NARCISSUS IN VALERY'S POETICS
DOROTHY HOPKINS SCHNARE
A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE COUNCIL OF
THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE
DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
The writer wishes to express her appreciation to
Dr. Raymond Gay-Crosier and to Dr. Albert B. Smith for
their assistance in the writing of this dissertation.
Their constructive criticism and numerous suggestions were
invaluable. In addition, Dr. Herman E. Spivey, an out-
standing teacher, has been a great source of inspiration.
Special thanks are also due her husband, Dr. Paul S. Schnare,
for his patience and encouragement.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS ........... ........................ ii
ABSTRACT .......................... ..................... ... ... iv
INTRODUCTION ................ ............. ....... ....... 1
NOTES ........................................... .. 12
CHAPTER ONE: "NARCISSE PARLE" ......................... 14
NOTES .............................. ........... ... 76
CHAPTER TWO: "FRAGMENTS DU NARCISSE"................. 85
Introduction and Background...................... 85
"Narcisse parole" and the "Fragments"............. 105
Questionable Sources ............................. 122
Ovidian Elements............ .... .. .... ......... 138
Further Poetic Considerations.................... 149
Summary .............. .............. ............. 163
NOTES .......... ............ ......... ........... 167
CHAPTER THREE: CANTATE DU NARCISSE ..................177
NOTES.............. ................ ............... 219
CONCLUSION ............ ................... ............ 222
BIBLIOGRAPHY.. ...................................... . 230
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH.................. .. .. .... .... ......237
Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the
Graduate Council of the University of Florida
in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the
Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
NARCISSUS IN VALERY'S POETICS
Dorothy Hopkins Schnare
Chairman: Dr. Raymond Gay-Crosier
Major Department: Romance Languages and Literatures (French)
This study proceeds from the conviction that the most
logical way to arrive at an understanding of Val6ry's poetics
is by means of his poems, in particular, his Narcissus poems.
Valdry used many different forms to expatiate on his poetic
theory. Excerpts appear in letters, aphorisms, and in his
poems. Specific details are amplified in essays, lectures,
and the Cahiers. One of the most persistent problems in
attempting to understand Valdry's poetics is how to confront
this mass of disparate material in order to articulate it
succinctly. Critics tend to see the theory as a mass of
fragments and even contradictions. Proceeding from the poems
to the theory, as Valdry generally did, is a viable way to
synthesize the essential tenets.
Val6ry wrote three major works on Narcissus: "Nar-
cisse parle" (1891), "Fragments du Narcisse" (1926), and
Cantate du Narcisse (1939). Since these works and revisions
of them were composed over a fifty year period, they func-
tion as a poetic autobiography demonstrating the essential
elements of his poetics.
One chapter is devoted to each of the three works.
In each case, the same pattern is followed, providing back-
ground details, confronting the problem of influence, analyz-
ing the Ovidian elements, and closely examining the text.
The focus is kept on what these aspects reveal about Valdry's
theory. For example, in the first chapter, a study of "Nar-
cisse parle," a poem in the Symbolist manner, the question
of influence is seriously entertained. Valdry's early poetic
theory is formulated, primarily, on the poems and poetic
aims of Mallarm6 and the theories and technique of Poe.
The second chapter concentrates on the "Fragments
du Narcisse" and demonstrates Valdry's classical aims. Com-
parison of it with "Narcisse parle," underlines Valery's
method of composition, a series of rejections, revisions,
retentions, and regroupings. Finally, the Cantate, a fusion
of his Symbolist tendencies and his classical aims, rein-
forces a number of the basic elements of Valery's poetic
canon, for instance, his problem solving approach, and his
view of poetry as an art of language.
Valdry's theory of poetry is personal. He indulges
in poetic creation for himself first and for others only
second, remaining, on the whole, indifferent to his audience.
His theory centers on considerations about the poet and the
problems he faces or poses for himself. For Valry, poetry
is a serious intellectual exercise involving long labor and
constant revision. A poem is never finished, for the
creative process is a quest for perfection, for pure poetry.
As much consciousness as possible is his fundamental rule
for poetic creation. He insisted upon writing under strict
constraints, imposing the maximum number of conventions and
rules to increase the degree of both consciousness and poetry.
His poetry is at once cerebral and sensuous making
the Narcissus myth the perfect vehicle to explore his acute
sensitivity and heightened consciousness. The Narcissus
poems are a clear demonstration of his conviction that a
poet could spend a lifetime rewriting the same poem. Con-
scious effort and attention to the beautiful details of
poetry provide a myriad of angles from which the poet can
approach the same theme to learn more about the creative act.
Valdry postulates no dogmatic theory of poetry.
Inward-looking and self-reflective, he prefers to question
and experiment. The cumulative impression which the Nar-
cissus poems produce about Val6ry's poetics is one of unity
and continuity. During the long period from "Narcisse parle"
through the "Fragments" to the Cantate, his poetic preoccupa-
tions and practices remain basically unaltered. They are
always related to the larger question of how to know the mind.
The persona in Paul Valry's literary production
is Narcissus whether he is named Monsieur Teste who says:
"Je suis 6tant, et me voyant; me voyant, me voir et ainsi
de suite..." or the angel seated at the edge of the
fountain in Valery's final poem, "L'Ange." Named, un-
named or renamed, the figure of Narcissus is a constant
of Valry's work.
Valdry wrote three major poems with the word
Narcissus mentioned in the title: "Narcisse parle"
(1891), the "Fragments du Narcisse" (1926), and the
Cantate du Narcisse (1939). These three compositions
will serve as the framework for this study of Valery's
poetics. Elaboration and clarification of the tenets
of Valery's poetic theory are made possible by means of
a close examination of the background and details of his
three major Narcissus works.
Val6ry's study of poetry is much broader and
involves much more than the statement of an "art po6tique."
He researched the creative process in depth and focused
on the mind's act of "making." That is why he chooses
to speak of poeticsc" art as making:
J'ai done cru pouvoir le reprendre
dans un sens qui regarded L l1'tymologie,
sans oser cependant le prononcer
Politique, don't la physiologie se sert
quand elle parole do functions h6mato-
poi@tiques ou galactopo'itiques. Mais
c'est enfin la notion toute simply
de faire que je voulais exprimer.
What interested Val6ry about his own poems was how he
created them, their very genesis. The actual process of
fabrication was so important to him because it led him
back to and taught him more about his primordial interest
- the mind.
The poems are a starting point for further research
and allow him to make statements about theory, implicitly
by means of the poems themselves, explicitly in letters,
lectures, and essays, nearly always after the fact. While
aspects of his poetic theory developed and changed, much
of it remained constant and became more precise over the
years, and this is what makes a close study of the Nar-
cissus poems so revealing and rewarding in an attempt to
synthesize Valery's theory of poetry. They span his whole
career from his early insistence on the sonnet as an
ideal form in the late 1800's to the very end of his career
with the publication of the prose poem, "L'Ange" in 1945.
There is a Narcissus poem for each major creative period
in his life. In the early period, the Symbolist period,
he produced "Narcisse parole Of all his youthful poems,
he felt that this one alone approached his ideal. During
the years of his return to poetry, there is a significant
revision of "Narcisse parole" for the Album de vers anciens.
The period of maturity, with the masterpieces of Charmes,
includes the three part, highly acclaimed, "Fragments du
Narcisse." Finally, his artistic endeavors centered on
drama, and in this last period he wrote the libretto for
the musical drama: Cantate du Narcisse.
While Valdry's Narcissus is engaged in the search
for self, it is not as the result of an identity crisis,
nor is his preoccupation with the figure of Narcissus
pure narcissism in the psychological sense.2 The starting
point for Valdry's Narcissus poems is not an unconscious
impulse to lend imagery to a universal human problem, that
of the relationship of the self to the self, but rather
a very conscious effort to resolve problems of poetry,
and, thereby, to reach an understanding of the creative
process. This understanding is, in turn, a means to the
fundamental goal which was to know and understand the
mind and its potential. Undoubtedly, the quest into the
mind is simultaneously the quest into the integrity of
the self and individuality. As Narcisse says in the
Mais moi, Narcisse aimed, je ne suis curieux
Que de ma seule essence;
Tout autre n'a pour moi qu'un coeur myst6rieux,
Tout autre n'est qu'absence (0, I, 128).
The mind's goal is a "moi pur," absolute consciousness.
One of the most significant aspects of Valdry's
choice of the mask of Narcissus is its total suitability
for him. It is, at once, both important and unimportant
as subject matter for his poetry. Because it is an old
re-worked vehicle for poetic production with a long
poetic history (not the least of which is in the French
literary tradition), it is insignificant in and of itself,
a banal subject. Consequently, the poetry itself becomes
of prime importance as Val6ry intended. The act of crea-
tion which he saw as a serious intellectual exercise
involving subtle modulation and constant revision becomes
the focal point of his poetic activity. He continuously
stresses the unimportance of subject in its usual sense
and insists that the interest in a poem, for him, lies in
the composition: "Cependanr la seule pens&e de con-
structions de cette espece demeure pour moi la plus
poetique des iddes: l'id6e de composition' (0, 1, 1504).
If the story of Narcissus is not in and of itself
of prime importance for its subject matter or thought
content, Valiry's use of it, nevertheless, has symbolic
significance. The introspective, ever-reflective Valery,
always on the verge of utter solipsism, is certainly like
Narcissus continually gazing at his reflection in the
water, as he endlessly seeks total self-possession.
Ultimately, of course, both Valery and Narcissus are
doomed to failure, and Valdry is keenly aware that absolute
knowledge is inaccessible. Yet, he sees the purity of
purpose involved in the constant striving for a single,
unattainable ideal goal, be it the "moi pur" or pure poetry.
The Narcissus myth is Valdry's most important
myth. A number of short articles and one full-length
study of the theme recognize the importance of the figure
of Narcissus in Val6ry's work. Pierre Fortassier in
"Le Theme de Narcisse" begins:
Le regard le plus superficiel ne
peut manquer de percevoir, dans
l'oeuvre de Paul Valery, l'impor-
tance du thbme de Narcisse ..
Un examen plus approfondi rvbele
la presence de ce thime, plus ou
moins latent, A peu pros partout.
The longer study, a dissertation, attempts to reassess
the importance of the Cantate du Narcisse. Basically,
however, it is a comparative study with some limited
explications de texte.4 The third chapter purports to
be a "close reading of the three Narcissus works of
Val6ry."5 Unfortunately, this is not the case. Only
three pages, for instance, are spent in an examination
of the last two parts of "Fragments du Narcisse" which
contain a total of 166 lines. The shorter studies make
no claim to be in-depth analyses of the three works.
None of these studies recognize that the three poems,
stretching over Valery's career as they do, are a logical
steppingstone to an understanding of Valdry's poetic
While it is clear that the theme of Narcissus
in Valdry's work has not been adequately or thoroughly
explored, there have been important studies made of
Valery's poetics. Two full-length studies, in particular,
come to mind immediately: Jean Hytier's La Po6iique de
Valery6 and W.N. Ince's The Poetic Theory of Paul Val6ry.7
The latter, subtitled Inspiration and Technique, is
interesting but limited since it concentrates primarily
on trying to make a case for the role of inspiration in
Valery's work. It is often suggested that Val6ry is
contradictory and less than honest about the role of in-
spiration in his work, but he does not disregard emotion,
imagination, intuition or inspiration, for that matter.
He emphasizes instead that these are not sufficient in
themselves but must be complemented and disciplined by
intelligence and as much consciousness as possible.
Hytier's book, much more comprehensive than
Ince's, is the most widely acclaimed study of Val&ry's
theory of poetry. It is an indispensable aid to an
understanding of the subject. One major point of differ-
ence between Hytier's work and this present examination
is that he does not, with any consistency or detail,
compare Val6ry's theories about poetry with his practice.
He neglects or overlooks the fact that the poems generally
came first and then the theory. Writing "Le Cimetiere
marin," for example, led eventually to "Au sujet du
'Cimetiere marin,'" an important pronouncement on poetic
theory. A revealing account of Valery's return to poetry,
"Le Prince et la Jeune Parque," followed the writing of
the poem La Jeune Parque and the Narcissus poems eventually
resulted in "Une Causerie sur Narcisse" on September
19, 1941, which was later published as "Sur les
Val6ry's essays and commentary on his poems are
in a way a defense and illustration of them. Because of the
fact that Val6ry's interest in poetry is based on his
preoccupation with the effect of the poet's labor on the
the poet himself and how much of the mind poetry is capable
of engaging, it is important, if not essential, to start
with the poetry. Also, Hytier does not make use of the
Cahiers, an indispensable tool for the study of Val6ry's
A number of short articles as well as chapters in
various books about Valdry also serve to introduce, out-
line and clarify Valry's poetics.8 In a short chapter
entitled "The Poetic Theory of Paul Valery," Henry Grubbs
touches on poetry as exercise, the role of inspiration,
the necessity of rhyme, the theory of multiple solutions
and the importance of revisions.9 The poetic problems
which concerned Val6ry, as outlined by Grubbs, come up
naturally in the course of examining the Narcissus poems,
and,therefore, they can be explained and amplified in
direct correlation with the poetry.
As I shall demonstrate, nowhere is it clearer
than in the Narcissus poems that, for Valdry, poetry is
a long labor involving constant revision. Moreover, a poem
is never finished except by accident, as was the case
with "Narcisse parole" which Pierre Louys needed immediately
for the first issue of his journal, La Conque. Val6ry saw
poetry as an art of language and, like Mallarm6, recog-
nized that the impurity of language necessitated separating
its poetic from its ordinary practical function. The
Narcissus poems show that Val6ry is a word sceptic, test-
ing the limits of language. The role of music in poetry,
the importance of form as opposed to content, the intention
to utilize to the fullest the conventions of poetry, the
goal of pure poetry, all are shown, in this study, to be
integral parts of the long development from "Narcisse
parle" through the "Fragments" to the Cantate.
