Andy Samuels

“Well-behaved women rarely make history.” –Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

“The best way to make your dreams come true is to wake up.” — Paul Valery, French Poet

In this essay by Valery, sea shells serve as a catalyst to introspection and investigation. Valery, through the inspection of sea shells, poses some of the most basic metaphysical questions, but in an original way. By asking these questions regarding a concrete object, Valery achieves an immediate profundity rarely reached in most philosophical treatises. And, of course, the writing is translucid and precise, furthering the case for Valery as the French Walter Pater.

Paul Valéry’s most celebrated collection Charmes was first published in 1922. It contains several of his most famous poems, including `Ébauche d’un serpent’ and `Le cimetière marin’ – in Yvor Winters’ view `the two greatest short poems ever written.’ The collection as a whole has achieved classic status as the finest work by the finest modern French poet. Here it is helpfully introduced and discussed by Peter Dale who has also appended some early poems, and one much later piece, of related interest.

Peter Dale has been working on his translations for some thirty years. As ever, he takes the hardest – and for the reader, most rewarding – route in making versions with corresponding rhyme and metre. The result is a fresh view of an intriguing poet, somewhat neglected but now revived in English.

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