I am filled with wonder at the miracle which renews itself each dawn; the “autogenesis”, as Valéry states.
- Il n’est point de pensée de degré plus élevé que ceci. There is no thought higher than this. What is the “highest thought” of my day?
- On se tait. Be silent.
I began this journey almost a year ago for my Summer Reading 2021. I am so glad I stopped by. Thank you Valéry for enriching my life with your words.
Valéry, Paul. Alphabet. Paris: Librairie Générale Française. 1925
Thanks for introducing me to Valéry and his Alphabet. (I think I have read all your posts about him.)
Hi Nemorino, you are most welcome! This work has been a great treasure for me. I am very excited to start my next Valéry critique by Elizabeth Sewell, “Valéry, The Mind in the Mirror”!