A chapter will be devoted to each of the three
Narcissus works. While the emphasis will not always be
the same, a similar pattern of analysis will be followed
in each chapter. There will be a general introduction and
survey of background details, a study of possible influences,
a demonstration of the Ovidian elements Valery utilizes,
and a close examination of the text itself.
In the first chapter where "Narcisse parle" is
studied, the role of influence is most carefully dealt
with since it is crucial to an understanding of the poem
and the poetic theory behind it. Mallarm6 and Poe, in
particular, materially affected "Narcisse parle," which
is, essentially, a poem in the Symbolist manner. Since
there are two major versions of the poem, concentrated
study of Valry's revisions reveals his specific technical
considerations and important aspects of his poetic
theory. Valry's ultimate rejection of certain Symbolist
traits comes to light, as well as his theory of the
possibility of different solutions to a poetic problem,
and the necessity for attention to the smallest details of
poetry and calculated effects.
With the "Fragments," studied in chapter two,
it is necessary to confront the mass of analyses already
existing since the poem has been studied repeatedly.
Rather than indulge in additional interpretative specula-
tion, I have concentrated instead on comparison with
"Narcisse parle" which figures materially in the composi-
tion of the "Fragments" and clearly demonstrates Valery's
serious interest in poetic technique, especially the
importance of utilizing standard poetic conventions.
Synthesis of several studies of the work leads to com-
parison of Valdry with Lucretius, the Romantic poets, and
Racine. This focus has the advantage of putting Val4ry's
aims into perspective. Subject matter is inconsequential
but the poetic challenge which an old theme affords is
an important factor. The expression of the poet's philo-
sophy has no role in the poem. In addition, the "Frag-
ments" underscore Valery's classicism.
In the third chapter I examine the Cantate du Narcisse.
Since the Cantate is the least familiar of Val6ry's Nar-
cissus works, I have approached it in a slightly different
manner. I have tried to piece together background infor-
mation which has not previously been assimilated. I also
spend more time on interpretation since, unlike the
"Fragments," the Cantate has rarely been analyzed. An
additional change in format is caused by Valdry's use of
a different genre which requires examination of his con-
cept of theater. On the other hand, as I develop the sub-
stance of this modified approach, I continue to focus on
Valdry's poetic preoccupations and his theory of poetry
demonstrating that Val6ry's third work is a fusion of
the other two in that it combines his classical aims with
his Symbolist tendencies.
Close study of these works in the three chapters
which follow will show the actual progression from poem
to theory and the emergence of what is never a dogmatic
theory of poetry but allows for a viable synthesis and a
fuller understanding of Valdry's poetics. Unlike the
Teste cycle and the Leonardo works, the Narcissus poems
are not a mere phase of Valdry's development. Neither
are they primarily an aspect of Valiry's intellectual
biography and personality,as Michel Ddcaudin contends.10
The poems about Narcissus are instead exactly what Val6ry
suggested they were: "une sorte d'auto-biographie podti-
que."11 And the word poetic must be emphasized, for the
poems constitute a veritable autobiography of Val6ry's
poetic development. They span his total poetic career
and cover the full range of his artistic concerns.
Paul Valery, OEuvres, 6d. Jean Hytier (Paris:
Editions Gallimard. Bibliotheque de la Pl1iade, 1957),
I, p. 1342. Hereafter cited in the text as O, I, or O,
II, in the case of volume II. All emphases and ellipses
are Val6ry's unless otherwise indicated.
For a detailed discussion of the psychological
ramifications of Val6ry's choice of the theme of Narcissus
see Gilbert Aigrisse, Psychanalyse de Paul Valery (Paris:
Editions universitaires de France, 1964). The most per-
tinent chapter reprinted under the title: "Une Maniere
de narcissisme" appears in Les Critiques de notre temps
et Valery, presentation par Jean Bellemin-Noel (Paris:
Garnier, 1971), pp. 119-132.
3Pierre Fortassier, "Le Theme de Narcisse,"
Europe, 49 (1971), 49. See also "Narcisse chez Paul
Valery" in Pierre Albouy, Mythes et mythologies dans la
litt6rature franqaise (Paris: Armand Colin, 1969), pp.
181-187, and Otto Hahn, "Le Naufrage de Narcisse,"
L'Express 736 (1965), 44-46.
4Lester Dufford, The Myth of Narcissus in the
Works of Paul Valery (Dissertation: Florida State Uni-
versity, 1970). The comparisons include discussions of
the myth in Ovid, Le Roman de la Rose, Franqois Villon,
a "broadside ballad," James Shirley, and Mallarm6.
3Dufford, p. 4.
6Jean Hytier, La Podtique de Valdry (Paris:
Armand Colin, 1970).
Walter Newcomb Ince, The Poetic Theory of Paul
Val6ry (Leicester: Leicester University Press, 1961).
8One of the most important is Jackson Mathews,
"The Poletics of Paul Val6ry," Romanic Review 46 (1955),
203-217. Mathews discusses the lectures given by Valery
on poetics at the College de France from 1937 to 1945
concentrating, as Valery does in the lectures, on
9Henry Grubbs, Paul Val6ry (New York: Twayne
Publishers, 1968), pp. 83-99.
10Michel D&caudin, "Narcisse: une sorte d'auto-
biographie po6tique," L'Information Litt6raire, VII
1l"Sur les 'Narcisse,'" in Paul Valry vivant
(!Marseille: Cahiers du Sud, 1946), p. 283.
Of all Val6ry's early poems, "Narcisse parle" has
the longest and most distinguished history. This poem,
which has often been singled out and praised as the best
or one of the most beautiful of the many poems written
between 1888 and 1892, occasioned the first public recog-
nition of Val6ry. "Son nom voltigera sur les l1vres des
hommes" were the words written by Henri Chantavoine (in
his generally laudatory article) in the Journal des Ddbats
of April 7, 1891, to describe Valery after the publication
of the "jolis vers" of his "Narcisse parle" in La Conque
on the 15th of March 1891. Gide alone, of all Valdry's
friends, was critical of aspects of the poem. His com-
ments will be discussed later. Others like Pierre Louys,
Henri de Rdgnier, and H6rddia praised the poem whole-
heartedly. Valdry himself, who was keenly disappointed
with the poem and greatly bothered by the considerable
praise it received, nevertheless, felt that of all his
early poems it was the closest to his ideal. "Ce poeme demeure
pour moi un premier 6tat charact6ristique de mon id6al et
de mes moyens de ce temps-la." He also valued it enough
to send a copy to Mallarmd who wrote in response: "Votre
'Narcisse parole' me charme et je le dis a Louys. Gardez
ce ton rare."2
Appreciation and acclaim for the poem continue
even in recent times. Henry Grubbs, for example, feels
that "Narcisse parle" is one of Val6ry's first distinctive
poems because of its delicate harmonies, purity and ori-
ginality of imagery.3 Agnes MacKay remarks:
During the spring and summer of 1891
Valdry was still writing poetry. "H61lne,"
"a large fresco which should evoke anti-
quity," and "La Fileuse," are both of this
period, but the most characteristic poem
among his early works, and which played a
part in his evolution, was "Narcisse
In the course of a brief examination of some of the poems
of the Album de vers anciens of which "Narcisse parle"
is an integral part, Berne-Joffroy singles it out: "Mais
l'un d'eux, 'Narcisse parle,' announce d6ja les pures
harmonies de La Jeune Parque."5 And Pierre-Olivier Walzer
wrote: "Quand Adrienne Monnier publia, en 1920, 1'Album
de vers anciens, 'Narcisse parole' en 6tait l'un des plus
In addition to his praise for the poem, Walzer
provides extensive background material (pp. 85-96). Per-
haps his most notable contribution to the study of
"Narcisse parole" is his discussion of the sonnets anterior
to the "Narcisse parole" of La Conque where he includes
the publication of the following sonnet which he sees as
the version"[. .] apparemment lamoins travaill6e,
repres6ntant par consequent le point de depart de tous
Que je deplore ton eclat fatal et pur!
Source magique, a mes larmes predestin6e,
O puiserent mes yeux dans un mortel azur
Mon image de fleurs funestes couronn6e!
Car, je m'aime!... 6 reflet ironique de Moi!
O mes baisers! lanc6s a la calme fontaine,
Et vous, roses! que vers ma vision lointaine
Epand sur l'eau ma main suave, avec effroi.
Cher Narcissus! tes livres ont soif de tes levres!
Et mes regards, dans ce cristal 6changent leurs
Faut-il ma vie A ton amour, 6 spectre cher?...
Toi, ma splendeur, incline-toi vers l'amdthyste
De ce miroir don't m'attire la lueur triste
Ainsi qu'un blanc vase harmonieux, 6 ma chair!...
Henri Mondor, however, in "Deux poemes in6dits,"
Hommage a Paul Valery published by Les Nouvelles LittE-
raires in 1945 gives the following version as "la toute
premiere 6bauche inddite" of "Narcisse parle." The first
five lines are the same as those of the version presented
by Walzer. The lines which differ are:
O mes baisers jets a la came fontaine,
Roses vaines que vers mon image lointaine
Epand sur 1'eau ma main suave avec effroi!
De mes propres beautds ma bouche est amoureuse
Je lis dans mes regards ma fureur malheureuse
Ma vie adore un spectre inviolable et cher.
0 ma soif de moi-meme, invoque l'amtthyste
De ce miroir don't m'attire la lueur triste
Oh dort ce noble vase harmonieux, ma chair!
(O, I, 1556-57).
Both versions have the same date, 28 September 1890.
Still another version of the sonnet and a prose poem ren-
dition appear in O, I, pages 1555 and 1557.8 Considerable
additional background material is found there also (pp.
1552-1564) including about two-thirds of the lecture
given by Valdry entitled "Sur les 'Narcisse'" (pp. 1559-
61). More of this same lecture, given at the home of
Marguerite Fournier in Marseille on the 19th of September
1941, appears in Paul Val&ry vivant.
During this talk Val6ry gave his personal account
of the poetic origin of "Narcisse parle" explaining, among
other things, the source of the poem's epigraph: PLACANDIS
11 existed a Montpellier un jardin
botanique oi j'allais tres souvent alors
que j'avais l'age de 19 ans. Dans un coin
assez retired de ce jardin, qui 6tait beau-
coup plus sauvage et bien mieux autrefois,
se trouve une route et, dans cette sorte
d'anfranctuositd, une plaque de marbre
qui porte trois mots: PLACANDIS NARCISSAE
MANIBUS. Cette inscription m'avait fait
r@ver; mais voici, en deux mots, son
En 1820, A cet emplacement, on
avait trouv6 un squelette et, d'apris
certaines traditions locales, on pensa
que c'6tait la s6pulture de la fille du
po@te Young. Celle-ci more a Montpellier
vers la fin du XVIIIe siecle, n'avait pu
Etre enterrde dans le cimetitre, car elle
dtait protestante. Son p@re 1'aurait
ensevelie, un soir de clair de lune.
La jeune morte se nommait NARCISSA.
On identifia avec elle les restes retrou-
Pour moi, ce nom de Narcissa
sugg6rait celui de Narcisse. Puis 1'
ide6 se devloppa du mythe de ce jeune
home, parfaitement beau, ou qui se
trouvait tel dans son image.
J'6crivis en ce temps-la un tout
premier Narcisse, sonnet irrdgulier, et
origin de tous ces pommes successifs.10
That "Narcisse parole" was a sonnet first is not at
all unexpected. Val6ry's first poems were almost exclusive-
ly sonnets: for example, "Solitude" and "Elevation de la
lune" possibly written as early as 1887; "Les Chats
blancs," 26 September 1889; "Mirabilia saecula," 1 Octo-
ber 1889; "Le Cygne,"5 October 1889; "La Mer," 10 October
1889; and "Fleur mystique," 22 June 1890.11
His early devotion to the sonnet form is an in-
dication of his genuine appreciation for the constraints
of fixed forms and the strict conventions of poetry.
Artistic discipline is an important aspect of his theory
of poetry. In his theoretical writings, the necessity of
form is apparent as early as 1889:
II [the poet] se gardera de jeter sur
le paper tout ce que lui soufflera aux
minutes heureuses, la Muse Association-
des-Iddes. Mais, au contraire, tout ce
qu'il aura imagine, senti, song&, 6cha-
faud6, passera au crible, sera pes6,
pure, mis A la forme et condense le
plus possible pour gagner en force ce
qu'il sacrifice en longueur: un sonnet,
par example, sera une veritable quin-
tessence, un osmaz6me, un suc concentr6,
et cohob6, r6duit a quatorze vers,
soigneusement compose en vue d'un
effet final et foudroyant.12
Later in Calpin d'un po@te: "II faut faire des sonnets.
On ne salt pas tout ce qu'on apprend A faire des sonnets
et des poemes & forme fixe" (0, I, 1454). His apprecia-
tion for the sonnet form, in particular, is apparent when
he states: "Gloire 6ternelle a l'inventeur du sonnet."13
In the course of an amusing passage, he recounts what he
would say if he were to meet the inventor of the sonnet:
"Mon cher confrere, je vous salue tres humblement [.. .]
je vous place dans mon coeur au-dessus de tous les po@tes
de la terre et des enfers!... Vous avez invented une forme
et dans cette forme les plus grands se sont adapt s."14
Pierre Louys, however, asked Valdry for a poem
longer than a sonnet for the first issue of La Conque.
Valdry relates this in a letter to Gide:
Sachez, 6 bon neophyte pour
qui d6ja se brode le pectoral et 1'
Ephod, que Louis, notre magique Di-
recteur (et pour moi aussi directeur
spiritual), me demand instamment un
certain prelude, initial pour la rd-
sonnante conque a paraitre.
Il ne me laisse pas m@me le
temps de me rdcuser et de lui faire
observer quelle est son audace de
r4clamer a l'Indigne, quarante vers
[. .. .15
The following poem of fifty-three lines is the one which
was published by Louys in the first issue of La Conque
on March 15, 1891.
Narcissae placandis manibus
0 freres, triste lys, je languis de beauty
Pour m'etre desire dans votre nudity
Et, vers vous, Nymphes! nymphes, nymphes des
Je viens au pur silence offrir mes larmes vaines
Car les hymnes du soleil s'en vont!...
C'est le soir.
J'entends les herbes d'or grandir dans 1'ombre
Et la lune perfide 61Eve son miroir
Si la fontaine claire est par la nuit 6teinte!
Ainsi, dans ces rosoaux harmonieux, jet6
Je languis, o saphir, par ma triste beauty,
Saphir antique et fontaine magicienne
Of j'oubliai le rire de l'heure ancienne!
Que je deplore ton 6clat fatal et pur,
Source funeste a mes larmes pr6destin6e,
Of puiserent mes yeux dans un mortel azur
Mon image de fleurs humides couronnee...
H6las! 1'Image est douce et les pleurs 6ternels!...
A travers ces bois bleus et ces lys fraternels
Une lumi6re ondule encor, pale amdthyste
Assez pour deviner 1A-bas le Fianc6
Dans ton miroir don't m'attire la lueur triste,
Pile am6thyste! o miroir du songe insens6!
Voici dans 'eau ma chair de lune et de rose
Dont bleuit la fontaine ironique et rus6e;
Voici mes bras d'argent don't les gestes sont purs..
Mes lentes mains dans l'or adorable se lassent
D'appeler ce captif que les feuilles enlacent,
Et je dame aux 6chos le nom des dieux obscurs!
Adieu! reflet perdu sous 1'onde came et close,
Narcisse, l'heure ultime est un tendre parfum
Au coeur suave. Effeuille aux manes du d6funt
Sur ce glaque tombeau la fundrale rose.
Sois, ma l1vre, la rose effeuillant son baiser
Pour que le spectre dorme en son reve apaise,
Car la Nuit parle A demi-voix seule et lointaine
Aux calices pleins d'ombre pale et si 16gers,
Mais la lune s'amuse aux myrtes allong6s.
Je t'adore, sous ces myrtes, 6 l'incertaine!
Chair pour la solitude cclose tristement
Qui se mire dans le miroir au bois dormant,
O chair d'adolescent et de princess douce!
L'heure menteuse est molle au reve sur la mousse
Et la d6lice obscure emplit le bois profound.
Adieu! Narcisse, encor! Voici le Crdpuscule.
La flfte sur l'azur enseveli module
Des regrets de troupeaux sonores qui s'envont!...
Sur la levre de gemme en l'eau morte, 6 pieuse
Beauty pareille au soir, Beaut6 silencieuse,
Tiens ce baiser nocturne et tendrement fatal,
Caresse don't l'espoir ondule ce crystal!
Emporte-la dans l'ombre, 6 ma chair exile,
Et puis, verse pour la lune, flfte isol6e,
Verse des pleurs lointains en des urnes d'argent.
It is not surprising that the poem has added
after it the word "Fragment." The work, an ouvrage de
command, was, according to Valery, written very quickly:
"J'ai fait ce poeme en deux jours ou six heures de temps
sur command, come vous le savez, et je m'en repens. II
ouvrira La Conque d'une miserable sorte, et rougira de
confusion...."17 This form of "Narcisse parle" then was
fixed by accident18 in that Louys demanded it immediately
(recall the details of Val6ry's letter to Gide quoted
earlier: "Louys [. .] me demand instamment un certain
prelude . "). Val6ry would have preferred a much
longer labor more consistent with his constantly held
belief that poetry required long, arduous work,not quick
facile verse making.
J'ai pris ma plume, et me voila
dans les affres. Car le Narcisse longue-
ment rev6 ne devrait se faire que minu-
tieusement, A courts heures! Et je
souffre de la sentir s'augmenter faci-
lement presque, et je suis tres emu car
je vois l'Oeuvre se ditacher ingra-
tement de moi et leurrer mon songe
De grace, si je le termine, et
si je l'envoie A L., jugez-le et sans
avocat du diable, et damnez-le a jamais,
car cela ne pourra rien valoir si ha-
tivement fait. Mais vous ne vous
imagine pas quel ddchirement!19
In a later letter to Gide, he again deplores the hasty
Si vous avez lu mon hdtif poeme, bien
loin de l'oeuvre revde et que j'espere
refaire un soir ou l'autre (car sans
cet espoir je souffrirais) [. .20
A corrected version, definitive if one can use
the word definitive about a Valrian poem, considering
his attitude that a poem is never finished, appeared
in the Album de vers anciens published in 1920. This
version, revised during the beginning period of Valdry's
return to poetry, has a number of significant changes.
Before discussing in detail the elements of
Valdry's evolving poetic theory which are revealed by
a close examination of the differences between the
"Narcisse parle" of La Conque and the Album, it is help-
ful to place the poem in a historic perspective. This
Narcissus poem, much more than Valery's subsequent works
on the same subject, has specific literary antecedents.
At least four writers materially affected the poem. As
a result, the poem can be placed squarely in the Symbol-
ist tradition. That "Narcisse parle" is a poem in the
Symbolist manner is a key factor which must be analyzed
in order to arrive at a clear understanding of the poem
and its construction. First, however, a brief investi-
gation of a much earlier tradition is necessary to estab-
lish Val6ry's fundamental lack of debt to another possible
literary ancestor: Ovid.
The Narcissus myth, particularly as it appears
in the third book of Ovid's Metamorphoses, has received
persistent attention from innumerable artists, especially
poets, throughout the ages.21 Not the least of these
imitations and variations on the theme have been in French
literature. Beginning with the Middle Ages and Narcisus
(a poem of the twelfth century), the Roman de la Rose,
the Ovide moralism, and the troubadour lyrics,2 it is
easy to find outstanding examples in every century of the
use of the story of Narcissus as told by Ovid. The mem-
bers of the Pliade, notably Ronsard in "Le Narssis" and
the sonnet "Que laschement...,"23 utilized elements from
the myth for their love poetry. Metamorphosis, reflecting
waters, and the problem of illusion were common themes in
Baroque poetry so it is not surprising to see allusions
to Narcissus in the works of such seventeenth century
poets as Tristan, St. Amant, and Theophile de Viau.24 In
the eighteenth century, one of the most remarkable examples
is Rousseau's "Narcisse ou 1'Amant de lui-meme." The
nineteenth century is no exception, and by the end of
the century, the figure of Narcissus became a veritable
commonplace of Symbolism, occurring in the works of
Rodenbach, R6gnier, Jean RoyEre, Gide, indirectly in
Mallarmd, especially in his H6rodiade, and, of course,
in Val6ry who carries the myth into the twentieth cen-
Val6ry's Narcissus, ever lucid, is a modern hero
who knows from the start that his pursuit is in vain.
He is, therefore, not the Narcissus of Ovid who falls in
love with an image which he only belatedly recognizes as
himself. To construct "Narcisse parole Valery borrows
very little from the story as Ovid relates it.26 In addi-
tion to withholding essentially all of the narrative de-
tails of Narcissus' background and life, Val6ry also omits
completely Echo's part in the tale;27 and does not, for
example, develop the vengeance motif which results in
Narcissus' punishment for mocking and rebuffing Echo and
the others who fall in love with him. Val6ry's "Narcisse
parle" is a non-narrative poem entirely free from the
epic frame of Ovid's tale. Instead it is a lyrical poem
intent on expressing an "6tat d'ame," and aimed at evoking
a mood rather than retelling an ancient myth.
There is, however, one significant motif which
Valdry borrows ever so subtly from Ovid: the transfor-
mation myth. The poem never alludes directly to Narcissus'
ultimate transformation into a flower as in Ovid's account.
Yet, the idea is certainly suggested by the opening words:
"0 freres! tristes lys and in the early version,
by the line: "A travers ces bois bleus et ces lys
fraternels . ." which continues the implications of the
first line by the choice of the word "fraternels." In
addition, the beginning of the line: "Mon image de
fleurs . ." also causes the transformation to come to
mind although it might not have if Val4ry had turned it
around to read: "Mon image couronn6e de fleurs humides!"
Val6ry also seems to have absorbed some of Ovid's
vocabularly.28 In Valery's "Narcisse parle" as in Ovid's
account, there are several references to Narcissus' tears
and to the fact that his efforts are in vain. In Ovid's
Cum risi, adrides; lacrimas quoque saepe notavi
Me lacrimante tuas: nutu quoque signa remittis
Et lacrimis turbavit aquas, obscuraque moto
Inrita fallaci quotiens dedit oscula fonti!
Credule, quid frustra simulacra fugacia captas?
'Hleu! frusta dilecte puer!'.. .(1. 500).
Valery combines the two in:
Je viens au pur silence offrir mes larmes vaines.
There is a reference to tears in the last line:
Une diversity de nos larmes d'argent.
Again the ideas are combined in
H6las! L'image est vaine et les pleurs 6ternels!
The deeply discouraged tone of "H61as" in the preceding
line reminds the reader of Narcissus' expressions of
grief in Ovid's line: "Indoluit, quotiensque puer
miserabilis 'eheu!'" (1. 495), and in line 500 already
quoted above. In Valry's work, the way Narcissus is
described attempting to reach the image: "Mes lentes
mains dans l'or adorable se lassent/ D'appeler ce captif
que les feuilles enlacent," corresponds, in a general
way, to Ovid's description: "In mediis quotiens visum
captantia collum/ Bracchia mersit aquis nec se deprendit
in illis" (1. 429-30). The use of the color silver to
describe the setting is found in both: "J'entends l'herbe
d'argent grandir dans 1'ombre sainte," and in Ovid: "Fons
erat inlimis, nitidis argenteus undis," (line 407). There
is, in fact, a general similarity in setting. Valdry's
landscape, like Ovid's has a pictorial quality. Its sil-
very cast is somewhat reminiscent of the silvery bright
water and grassy area described by Ovid. To the extent
that Ovid's setting can be said to reflect the mood of the
languishing Narcissus, there is an additional parallelism.
Overall, however, the ideal and unreal character of Valery's
decor is more in line with the typical symbolist landscape.
Maja Goth sums up this aspect, setting the poem squarely
in the Symbolist tradition in terms of theme as well as
Val6ry's first poem about Narcissus,
Narcisse parle, which exists in dif-
ferent versions, is entirely in the
symbolistic tradition of a search for
the most exquisite form of beauty to
be found in poetry. Therefore we have
a scenery that is beyond reality:
Narcisse stays at a moonlit forest
pond; a nymph, lilies, silvery reeds,
murmuring wells, night-blue woods, and
sweet melodies of a flute are the tra-
ditional elements of that unreal land-
The fountain's reflection of Narcissus surrounded by an
enchanted landscape becomes the symbol of perfect beauty,
endlessly sought, but ultimately unattainable. As Goth
This landscape is an image of Narcissus
himself and Narcissus is the archetype
of beauty. Absolute beauty can be found
only outside of reality; therefore the
enchanted, dreamlike and unreal aspect
of the landscape. The purity of the
objects: the reflecting surface of the
water, the well, the jewels, the lily,
the calix, the star[s], all of them
symbols of purity, shall lead to the
formation of absolute beauty. Narcisse
laments the impossibility to reach this
absolute, to possess it.30
The symbols of purity catalogued by Goth are, of course,
commonplace occurrences in Symbolist poetry as are the
Mallarmean words "azur" and "pur" also found in the poem.
The preceding brief introduction to the elements
of a Symbolist landscape and typical Symbolist vocabulary
point to Val6ry's debt to Symbolism. In fact, the
"Narcisse parle" of 1891 can be seen as a period piece
since it was written under the direct stimulus of the
decadent and symbolist milieu. Environment and, more
specifically, influence are two overlapping and essential
factors which must be reviewed in a detailed consideration
of this poem. At least four distinguished literary
figures need to be discussed in this connection:
Huysmans, Gide, Poe, and Mallarm6. All four were of
consequence in the creation of the poem.31
In general, a solution to the question of influence
remains very elusive and extremely difficult to pinpoint
conclusively. Valery attached great importance to origin-
ality. He once said: "Je me mire dans cette phrase du
P. Hardouin (166..): 'Croyez-vous que je me suis donno
la peine de me lever tous les jours de ma vie A quatre
heures du matin pour penser come tout le monde?'" (0,
II, 1536). He usually refused to admit, and often vehe-
mently denied, that anyone had influenced his work. Yet,
the question of influence which certainly becomes negli-
gible very soon in Valdry's literary career, cannot be
ignored in the early and formative period of his poetic
history and is of special interest in the case of "Narcisse
In 1891, in the middle of the Symbolist period,3
when "Narcisse parole" was first published, Val6ry, by
means of correspondence, had only recently begun his
relationship with Mallarm6. Earlier, he had been intro-
duced to Mallarmr's work by Gide, Louys and the Symbolist
reviews, after first reading short excerpts from "L'Apres-
midi d'un faune" and "Herodiade" in Huysmans' novel A
Rebours. A Rebours itself had made a very deep impression
on Valery, who kept it as his constant livre de chevet and
called it his Bible.33 As for Gide, who was at that time
definitely in his own Symbolist period, he had just be-
come close friends with Val6ry, seeing him often for
serious conversations and corresponding with him fre-
quently, sometimes even twice a day. In the case of Poe,
Valery's admiration, extremely fervent during this period,
was to be of long standing, culminating when he wrote
"Au sujet d'Eureka" published in 1923.
The following discussion of the four literary
figures mentioned above focuses on how their influence
and ideas are reflected in "Narcisse parle" and the poetic
theory which underlies it. The contribution of Gide and
Huysmans is less dramatic than that of Mallarm6 and Poe,
and it is also somewhat less tangible and more general.
Actually, the influence of all four often tends to over-
lap in broad areas. For example, since Gide was often in
Paris, Symbolist poems and, especially, the works of
Mallarm6 were more readily available to him than to Valery
at Montpellier and, consequently, Gide often copied whole
poems for the highly appreciative Val6ry and sent them
along with his frequent letters. Valdry was certainly
aware of Mallarm6's sincere appreciation of Poe's poetry
and technique, and Valery not only discovered Mallarme's
"H6rodiade" in A Rebours, he read there of des Esseintes'
great admiration for Poe.
Although it could probably be argued that there
is more of Mallarm6's "H@rodiade" in Valdry's "Narcisse
parle;" there is also something of Huysman's hero, des
Esseintes. Val6ry's Narcissus may not be as neurasthenic
and pathological as des Esseintes, but there is in him
that acute sensitivity to his surroundings and the desire
and tendency to reduce life to inactivity and contemplation.
The languishing weariness and deep melancholy associated
with the realization of the impossibility of sustained
relief from "ennui" is also similar although it is equally
apparent in H1rodiade.
In discussing the impression of A Rebours on the
young poet, Mondor makes the following judicious assess-
Sans faire siens tous les aphorismes
ricanants de Baudelaire, chers a des
Esseintes, et les intermittences d'un
coeur mis a nu, il n'en excluait pas
l'envoutement: 'Le plaisir d'&tonner
et la satisfaction orgueilleuse de ne
jamais &tre 6tonnV' lui semblaient des
principles un peu sommaires; mais le de-
voir, pour le dandy, de vivree et dormir
devant un miroir', le ramenait facile-
ment a un Narcisse don't il ne devait
plus se sdparer. Quant a la solitude,
'loi de tous les esprits supdrieurs',
il ne sentait que trop, ddjA, la part
qu'il devrait toujours lui consentir.34
Jacques Charpier feels that by the time of "Narcisse
parle," Val6ry had shaken off the influence of all except
A 1'6poque, pouss6 a 6crire par Louys,
favoris6 de la plume mallarmdenne,
Valery 6prouve alors la total influence
de son prdcieux correspondent. Elle
chasse de lui les idoles qui, depuis sa
quatorzibme annde, s'y 6taient accumulees.
Baudelaire, Huysmans lui-meme sont decou-
ronn6s. Toute la place, dans l'esprit de
Valry, appartient au soul Mallarm.35
Val6ry's letters, however, attest to a serious and con-
tinued interest in Huysmans and A Rebours not to mention
Je viens- par hasard! de relire une
cinquieme fois A rebours et je ne songe
plus qu'f le lire encore. Ne me m6prisez
pas trop, mais c'est mon livre. Quand je
sens trop la fadeur de me voir, je dd-
guste les pages sur la Salom6 de Moreau,
le voyage fictif a Londres, le finale si
curieusemne morne, et je me rejouis en
This was written to Pierre Louys on the 19th of November
1890, when Valery supposedly sent "Narcisse parole" to
him! Just a short time before that, in another letter to
Louys, dated 21 September 1890, Valery wrote: "Tu sais
que j'idolatre Huysmans . ."37 and as late as 1895 the
following note appears in the Cahiers: "Les homes vi-
vants et notoires que j'admire personnellement sent
Messieurs H. Poincar6, Lord Kelvin, S. Mallarmd, J.K.
Huysmans, Ed. Degas, et peut-Ctre M. Cecil Rhodes. Cela
fait 6 noms."38
Further evidence of the effect of A Rebours on
Val6ry is suggested by his discussion of decadence. At
least at one point, he thought of himself as a decadent
rather than a symbolist. For example, he wrote the follow-
ing in a letter to Pierre Louys on June 22, 1890:
Voila pourquoi je ne m'intitule pas
Esthete ni symboliste cela a des
significations trop precises et trop
6troites. Je suis esthete et symboliste
mais A mon heure, mais je veux quand il
me plaira de le faire, verlainiser,
oublier Ia rime, le rythme, la gram-
maire, vagir a ma guise et laisser
crier mes sens..et je suis D&cadent.
In the same letter, Valery's definition of a decadent
is a melange of des Esseintes and Mallarme:
...d&cadent pour moi veut dire, artiste
ultra affin6, prot6g6 par une langue
savante contre l'assaut du vulgaire,
encore vierge des sales baisers du pro-
fesseur de litt6rature, glorieux du
mepris du journalist, mais l6aborant
pour lui-meme et quelques dizaines de
ses pairs, alambiquant de subtiles
essences d'art, et surtout vivant la
beauty, attentif a toutes ses manifesta-
tions, se melant a la vie, toujours par
quelque c6t6 original et vibrant.39
The refined and unusual language of "Narcisse parle" and
the desire to evoke absolute beauty are expressions of a
devotion to decadence as Val6ry describes it, as is his
general disdain for Henri Chantavoine's article praising
A still greater influence on "Narcisse parle"
and especially the poetic theory behind it was Poe. Like
des Esseintes, and, of course, Baudelaire and Mallarme
before him, Val6ry held Poe in very high esteem. In his
first letter to Mallarm6 describing himself, Valery wrote:
"Mais c'est qu'il est profond6ment pen6trd des doctrines
savantes du grand Edgar Allen Poe peut-etre le plus
subtil artiste de ce siecle! Ce nom seul suffira a vous
montrer sa Po6tique."40 It was probably Poe more than any-
one else who affected Valdry's earliest theories on poetry.
T.S. Eliot suggests that Baudelaire was primarily
affected by Poe the prototype of le poete maudit while
Mallarm4 was interested in Poe's poetry and technique.41
About Val6ry, Eliot says: "But when we come to Valry,
it is neither the man nor the poetry, but the theory of
poetry, that engages his attention and admiration."42
While this is somewhat of an oversimplification, Eliot's
appraisal of Poe's influence is, in essence, correct.
Evidence of the impression of Poe's theories on
Val6ry and his acceptance of them are apparent in his
early essay on poetic theory, "Sur la technique litt6-
raire," in his letters to Gide, Louys, Gustave Fourment,
Mallarme and others, as well as in the poem "Narcisse
parole The most important aspect of Poe's theory as far
as Val6ry was concerned was the role of lucidity in artistic
creation. "-Celui qui m'a le plus fait sentir sa puissance
fut Poe. J'y ai lu ce qu'il me fallait, pris ce d6lire de
la lucidity qu'il communique.43
The idea that a poem should be written in full
consciousness would always seem eminently wise to Val6ry.
There are several other points of Poe's theory which Valdry
took up seriously. Lucienne Cain mentions that in his
lectures on poetics at the CollIge de France, it was ob-
vious that Valdry was not limited to a general comprehension
of Poe's principles, but that he had penetrated deeply into
the analysis of his commentaries. She goes on to stress
the following important points which are relevant to
"Narcisse parole "
On se souvient que pour la composition
du Corbeau, Poe dit avoir essay de
fixer au pr6alable trois qualit6s essen-
tielles: d'abord, la longueur, tout
poeme, selon lui, n'existant que s'il
est court. Ensuite, il s'applique a
determiner la 'province' la region psy-
chique ol il va situer son oeuvre, et
enfin le ton. La 'province' 6tant
trouv6e, et c'est celle de la beauty,
le ton le mieux appropri6 pour lui con-
venir sera celui de la tristesse, tris-
tesse, qui nulle part ne s'exprime plus
que par l'id6e de la mort. Voila done
pos6s les l46ments pr6alables selon
lesquels le po6me vivra et se d6roulera;
ils enferment en eux la cl nerveuse
dans laquelle tout le morceau va s'ins-
crire pour se communiquer aux autres et
agir sur eux. Cette cl6, c'est ce que
Poe nomme the effect.r4-
Val6ry's lectures at the Collge de France did not begin
until 1937, but it is evident that Val6ry took Poe's
ideas seriously much earlier. Val6ry strictly adhered
to Poe's essential considerations in the composition
of "Narcisse parle." The overall tone is extremely
melancholy. The "province" is beauty. Symbols of beauty
permeate the poem, and Narcissus himself is the archetype
of beauty. Sadness is heightened by the references to
death. In the poem, there is the underlying theme of
the death of Narcissa, the young and beautiful daughter
of the poet Young and the imminent death of Narcissus
himself. In Poe's poetry, the death of a beautiful young
girl is a cliche. Moreover, Val6ry adheres to a general
rule of Poe's that he will eschew later. The poem must
be less than one hundred lines. This is true of the
early version published in La Conque which was fifty-
three lines and the later version, also, which had fifty-
eight lines. The insistence on this rule as well as the
implications of Poe's idea of calculated effects is
apparent in an excerpt from the following letter to Karl
Boes, director of the Courrier libre, who published
Valdry's early sonnet "Elevation de la lune." "Je suis
partisan d'un poeme court et concentr6, une breve 6vo-
cation close par un vers sonore et plein."45 Poe's theory
of the necessity of the calculated effect is clearly re-
iterated by Valdry in "Sur la technique litteraire."
.. La littdrature est l'art de
se jouer de l'ame des autres. C'est avec
cette brutality scientifique que notre
6poque a vu poser le problOme de l'esth4-
tique du Verbe, c'est-A-dire le problime
de la Forme.
Etant donn4 une impression, un
reve, une pensde, if faut l'exprimer de
telle maniere, qu'on produise dans 1'eme
d'un auditeur le maximum d'effet- et un
effet entierement calcul6 par 1'Artiste.
(0, I, 1809).
Valdry discusses several other points in "Sur la tech-
nique littdraire" which attest to his serious attention
to Poe's theory, including the importance of repetition
and frequent alliteration. These technical aspects will
be taken up later in the discussion of the variants of
the poem where they become important. In addition, con-
fidence in technique and the idea of a poet as a conscious
craftsman are ideas of Poe that definitely coincided with
Val6ry's own ideas on the creative act.
That there is an overlapping and a combination of
the theories of Poe and Mallarm6 behind Valery's "Narcisse
parole" is apparent in Val6ry's second letter to Mallarm6
written when he sent the poem to him. Already in his
first letter to Mallarmd, Val6ry had indicated the role
of Poe and the efficacy of the short poem in his own theory
Pour se faire en quelques mots connaltre,
il [Valdry] doit affirmer qu'il pr6fere
les poemes courts, concentr6s pour un
eclat final, ot les rythmes sont comme
les marches marmordennes de 1'autel que
couronne le dernier vers! non qu'il puisse
se vanter d'avoir r6alis6 cet id6al! Mais
c'est qu'il est profond6ment p4ndtrd des
doctrines savantes du grand Edgar Allan
Poe peut-etre le plus subtil artiste
de ce single! Ce nom seul suffira a
vous montger de quelle sorte est sa
In the second letter to Mallarm4, Val6ry adds the following
on the subject of Poe:
Une devotion toute particuliere a Edgar
Poe me conduit alors A donner pour ro-
yaume au poete, l'analogie. II precise
l'dcho myst6rieux des choses, et leur
secrete harmonies, aussi r6elle, aussi
certain qu'un rapport math6matique A
tous esprits artistes, c'est-A-dire, et
come il sied, id6alistes violents....
That Valdry was also keenly aware of Mallarm6's theories
and sincerely appreciated the perfection of his poems is
obvious when he assigns to poetry the ability to explain
the world and underscores the important role of music
La podsie m'apparait come une
explication du Monde delicate et belle,
continue dans une musique singulire
et continuelle. Tandis que 'Art mita-
physique volt l'Univers construit d'
id6es pures et absolues, la peinture, de
couleurs, l'art po6tique sera de la con-
siddrer vetue de syllabes, organism en
Consider@ en sa splendeur nue
et magique, le mot s'6live q la puissance
dl6mentaire d'unenote, d'une couleur,
d'un claveau de vote. Le vers se mani-
feste come un accord permettant l'intro-
duction des deux modes, ou 1'6pithEte
mystdrieuse et sacr6e, miroir des sou-
terraines suggestions, est come un
accompagnement prononc6 en sourdine....
Alors s'impose la conception
supreme d'une haute symphonie, unissant
le monde qui nous entoure au monde qui
nous hante, construite solon une rigou-
reuse architechtonique, arretant des
types simplifies sur fond d'or et d'azur,
et libdrant le porte du pesant secours
des banales philosophies, et des fausses
tendresses, et des descriptions ina-
nim6es... (0, I, 17,10).
In this letter, Valry is explaining what he had
hoped to suggest with his own poem "Narcisse parle:"
Pour une second fois, je viens
solliciter de vous un conseil, et
connaitre si quelques reveries esthe-
tiques accumul6es cet hiver en province
lointaine n'6taient pas aventureuses et
Un poeme public dans La Conque
sous le titre "Narcisse parole" les a
quelque peu indiqudes, mais l'experience
comme souvent s'est jou6e de la thdorie,
et me laisse immobile et perplexe (0, I,
He believes that Mallarmn alone has been able to reach
the ideal: "L'apris-midi du faune est seule en France a
realiser cet iddal esthftique... (0, I, 1740). Guy
Michaud, quite correctly, sees something of Mallarme's
faun in "Narcisse parole" but his emphasis is questionable
in the light of the importance of "Hfrodiade:" which will
be discussed later. Michaud remarks: "Si Valry
imite Mallarmd, c'est surtout le Mallarm6 du Faune, le
pokte du Midi, des chaleurs capiteuses et de la voluptd.
Narcisse n'dvoque-t-il pas le Faune, accompagn6 d'ara-
besques et de modulations sur la flute?"48
Valdry's second letter to Mallarm6, which has
been quoted here in some detail, was a summary of important
aspects of Mallarm6's own theories about poetry and a
fledgling poet's tribute to a master poet. At the time
of "Narcisse parle" art is almost a religion for Valery,
and he shares Mallarm6's expectations for poetry as the
means to an explanation of the world.49 Other aspects
of Mallarmd's theory and practice which impressed Valery
and reflected and enhanced his own thoughts and theories
were the emphasis on highly polished traditional forms
and the necessity for musicality, the use of difficult
syntax, and unusual words often employed in their etymo-
logical sense. The whole idea of poetry as an exploration
of and experiment on language appealed strongly to Val6ry
as well as Mallarmd's keen awareness of problems of tech-
nique and language as obstacles to be overcome.
In "Narcisse parle," in particular, there is a
Mallarmean "Tlan vers la puretd," an attempt to paint not
the thing but the effect that it produces" and to suggest
that the essence of things is behind the appearance. The
choice of the theme of Narcissus dramatizes the rejection
of the banal world and the demands of every day life.50
The vocabulary of "Narcisse parle" including words like
"fun6rale," "amdthyste," "saphir," etc. echoes the culti-
vated, obscure, rarefied language used by Mallarm4 in his
As Mondor suggests, Val6ry saw in Mallarm6 what
he felt the theories of Poe required.
Ce que Baudelaire avait 6crit
d'Edgar Poe, lui cclairait, depuis un
an, un ensorcelant id6al. Et voilA,
ddsormais, que Mallarme lui parassait
remplir tout a fait les conditions peu
communes Cnumdrees par Poe: une vision
impeccable du vrai, dft-elle &tre quel-
quefois impitoyable, une si exquise
d6licatesse des sens qu'une note fausse
les dut torturer, la finesse infaillible
du gout, enfin un amour du Beau pouss6
jusqu'A la passion tyrannique.
Valry, I vingt ans, venait de
se decouvrir le maitre attend. A 1'
oppose de ceux qui croient, au moment
d'dcrire, "a leur frdndsie subtile ou f
leur intuition extatique" lui aussi ne
se satisfaisait qu'apris d'inexorables
ratures et cent 6bauches et rebuts. Il
trouvait, dans les scrupules, les re-
prises et la plus lucide s6vdritd, 1'
heureuse promesse de se surpasser. En
ces exigences harassantes, le disciple
enthousiaste drcouvrait, sans_.isque
d'erreur, le meilleur de soi.
The entire scope of the Mallarm6/Valdry relation-
ship can not be detailed here where the prime concern is
"Narcisse parole A helpful introduction to this
complicated matter is Mondor's L'Heureuse Rencontre de
Valery et Mallarm6.53 However difficult it is to adequately
explain the range of Mallarme's real influence on Val6ry
and his work, given, among other things, Val6ry's contra-
dictory statements on this matter,54 it is clear, never-
theless, that the early Valery was deeply moved and even
tremendously awed by Mallarme's poetry, especially
"H@rodiade." Having been introduced to about eight lines
of it in A Rebours,55 he avidly and impatiently sought
more of it.
Vous etes bien fortune de poss@der
Mallarm6. Moi je grapille ses poemes
un peu partout. Quant A Herodiade,
je la recherche depuis deux anndes en
vain et je d6sespere de la lire. Quel
ennui que la province!56
Louys then sent him the section beginning "Oui, c'est
pour moi, pour moi que je fleuris, ddserte . ." to
"Herodiade au clair regard de diamant." (A little over
thirty lines.) Valery discusses his overall impression of
these lines in a letter to Gustave Fourment:
Ces poemes me font toujours songer a
ces perles que les poules d6daignaient!
... Ce qui fait leur splendeur sma-
ragdine, leur perfection et leur atti-
rance de gemmes, c'est qu'ils sont en
m@me temps comme elles, polls et
brillants et pourtant sans fond, inson-
dables, avec des dessous myst6rieuxKde
rives, de correspondances. II y a sous
ces vers des stages d'associations d'
iddes, des vocation multiples- le tout
sous une apparence dure et luisante,
obscure pour qui cherche avec son rai-
sonnement au lieu de trouver avec sa
reverie! La difficult vaincue est
immense, dtreindre aussi 6troitement des
visions confusdment tristes, conserver
sous le v6tement precis et lumineux 10
vague necessaire pour que l'apparition
puisse y circuler c'est dnorme! 6norme!57
Finally, Gide sent him more of the poem. Valdry was
overwhelmed and even more pointedly ashamed of his own
work. Referring to his Narcissus once again he wrote:
Herodiade m'hallucine, la glauque
Herodiade en l'or sinistre des flames
de ses cheveux, vitue comme d'un triste
et brulant faste qui embrase les miroirs.
Et je souffre, je saigne de pitie d'
avoir dans ce tiroir tant de stances in-
digentes et ce deplorable Narcisse. N'
avoir pas faith ces vers et faire des
vers! Et ce poeme supreme m'oppresse
comme un remords!t
It is known then that Valdry had access to at least some
fragments of Mallarmd's "Herodiade" when he wrote "Nar-
cisse parole" (probably two fragments, about thirty-eight
or forty lines in all). The cold bejeweled Hdrodiade who
blossoms for herself in an amethyste garden ("Oui, c'est
pour moi, pour moi que je fleuris, d6serte!/ Vous le
savez, jardins d'am6thyste . ")59 seems to have some
obvious echoes in "Narcisse parle." There is not only
the choice of the theme of Narcissus before the mirror
but the adoption of a vocabulary resplendant with words
like "saphirs," "am6thystes," "or," "gemme," "cristal,"
"glac6," and heavy with words like "meurs," "nu" and
nudity6." Lines like "Je t'adore, sous ces myrtes, o
l'incertain/ Chair pour la solitude close tristement/
Qui se mire dans le miroir au bois dormant," (where
closes" is a part of a series of flower and perfume images
including "calices" and "d'lices" also found in "HEro-
diade") are not unlike: "Et tout, atour de moi, vit dans
l'idolitrie/ D'un miroir qui reflhte en son calme dormant/
H6rodiade au clair regard de diamant . .60
Mondor, in fact, sees the eight lines first read
by Val6ry in A Rebours as the probable source of the poem:
Sept ou huit vers d'Herodiade, cites
dans son livre par Huysmans, s'4taient
aussitot imposes 5 le mdmoire de Paul
Valdry et lui 6taient devenus, pour
longtemps, legon elective, doux enle-
vement de l'dme. Se murmurer ce court
monologue l'enivrait immanquablement
et le theme de Narcisse, peut-etre, s'
insinua en son esprit grace a ces meme
He is referring to the lines from ". O miroir!/ Eau
froide par l'ennui dans ton cadre gelde" to "J'ai de mon
reve 6pars connu la nudity!" One of Gide's criticisms of
"Narcisse parle" is directed at just this aspect of the
poem: "'Ainsi, dans les roseaux harmonieux jetd' sent un
peu trop Herodiade au miroir soit dit en passant."
There can be no doubt that Mallarm6's "Herodiade"
affected the Val6ry of the period of "Narcisse parle."
To sum up the overall impression which Mallarme's work
made on him in this early period, Valdry's own words on
the subject are a revealing testament:
II me souvient comme je me suis
presque detachA d'Hugo et de Baudelaire
a dix-neuf ans, quand le sort sous les
yeux me mit quelques fragments d'H6ro-
diade; et Les Fleurs, et Le Cygne. Je
connaissais enfin la beauty sans prdtex-
tes, que j'attendais sans le savoir. Tout,
ici, ne reposait que sur la vertu
enchanteresse du language.
Je suis parti vers la mer
assez 6loigne, tenant les copies si
pr6cieuses que je venais de rece-
voir; et le soleil dans toute sa
force, la route dblouissante, et ni
l'azur, ni l'encens des plants bru-
lantes ne m'6taient rien, tant ces
vers inouis m'exergaient et me poss6-
daient au plus vivant de moi.63
Gide is the fourth and last figure to be studied
here as a force behind Val6ry's "Narcisse parole A
brief discussion of the relationship between Gide and Val6ry
is necessary to round out the influence factor so crucial to
an understanding of Valdry in this early formative period.64
The point of contact between Gide and Valry's "Narcisse
parole" is not merely the criticism related to "Hdrodiade"
alluded to above; yet there may be little or even no
actual internal evidence in "Narcisse parole" which can be
traced directly to Gide.65 On the other hand, a number of
factors are relevant in at least an external way. At the
time of "Narcisse parole" the friendship between Gide and
Valdry, which was in its first stages, seems to converge
at two main points: Mallarm4 and the theme of Narcissus.
As pointed out earlier, Gide generously copied long ex-
cerpts from Mallarme's work to send to Valdry who other-
wise would not have had access to them. When Valery was
undergoing the influence of Mallarm6, Gide was, too.
Depuis, tout est change, Mallarm6
surtout en est cause. II me semble
en l'aimant que je n'avais encore jamais
aim6 ni admire: c'est de moi en lui
une fusion 6perdue. II a fait tout
les vers que j'aurais rev6 de faire.
Flourishing in the same literary climate,67 both wrote,
at approximately the same time, a work about Narcissus
reflecting, in their own way, the prevailing literary
movement Symbolism. Gide's prose work, which he dedi-
cated to Valry,68 is entitled "Trait6 du Narcisse" and
has the subtitle "Th&orie du symbole."9
As dissimilar as the two works are, it is probable
that both had the same point of origin. Gide and Valdry
conversed seriously in the botanical garden at Montpellier
which Valdry cites as the origin of his "Narcisse parle."
Gide mentions this very place in his "Les Nourritures
terrestres" as J. J. Thierry points out in notes which
accompany the Pl6iade edition of "Le Traite du Narcisse."
C'est A Montpellier, oa Gide dtait all1
rejoindre son oncle Charles, que la
lgende de Narcisse leur inspira, f Paul
Valdry qu'il y avait rencontr6, et f lui-
mdme, deux de leurs plus purs chefs-
d'oeuvre. Le Jardin botanique de la cite
servit de cadre t des entretiens qu'une
entire communaut6 de vues disposait en
faveur du mythe. Gide a fait allusion,
dans ses Nouritures terrestres, f ce
dialogue: 'A Montpellier, le Jardin
botanique. [. .] Je me souviens
qu'avec Ambroise (Paul Valdry), un soir
comme aux jardins d'Academus, nous nous
assimes sur une tombe ancienne, qui est
tout entourde de cypres; et nous causions
lentement7 n machant des petales de
The Gide/Val6ry correspondence indicates that
Gide finished his Traitd months after Valdry had finished
"Narcisse parole" for La Conque. In fact, if the dates
are correct in Lettres a quelques-uns,Val6ry had actually
sent Louys the version for La Conque in November but did
not meet Gide until December. On the other hand, the
letters dated by Gide (since Valery rarely dated letters)
in the Gide/Valery correspondence give the impression that
Valdry was still working on the poem in February. It was
published in March but to further complicate the problem
of dates, Valdry says in "Sur les 'Narcisse:'"
Au moment de composer le premier numdro
il me demand d'urgence un poeme. J'
ccrivis en deux jours le morceau inti-
tul Narcisse parle, ddveloppement du
sonnet don't il vient d'etre question.
Mais, la revue ne parut que six mois
apris. J'aurais prdfdrd avoir le temps
de travailler ce theme (p. 284).
Based on a letter from Gide to Val6ry on the 23rd
of June 1891, Thierry speaks of the indirect influence of
Valdry on Gide's Traite.
D'autre part, la Correspondance Gide-
Valdry rdvele de precieux indices sur
1'Tcriture du Narcisse, et sur 1'influence
indirecte exerc6e par Valery:
J'l6abore doucement le Traite du Narcisse,
don't je vous ai vaguement parley et que
sans vos paroles des soirs, je n'eusse
peut-etre pas ecrit ou pas vu tel tout
When it was finished, Gide sent his Narcisse to Valdry
just as Val6ry had sent "Narcisse parle" to him, but the
letters suggest that Valdry's written commentary on the
work was practically non-existent.72 Gide, on the other
hand, seems to have studied Valery's poem quite diligently.
Valdry had rather urgently requested his opinion of the
work.7 His remarks on the poem appear in a long letter
to Valdry dated March 1, 1891, referred to briefly already
in connection with Mallarm6's H1rodiade. While there
appears to be no concrete evidence that either author
directly influenced the other's Narcisse, it seems proba-
ble that Gide stimulated a few of the changes which Val6ry
made in the new version for the Album de vers anciens.
Looking closely at the two versions of the poem, it is
possible to get some idea of Valery's reaction to Gide's
criticism of the work.
The version Gide discusses was quoted earlier in
its entirety. Individual lines will be repeated here as
they are compared and contrasted with the new version.
The entire new version will be quoted when the analysis of
the two versions has been completed.
Gide begins his critique of "Narcisse parole" by
intimating that he has read the poem many times. He
states that he likes it but with reservations.
Et maintenant parlons d'autres choses:
je relis pour la ?eme fois votre Nar-
cisse: il me faut vous avouer que je
ne l'aime pas sans restrictions come
certaines autres de vos pieces, peut-
etre parce qu'un tel sujet trait@ par
vous promettait de plus lentes ddlices
et que certain vers exquis rappelaient
ces promesses et faisaient d6plorer leur
esseulement dans cette piece . .
Gide feels that the following lines from the poem are
J'entends les herbes d'or grandir dans l'ombre
...Si la fontaine claire est par la nuit 6teinte -
Mes lentes mains dans l'or adorable se lassent 75
and then he says, "et bien d'autres et surtout le
Adieu! reflet perdu sous l'onde came et close.
Narcisse, l'heure ultime est un tendre parfum
Au coeur suave. Effeuille aux mdnes du ddfunt
Sur ce glaque tombeau la fundrale rose.
Cela est parfait: il me plait de les dcrire encore et la
perfection de ceux-ci m'encourage aux critiques adja-
The lines Gide likes will be discussed first.
Of the lines mentioned above by Gide as exquisite, "J'
entends les herbes d'or grandir dans l'ombre sainte" has
received considerable scholarly attention, probably more
than any other line in the whole poem.
In an article entitled "Formules valryennes,"
Jean Hytier discusses the possible source or sources for
the basic idea expressed. He notes that the idea appears
in Racan and Malherbe and also finds its expression in
Baudelaire, Mallarm6, Wordsworth and Poe, among others.
In Poe, for example, he quotes the lines from "Al Aaraaf"
(Part II): "The murmur that springs/ From the growing of
grass." Hytier concludes, however, that Val6ry probably
got the idea from Chateaubriand, specifically chapter 13
on the "fete des Rogations" in Le G6nie du Christianisme.
He quotes the following:
On croit entendre de toutes parts les
bl6s germer dans la terre et les plants
croitre et se d6velopper; des voix
inconnues s'dlevent dans le silence des
bois, comme le choeur des anges champe-
tres don't on a implored le secours, et
les soupirs du rossignol parviennent L
l'oreille des vieillards assis non loin
From the first version to the second, Valry
changes the line Gide liked so much only slightly from
"J'entends les herbes d'or grandir dans l'ombre sainte"
to "J'entends l'herbe d'argent grandir dans l'ombre
Paul Pieltain, who admires the line as intensely
as Gide does, discusses the significance of the change
in an article devoted almost entirely to this one line
and its variants. Of the change from gold to silver, he
Mais cette correction, inspire soit
par un souci de justesse (la nuit
tombe et la lune commence de luire),
soit par le d6sir de substituer A un
mot plus qu'a une couleur trop
cher au Val&ry 'symboliste' un terme
moins voyant, commandait que le nom
fOt mis au singulier; ainsi, les herbes
d'or, qui pouvaient tout aussi bien
Evoquer les bl6s ou encore de grandes
herbes sauvages ou s'attarderait le
soleil -, font place A l'herbe d'argent,
plus vague et ddjk plus myst6rieuse.78
As Pieltain points out more specifically later (p. 36),
the change from gold to silver is more in keeping with
the rising moonlight. It also gives the passage the sil-
very tint of Ovid's setting. The line is a subtle way
of conveying the approach of night and the rising of the
moon which is casting its silvery hue in lengthening
shadows as it moves across the grass and towards the water
where it will ultimately replace the image of Narcissus.
The line undergoes another change and reaches its final
form in the'"ragmerts du Narcisse"where it becomes:
"J'entends l'herbe des nuits croitre dans l'ombre sainte."
The second line Gide mentions: "Si la fontaine
claire est par la nuit 6teinte," Valery omits almost com-
pletely in the new version. Rather than an outright re-
jection of Gide's taste and appreciation, however, the
near total omission and change to: "Jusque dans les
secrets de la fontaine 6teinte" may be connected with the
problem of lighting which Gide brings up later in his
Pour en revenir au Narcisse, vous di-
rais-je encore que je regrette trop de
diversity d'impressions, ou mieux de
lumieres; cela manque un peu d'unit6
d'6clairage et l'on ne sait plus tres
bien, par suite d'une absence des om-
bres, d'ou vient le jour, la nocturne
clartd: de cette atmosphere un peu
trop gale (prenez cela la plus sym-
boliquement possible, ou ne le prenez
pas du tout) rdsulte une apparence un
peu fragmentaire; chaque vision parait
breve et module avant de s'dtre mdlo-
dieusement 6ploy6e; avec ce nombre de
vers, vous auriez pu, il me semble,
dvoquer de plus lentes images. J'ai
peur que vous ne vous soyez un peu
press pour l'6crire et si cela 6tait,
il vous faudrait prendre le courage de
le refaire, la piece en vaut le peine
Although Valery did not completely change the lighting
in the poem, it is obvious that he made some corrections
which while they may not speak directly to Gide's criti-
cism, nevertheless, do enhance and improve the poem.
So that the poem would have a chiaroscuro effect, Valdry
at first, may have been trying to emphasize openly the
antithesis, clair/obscur, for example, in such lines as:
"Car les hymnes du soleil s'en vont!../C'est le soir,"
and "Si la fontaine claire est par la nuit 6teinte."
Since in Valdry's poem, it is not merely or actually the
darkness which is the threat but rather the moonlight
itself which obliterates Narcissus' mirror reflection,
the problem is complicated. In the light of Gide's criti-
cism, Valdry may have decided to try a different approach
to the essentially three-pronged problem of the ending of
daylight, the coming of night and the obscuring of the
image by the moonlight. By completely omitting the line
about the sun, greatly changing the line Gide so admired,80
and by toning down or dimming other references to light as
in the change from "Une lumiere ondule encor, pdle ame-
thyste" to "Une tendre lueur d'heure ambigue existe,"81
there is not a continuous sharp, almost unnatural, con-
trasting of light and dark. The new approach is more
subtle and more logical since it marks the change from
waning day to twilight to full moonrise in a more gradual
and natural way. The reader is just as keenly aware of
the approaching night, however, and the impending doom
caused by the rising moon. Not mentioning the sun at all
can make its absence felt more strongly and reminds us of
Mallarm6's use of absence.
In addition to omitting the line about the sun,
the change from "or" to "argent" in the line already dis-
cussed ("J'entends l'herbe .... .") is a corresponding
corrective change in lighting. The grass touched by the
color "or" reminds the reader of the sunlight; colored
instead by "argent" the approaching moonlight is empha-
Much later in the poem the change to "Car la nuit
parle A demi-voix, proche et lointaine,"from "Car la Nuit
parole i demi-voix seule et lointaine" is a logical improve-
ment since the night is no longer something off in the
distance, it has come much closer. Although the calices
are full of shadows, there is a brief respite while the
moon is still behind the trees. "Car la nuit parle a
demi-voix, proche et lointaine,/ Aux calices pleins d'
ombres et de sommeils l6gers,/ Mais la lune s'amuse aux
myrtes allong6s." This will not last. It is a lie.
"L'heure menteuse est molle aux membres sur la mousse."
Finally, "Adieu, Narcisse...Meurs! Voici le crepuscule."
The moon is now mirrored in the water. A kiss is placed
on the "dead image" of Narcissus which the fog or mist
will soon bury in complete darkness.
Mais sur le froid mortel oO l'6toile s'allume,
Avant qu'un lent tombeau ne se forme de brume,
Tiens ce baiser qui brise un came d'eau fatal!
Val6ry has achieved a unity of lighting, answering, at
least in a general way, Gide's main criticism.
"Mes lentes mains dans l'or adorable se lassent"
is the third line which Gide praises. Valry not only
does not change it for the Album, it is also one of a
small number of lines that he uses again for the later
Narcissus poem,'Fragments du Narcisse," suggesting that
he, too, thought it was a good line.
One might question the use of "or" here immediately
after the line with silver "Voici mes bras d'argent don't
les gestes sont purs!.." Its effectiveness in terms of
sound can not be questioned since the "or" repeated in
"adorable" is harmonious. Also, "or" here seems to have
a value signification primarily, rather than a color or
lighting importance; that is, the metaphor for water is
gold because the image is so sought after and treasured.
Its use does not seem to be related to the lighting prob-
lem previously discussed and besides the moonlight has
not yet reached the water at this point.
Concerning the quatrain which Gide singles out
as perfect, Valdry makes, in effect, only minor changes.
Adieu, reflet perdu sur l'onde came et close,
Narcisse...ce nom meme est un tendre parfum
Au coeur suave. Effeuille aux manes du ddfunt
Sur ce vide tombeau la fundrale rose.
In the last line, there is the loss of the Mallarmean
"glauque"82 which is changed to videe." "Vide tombeau"
is more suggestive, in this case than "glauque tombeau,"
allowing for a double interpretation of the line. The
image reminds us that this is a lucid Narcissus who knows
that his image on the water, the videe tombeau" is empty,
so to speak, that his pursuit of it is in vain; but the
videe tombeau" also refers to the empty tomb of Narcissa
which would be less apparent with the watery colored ad-
In addition to this fairly minor substitution,
the second line of the quatrain is changed only slightly
but quite dramatically from "Narcisse, l'heure ultime est
un tendre parfum" to "Narcisse...ce nom meme est un tendre
parfum." This is part of a general trend, similar to the
lighting improvements, to tighten up aspects of the poem
to achieve greater unity. The new line is now linked by
its connotations with a series of flower and scent images
which run like a leitmotif through the poem hinting at
Narcissus' transformation into a flower. The juxta-
position of the adjectives "tendre" and "suave," which
would more normally be written tender heart and sweet per-
fume, is a felicitous chiasmus uniting the Narcissus who
looks at himself in the reflecting pool with the image of
the flower he will become.
The next line to which Gide refers is the line
alluded to previously: "'Ainsi, dans les roseaux harmonieux
jete' sent un peu trop H'rodiade au miroir soit dit
en passant."83 Val6ry changes the line slightly to "Et
moil De tout mon coeur dans ces roseaux jete." This
seems to be part of an overall increase of first person
references made throughout the new version. This type
of change has been observed by Whiting who sees it as an
attempt to correct a weakness of emotion which he finds
in the early version.84
Gide's most serious criticism seems to be leveled
at the line: "Que je deplore ton eclat fatal et pur"
which he finds beneath Valdry.85 Valdry, trusting his
own poetic judgment over Gide's in this case, not only
does not change this line, he uses it again, intact, in
the'Tragments du Narcisse." There may be a special reason
for the retention of this particular line which is used
not only in the version for La Conque, the Album and the
"Fragments,'but is, also, the first line of the three
original sonnets. Could it be that this is the verss
donned the one given line on which Valdry must build the
rest?86 Acknowledgement of the occasional free line given
by the Muses is one of a few, small concessions to inspira-
tion which are found in Valdry's poetics.
Les dieux, gracieusement, nous donnent
pour rien tel premier vers; mais c'est
L nous de fagonner le second, qui doit
consonner avec l'autre, et ne pas etre
indigne de son ain6 surnaturel. Ce
n'est pas trop de routes les resources
de l'expdrience et de i'esprit pour le
rendre comparable au vers qui fut un
In addition to the possible influence of Gide on
certain aspects of the second version of "Narcisse parole "
there are broader and more important questions posed by
the two main versions of the poem. Besides the lines
already studied, what else did Valery change and why?
What do these changes or lack of changes reveal about his
theory of poetry?
Only eighteen of the original fifty-three lines
were reused unchanged by Valdry for the revised version
of "Narcisse parole If punctuation changes are also
taken into account, then only eight of the original fifty-
three are absolutely the same in the 1920 version as they
were in the 1890 version. The only lines which did not
change in any way at all were:
Et la lune perfide 6leve son miroir
Que je deplore ton 6clat fatal et pur
O puiserent mes yeux dans un mortel azur
Mes lentes mains dans l'or adorable se lassent
D'appeler ce captif que les feuilles enlacent,
Au coeur suave. Effeuille aux manes du ddfunt
Mais la lune s'amuse aux myrtes allong6s.
Chair pour la solitude close tristement
If the record is correct, however, the poem
recited by Valdry in 1941 during his lecture "Sur les
'Narcisse'" was the new version. It appears that Valdry
felt that the new version was not significantly different
from the old one overall because immediately after he
finished reciting the poem, he said:
A cinquante ans de distance, ce premier
Narcisse me parait aujourd'hui un sp6ci-
men de ce que j'aurais probablement fait
en matiere de podsie si'j'avais continue
A la pratiquer au lieu de m'en carter
et de poursuivre dans de toutes autres
voies la formation de mon esprit. Ce
poeme demeure pour moi un premier etat
caractdristique de mon iddal et de mes
moyens de ce temps-lA (p. 287).
Out of fifty-three lines, however, considerably more than
one-half were modified. About twenty lines were changed
completely. Approximately fifteen were partially altered.
In addition, five completely new lines were added so that
the total number of lines in the new version was fifty-
eight not fifty-three. Nevertheless, Walzer does not feel
that there is a major difference between the two versions
Mais enfin, malgrd ces heureuses rdvi-
sions, malgrd les transformations
apportees A la conclusion et les cinq
vers ajoutes a la version definitive,
le texte de 1'Album ne differe pas
essentiellement ni par le propos ni
par la forme, du texte donned par la
The new version may not be a different poem, but
it is a thorough modification of the old version and a
definite improvement. The Album version has more unity.
It is clearer and flows more logically than the old one.
Networks of images such as those of light and flowers,
already referred to, are much more tightly organized.
The once very subliminal theme of poetry is subtly ampli-
fied. A sharpening of certain poetic techniques is
noticeable. There is an increase in alliteration. Har-
monious words and sound repetitions are made, expanding
greatly the internal rhyme. In addition, more effective
use of enjambement can be observed, for example,
Et d'un reste du jour me forme un fiance 89
Nu, sur la place pale oO m'attire l'eau triste...
Moreover, the poem is made more personal, less an abstract
meditation, by the proliferation of first person pronoun
references. Still another modification involves the lapi-
dary vocabulary. It is not so excessive.
The new version of the poem, as an early example
of Valdry's return to poetry, shows the painstaking efforts
of a more conscious and less rushed artist, even more keen-
ly interested in technique and poetic effect than he had
been earlier, trying new solutions and substitutions for
Specific examples of some of the more significant
changes mentioned above follow, demonstrating Valery's
serious, but often subtle, attempts to improve the poem.
The changes made were as minor as the modifica-
tions in line three from: "Et, vers vous, Nymphes!
nymphes, nymphes des fontaines" to "Et vers vous, Nymphe,
Nymphe, 6 Nymphe des fontaines," or as dramatic as the
substitution of a completely new line like: "Je me
d6lie en vain de ta presence douce," for "0 chair d'ado-
lescent et de princess douce!" The new line is an
example of the increase in first person usage and an
attempt to amplify sound harmony and repetition since
"vain" is now repeated in the poem three times and "dl6ie"
blends effectively with "d6lice" which appears two lines
later in "Et d'un sombre d6lice enfle le vent profound "
The complete omission of the old line with its possible
androgynous reference reduces the ambiguity of the poem,
perhaps to its detriment.
Increased alliteration can be seen in the follow-
ing changes where lines numbered 1 will refer to the early
version and lines numbered 2 will refer to the new version.
1 A travers ces bois bleus et ces lys fraternels
2 A travers les bois bleus et les bras fraternels,
1 Pale amithyste! 6 miroir du songe insens6!
completely replaced by 90
2 D6licieux d6mon, desirable et glace!
1 L'heure menteuse est molle au reve sur la
2 L'heure menteuse est molle au membres sur la
Increased alliterative sounds also appear in:
2 L'espoir seul peut suffire a rompre ce cristal.
where the "s" sounds imitate the whispering sigh which
will ripple the water. The line had been harsher sounding:
1 Caresse don't l'espoir ondule ce crystal!
There are several additional examples of alliteration
where only two words are involved; for example,
2 Nu, sur la place pale oh m'attire 1'eau triste...
1 Tiens ce baiser nocturne et tendrement fatal,
2 Tiens ce baiser qui brise un came d'eau fatal!
1 Assez pour deviner la-bas le Fianc6
2 Et d'un reste du jour me forme un fiance
Further technical improvements are found, such
as augmented internal rhyme and clever word repetitions
which echo again and again as the poem develops. The
echo can be as simple as the repetition of the end sound
of "ravisse" duplicated three lines later in "Evanouissez"
or as sustained as the sound of the word "eau" repeated
four times as the word "eau" but reverberating also in
words like "beautV" (twice), "tombeau" (twice), "tropeaux"
roseaux,"91 "chos," not to mention the many "o's" as in
"O freres . ." But the repetition of sounds and
words (as Poe prescribed) are too numerous to detail here.
A few more will be mentioned as they occur in lines cited
for other reasons.
Another fairly striking aspect of the new version
is a marked movement away from "les tresors du language
1 Saphir antique et fontaine magicienne
2 Je ne sais plus aimer que l'eau magicienne
1 Une lumiere ondule encore, pale am6thyste
2 Une tendre lueur d'heure ambigue existed 2
1 Pale am6thyste! o miroir du songe insens6!
2 Dl6icieux demon, desirable et glac6!93
1 Sur la livre de gemme en l'eau more, 6 pieuse
2 Mais sur le froid mortel oi l'dtoile s'allume,
The line which replaced "Saphir antique .
begins with "Je." A number of references have already
been made to the fact that the poem was made to seem more
personal by just such an increase in the use of the first
person. Related to this type of change are the personal
and possessive pronouns in the new lines which Valdry
added to the poem.
2 Au soupir de mon coeur mon apparence ondule,
2 La ride me ravisse au souffle qui m'exile
2 Et que mon souffle anime une flute gracile
2 Dont le joueur leger me serait indulgent!...
Lighting improvements were discussed in the
section on Gide, and flower images have been mentioned in
several places. One more example of Valery's ability to
make an image more suggestive by means of a slight adjust-
ment, with the result that it becomes more closely linked
to the other flower and scent images, is the change from
"Aux calices pleins d'ombre pale et si l4gers," to "Aux
calices pleins d'ombre et de sommeils legers." The
new line is a subtle reminder of the soporific power of
the Narcissus flower, thereby resulting in a further allu-
sion to the metamorphosis of Narcissus.
Increased attention to imagery makes one of the
underlying themes clearer too. The theme of poetic
creation, once almost totally obscure, is greatly enhanced
in the new version. The addition of "Et que mon souffle
anime une flute gracile/ Dont le joueur94 16ger me serait
indulgent!..." plus the modification of "Et puis, verse
pour la lune, flute isolde,/ Verse des pleurs lointains
en des urnes d'argent," to "Et, toi,.verse a la lune,
humble flute isol6e,/ Une diversity de nos larmes d'
argent," certainly increases the likelihood that the
theme of poetry is meant to be suggested. The flute can
be seen as the symbol of the voice of the poet pouring
out his beautifully emotive lines reimmortalizing the
tragic plight of Narcissus and the equally poetic story
of Narcissa as well as lamenting the fugitiveness of
beauty. The tears stand for poems. This equation can
be made even in the earlier line: "Je viens au pur si-
lence offrir mes larmes vaines."
Moreover, the addition of the lines "Un grand
came m'6coute, oi j'dcoute l'espoir/ La voix des sources
change et me parle du soir;" for "Car les hymnes du soleil
s'en vont!/ C'est le soir," may be related to Valery's
concept of "attente" and other aspects of the poetic pro-
cess which he discusses in a complex passage in "Calepin
Ainsi le po@te en function est
une attente. Il est une modification
dans un home, qui le fait sensible
a certain terms de son propre d6veloppe-
ment: ceux qui rdcompensent cette attente
pour 6tre conformes a la convention. Ii
restitue ce qu'il d4sirait. Il restitue
de quasi-mdcanismes qui soient capable
de lui rendre 1'energie qu'ils lui ont
coat6e et meme plus (car ici les prin-
cipes sont en apparence violds). Son
oreille lui parole.
Nous attendons le mot inattendu
et qui ne peut etre prdvu, mais attend.
Nous sommes le premier A l'entendre.
Entendre? mais c'est parler.
On ne comprend la chose entendue que
si on l'a dite soi-meme au moyen d'une
Parler, c'est entendre [. .]
Le silence et l'attention sont
incompatible. II faut que le courant
Crder done l'esp@ce de silence
f laquelle r6pond le beau. Ou le vers
pur, ou l'id6e lumineuse... (0, I, 1448-
The ideas expressed in the preceding passage are some-
what cryptic, but they seem to be rendered poetically by
the four lines:
Je viens au pur silence offrir mes larmes vaines.
Un grand came m'6coute, ou j'6coute 1'espoir.
La voix des sources change et me parole du soir;
J'entends l'herbe d'argent grandir dans l'ombre
Narcissus, in a state of expectation analogous to "attente,'95
has approached the kind of pure silence which speaks and
to which the beautiful responds.
Obviously, not all of the many modifications made
by Valdry in the second version have been elaborated upon
here. Other categories of changes include numerous varia-
tions in punctuation, most of them fairly minor. One over-
all statement can be made about punctuation. There is
definitely an increase in punctuation from the first to
the second version. Generally speaking, this is a move-
ment toward greater transparency. Being aware of one
deletion, however, is helpful.
1 Je t'adore, sous ces myrtes, 6 l'incertaine!
2 Je t'adore, sous ces myrtes, 6 l'incertaine
The new version is syntactically more difficult but
probably more suggestive as it now runs into the next
line: "Chair pour la solitude close tristement." It
is, therefore, not just "6 l'incertaine!" but "o l'incert-
aine Chair [qui est] pour la solitude close tristement."
Numerous preposition changes have also been made
for the second version. None are so dramatic as the
famous change in "Palme" where the new preposition gives
the line a completely opposite meaning: "D6partage avec
mystere" became "D6partage sans myst6re." One slightly
1 Adieu! reflet perdu sous l'onde came et close,
2 Adieu, reflet perdu sur l'onde came et close,
One last relevant element of the poem needs to
be examined. Epithets, considered essential by Valery,
are extremely common in both versions. Many stay the
same in both versions, such as, tristee lys," "larmes
vaines," lunee perfide," "fleurs humides," "pleurs 6ter-
nels," "coeur suave," etc. Some are lost: "roseaux har-
monieux," "saphir antique," "pale am6thyste," "fontaine
ironique," "heure ultime." New ones are added, for ex-
ample, "froid mortel," "eau fatale," "flite gracile,"
"pur silence," etc.
Once Valdry quoted Voltaire on the subject of
poetry and agreed with him:
Voltaire a dit merveilleusement bien
que "la Po6sie n'est faite que de
beaux dEtails." Je ne dis autre chose.
L'univers po6tique don't je parlais s'
introduit par le nombre ou, plut6t,
par la density des images, des figures,
des consonances, dissonances, par 1'
enchainement des tours et des rythmes
[. ] (0, I, 1502).
Val6ry also said that there is no need to point out to
women that beauty demands laborious assistance, exqui-
site care, and long consultations before the mirror and
that likewise, the poet looks at his work on the page and
retouches, here and there, the original face of his
poem.7 Here is the complete second version of "Narcisse
parle," an improvement over the first and a testament to
Val6ry's determination concerning the necessity of re-
vision and the beauty of details.
0 FRERES! tristes lys, je languis de beaute98
Pour m'6tre d6sird dans votre nudity,
Et vers vous, Nymphe, Nymphe, 6 Nymphe des fon-
Je viens au pur silence offrir mes larmes vaines.
Un grand came m'4coute, ou j'4coute 1'espoir.
La voix des sources change et me parle du soir;
J'entends 1'herbe d'argent grandir dans l'ombre
Et la lune perfide Cl6ve son miroir
Jusque dans les secrets de la fontaine 6teinte.
Et moi! De tout mon coeur dans ces roseaux jet6,
Je languis, o saphir, par ma triste beauty!
Je ne sais plus aimer que 1'eau magicienne
Oi j'oubliai le rire et la rose ancienne.
Que je deplore ton eclat fatal et pur
Si mollement de moi fontaine environn4e,
Oi puiserent mes yeux dans un mortel azur
Mon image de fleurs humides couronn6e!
H6las! L'image est vaine et les pleurs Eternels!
A travers les bois bleus et les bras fraternels,
Une tendre lueur d'heure ambiguo existe,
Et d'un reste du jour me forme un fiance
Nu, sur la place pale ot m'attire l'eau triste...
D6licieux demon, desirable et glac6!
Voici dans l'eau ma chair de lune et de rose,
O forme ob6issante a mes yeux oppose!
Voici mes bras d'argent don't les gestes sont
Mes lentes mains dans l'or adorable se lassent
D'appeler ce captif que les feuilles enlacent,
Et je crie aux 6chos les noms des dieux obscurs!...
Adieu, reflet perdu sur l'onde came et close,
Narcisse... ce nom meme est un tendre parfum
Au coeur suave. Effeuille aux manes du d6funt
Sur ce vide tombeau la fundrale rose.
Sois, ma levre, la rose effeuillant le baiser
Qui fasse un spectre cher lentement s'apaiser,
Car la nuit parle A demi-voix, proche et lointaine,
Aux calices pleins d'ombre et de sommeils l6gers.
Mais la lune s'amuse aux myrtes allong6s.
Je t'adore, sous ces myrtes, 6 l'incertaine
Chair pour la solitude Aclose tristement
Qui se mire dans le miroir au bois dormant.
Je me ddlie en vain de ta presence douce,
L'heure menteuse est molle aux membres sur la
Et d'un sombre d6lice enfle le vent profound.
Adieu, Narcisse...Meurs! Voici le cr6puscule.
Au soupir de mon coeur mon apparence ondule,
La flute, par l'azur enseveli module
Des regrets de troupeaux sonores qui s'en vont.
Mais sur le froid mortel ou 1'6toile s'allume,
Avant qu'un lent tombeau ne se forme de brume,
Tiens ce baiser qui brise un came d'eau fatal!
L'espoir seul peut suffire A rompre ce cristal.
La ride me ravisse au souffle qui m'exile
Et que mon souffle anime une flte gracile
Dont le joueur leger me serait indulgent!...
Evanouissez-vous, divinity trouble!
Et, toi, verse a la lune, humble flute isolde.
Une diversity de nos larmes d'argent (0, I, 82-83).
Taking "Narcisse parle" apart and looking quite
carefully at both versions has demonstrated its richness
and underscored a number of Valery's technical preoccupa-
tions. Now that the poem has been put back together in
its revised form, it is necessary to make some observa-
tions about it as a whole.
While "Narcisse parole" has often been recognized
as, at least, a minor masterpiece and as a representative
example of Valery's early poetry, even by Val&ry himself,
it has not often been analyzed in detail. Charles Whiting
does one of the few fairly detailed studies of the poem,
a chapter in his book length study of the early versions
of the poems of the Album de vers anciens. Although he
concentrates primarily on the early form of the poem,
nevertheless, it is interesting to see how he looks at the
poem and what he understands it to mean.
Whiting studies the poem from the point of view
of the theme of purity which he sees as an underlying
theme of the early poems. He says of "Narcisse parle:"
L'importance de Narcisse parle est de
montrer que cette puret6 se trouve
en soi et que la grande affaire est de
l'apprdhender en soi-meme [...]. Val6ry
6tait trop conscient de ses defauts
pour s'interesser ici A lui-meme, tel
quel. Il pr6f6rait distinguer cette
petite parties de lui-meme qui 6tait
le "Dieu." En outre, cette conscience
aigue de ses propres ddfauts semble
expliquer aussi pouquoi Narcisse parle
est plus une lamentation qu'une re-
cherche active de la puret6. Le point
est important, car il 6claire tout le
poeme, et A travers le poeme un aspect
de la jeunesse de Valery. Dans
Narcisse parole, Narcisse a, en effet,
abandonnd la recherche de son image.
Il est sans espoir (ainsi les "larmes
vaines" du debut) et il ne fait que
languir. L'6pigraphe pour apaiser
les manes de Narcisse l'atteste.
Narcisse est venu se lamenter devant
le tombeau de son id6al.99
He finds the explanation for the attitude expressed in the
poem in Val6ry's personal life and letters. He sees in
the poem the expression of a moment of despair and sup-
ports his thesis by quoting a portion of a letter to Gide
which he says was written less than fifteen days before
Val6ry wrote the poem:
Je languis aupres du
feu en attendant ce qui ne viendra pas.
Heureusement les journees s'ecoulent.
Les projects, des fois, s'
illuminent dans l'obscurite de mon
ennui, come des palais enchants. J'
entends mes vers chanter et luire sans
pouvoir les saisir et les garder...
Ils s'envolent! Les palais s'ecroulent,
et je languis encore aupres du feu,
On the other hand, Pierre Michel, who analyzes
the poem in Valery, L'Ecrivain symboliste et hermdtique,
has a much more optimistic interpretation of the poem.
He says: "Dans l'Album, Narcisse est un bel 6ph@be,
frere des jeunes h6ros de Virgile et de Ch6nier, qui
medite devant la fontaine. Il souffre de ne plus con-
naitre les plaisirs de la vie, de l'amour, d'etre devenue
le prisonnier de la source." 10 He recognizes, as Whiting
did, that this Narcissus knows that his efforts are in
vain but he adds:
Mais cette peine n'est pas sans con-
solations: la nature et la po6sie
charment son existence vaine, l'une
par la beauty de ses spectacles aux
nuances subtiles, 1'autre par ses
plaisirs savants: de m6me que le
Faune mallarmden goOtait dans la
creation poetique une joie plus in-
tense que dans la possession physique,
de meme Narcisse s'enivry Oe sa mdlodie
et de sa beaut ...
Concerning the ending, he feels that the twilight which
puts an end to the enchantment is not hostile because
it is accompanied by the song of the flute. Even the
fog which will bury the image is not an ominous sign
because it is not a true death since the next day "l'azur
permettra une nouvelle contemplation . Con-
sequently, he concludes that the ending of the poem is
La conclusion de 1'6glogue, come celle
de 1'Apris-midi d'un faune, est done
optimist: la podsie avec ses m6lo-
dies, ses correspondances, ses artifices
savants, son language secret, d6tourne
Narcisse de l'action et de la passion;
elle fait de lui un 6tre a part, qui
m6prise le matdrialisme de son 6poque
et trouve, provisoirement, 1'expression
de son Moi dans la symphonies que consitue
Whiting, who contends that the new ending is
intellectual and cold,105 feels that the early version
conveyed the idea that Narcissus was consoled by the
beauty of the evening.106 While both studies are helpful
on some points, the problem may be that they are trying to
read too much into the poem. Even in the second version,
which is much more tightly organized than the first, there
is a vagueness which permeates the poem. This seemingly
intentional obscurity heightens the poem's evocative power
and adds to its charm. The poem raises certain questions
which probably can not be answered definitively but allow
for alternate possible interpretations. For instance, has
Narcissus already been transformed into a flower when the
poem begins? The first words are: "0 freres! tristes
lys .... ." And the possibility that Narcissus is indeed
a flower holds until the fifth stanza where the word
"chair" is mentioned. Even here, however, the impression
can not completely be discounted since the "chair" is of
moon and dew. The flower could be colored by moonlight
and covered with dew just as well as the flesh of Narcissus
could be. Ultimately, there is no need to determine for
sure, just as it does not matter exactly why the flower men-
tioned is a lily and not the narcissus flower. Of course,
the lily obviously blends harmoniously with the other
symbols of purity and beauty representing the ideal. It
probably is not even crucial that the reader see that the
flute metaphor and related images suggest the theme of
poetic creation. "Narcisse parle" is a vague, lovely im-
pression, the expression of "un 6tat d'ame" where beauty
is envisioned, almost apprehended, and then it vanishes.
The poem, written at the dawn of Valdry's poetic career,
remains to suggest the ideal and perpetuate the mood.
To quote Valery, the following, although stated in
another context in a slightly different form, describes
"Narcisse parole" "la meditation d'un certain moi, trans-
port6e dans l'univers po6tique [ .]" (0, I, p. 1505).
The ambiguities in the poem are a reminder that the poem
is not an attempt to tell a story, especially not the tale
told by Ovid. Valery felt that the more poetry could be
reduced to prose, the less it was poetry. It is beauty
and poetry that are important here. Valdry could have
been talking about himself and some of his own aims and
even "Narcisse parle" when he described the Symbolist
period as follows:
Un expos des tentatives de cette
6poque demanderait un travail syst6ma-
tique. Rarement plus de ferveur, plus
de hardiesse, plus de recherches thdo-
riques, plus de savoir, plus de pieuse
attention, plus de disputes ont 6td, en
si peu d'anndes, consacrds au problem
de la beauty pure (0, I, 1272).
He goes on to say that the problem of pure beauty was
approached from all sides and that language being a com-
plex thing, its many sided nature allowed for a diversity
of attempts. "Narcisse parole" seems to be an expression
of a combination of these methods:
Certains, qui conservaient les formes
traditionnelles du Vers frangais, s'
6tudiaient a l1iminer les descriptions,
les sentences, les moralit6s, les prd-
cisions arbitraires; ils purgeaient
leur podsie de presque tous ces 61ements
intellectuals que la musique ne peut
exprimer. D'autres donnaient A tous
les objets des significations infinies
qui supposaient une m6taphysique cache.
Ils usaient d'un ddlicieux materiel
ambigu. Ils peuplaient leurs pares
enchants et leurs sylves 6vanescentes
d'une faune tout id6ale. Chaque chose
6tait allusion; rien ne se bornait L
etre; tout pensait, dans ces royaumes
orn4s de miroirs; ou, du moins, tout
semblait penser... (0, I, 1272-73).
In the final analysis Valery will emerge as his
own man, an original and independent thinker and poet,
but during this early formative period when "Narcisse
parole" was written, Valdry was subject to outside in-
fluences. As a result, "Narcisse parole" can be labeled,
as it has been in this study, a Symbolist poem.
With "Narcisse parle," Valdry rejected the Nar-
cissus myth as told by Ovid. His poem does not reflect
the preoccupations of the Middle Ages vis-a-vis the Nar-
cissus myth either, because it is not didactic. There is
no moralizing in Valery's poem; there are no warnings, no
mention of the "vanitas" theme and no development of the
crime and punishment motif so common in the poems which
mention Narcissus during the Middle Ages. Although Valrry's
"Narcisse parle" does not make use of traditional aspects
of the Narcissus myth, it is, paradoxically, the least
original of his Narcissus works. The reason for this is
that it is schooled in Symbolism in the way it utilizes
the Narcissus myth, in vocabulary, in setting, and in
While Valery's poem does not seem to have Creuzer's
sense of: Narcissus as a symbol which in a mystic way
reveals the fate of the human soul as the prisoner of
matter, deceived by a beautiful illusion, there is
something in "Narcisse parle" of Michaud's concept of
the Symbolist poem haunted by the myth of Narcissus
. . moins par une introversion complaisante que pour
tenter de saisir et de fixer, au delA des formes fugitives
leur propre essence."108
The inclusion of the suggestion of the theme of
poetic creation also helps to place the poem squarely in
the symbolist tradition. Narcissus, in this period, is
seen as a symbol of the creative artist. He is also seen
as the symbol of self-awareness. Val6ry's Narcissus in
"Narcisse parle," however, does not seem to be engaged
in a serious "connaisance de soi" attempt, but is instead
an archetype of beauty, meditating in a landscape beyond
reality and lamenting the fugitiveness of ideal beauty;
consequently, he is a typical symbolist hero.
Tied in with the Symbolist/decadent milieu and
Val6ry and "Narcisse parle" are the four important literary
figures discussed in detail in this study: Gide, Huysmans,
Mallarm6 and Poe. While the influence of Gide and Huys-
mans must not be discounted, more important is the clear
debt Valry owes to Mallarm6 and Poe during this early
period. Having established already that "Narcisse parle"
was definitely modeled on the poems and poetic aims of
Mallarm6 and the techniques and theories of Poe, the ques-
tion of their influence can be resolved further and put
into a larger perspective by focusing on the insight
which Mallarm6 and Poe offered Val6ry into the workings
of the mind. Val6ry touched on this specifically when he
Il est exact, et presque mieux
qu'exact, que Leonard, que Poe,
que Mallarm6 ont fortement agi sur
moi a l1'ge ol se fixent, en general,
l'objet, le champ, les conditions de
notre volont6 d'action int6rieure.
Les oeuvres de ces homes m'ont
sdduit, domind, et,-comme il convient,
d6sesp6r6: le beau est ce qui dd-
sespere. Mais leur prise sur moi fut
moins celle de leurs productions meme
que de l'id6e qu'elles m'imposaient
de leurs auteurs. J'imaginais des
esprits, ce qui me conduisait a
imaginer l'esprit, A quoi j'ai d6pens6
le meilleur de mon temps [. .]. En
v6rit6, une oeuvre qui m'intdresse
profond6ment est une oeuvre qui m'
excite a me figure le systame vivant
et pensant qui l'a produite (0, II,
Ultimately, Valery viewed the whole range of his preoccu-
pations, even as they related to poetry, in terms of his
main concern: the study of the mind. Val6ry discovered
that looking outward at others and their works was just
another means of looking inward in order to understand
the workings and problems of the mind, his own above all.
This attitude towards the influence and insight provided
him by the study of seminal minds like Mallarm6's and Poe's
is an extension of his own brand of introspective Narcissism
which can not help but make us more aware that the Nar-
cissus myth as Valdry used it has the function of a
catalyst structuring his whole life and work. It is not
surprising, therefore, that Valery saw his Narcissus works
as a kind of autobiographiese podtique."
"Narcisse parole" is a representative example of
Val6ry's early work, the reflection of a particular period
and even a specific school of poetry, and, as Valery him-
self indicated, the poem closest to his ideal from this
early period. It constitutes the first chapter in Val6ry's
"autobiographie po6tique." From its early sonnet forms
through its publication in La Conque, and its revision for
the Album, "Narcisse parle" reveals Val6ry's poetic pre-
occupations and the tenets of his poetic theory.
Although the famous crisis night of October or
November 1892 was the climax, the publication of "Narcisse
parle" in 1891 and Val6ry's disappointment with it and
other aspects of poetry, were a turning point for Valdry,
the emerging poet, leading to an outward renunciation of
poetry0 and a more definite and determined turn to the
study of the processes of thought. Valdry did not return
to poetry until about 1912 or 1913 when, at the urging
of Gide and the publisher Gallimard, he began the revision
of his early poems for publication. This work of revision
which included the rewriting of "Narcisse parole" led to
the composition of the masterpiece La Jeune Parque and
ultimately resulted in the mature poetic period of Charmes
of which"Fraements du Narcisse"is an integral part. This
second major work on Narcissus which has lines in it
taken intact from "Narcisse parole will be studied
next for confirmation of Valiry's early theories about
poetry and their development. "Fragments du Narcisse"
enables us to determine what Val6ry discovers and what
he rejects about poetry in the second stage of his
"'Sur les 'Narcisse,'" p. 287.
2Letter from Mallarm6 to Valery quoted in Henri
Mondor, L'Heureuse Rencontrede Val6ry et Mallarm6 (Lausanne:
La Guilde du Livre, 1947), p. 86.
3Grubbs, p. 19.
Agnes MacKay, The Universal Self, A Study of
Paul Valdry (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1961),
5Andre Berne-Joffroy, Presence de Valery, pr6c6de
de Propos me concernant par Paul Val6ry (Paris:
Librairie Plon, 1944), p. 184.
6pierre-Olivier Walzer, La Poesie de Valdry
(Genbve: Slatkine reprints, 1966), p. 95.
7Walzer, pp. 89-90. Also in 0, I, 1558.
8These early versions of "Narcisse parle" will be
referred to again when the variants of the two major
versions of the poem are analyzed in detail.
9"Sur les 'Narcisse,'" pp. 283-290.
10"Sur les 'Narcisse,'" pp. 283-84.
11These sonnets and information concerning them
may be found in "Notes et Documents" in Correspondance
de Paul Valery et de Gustave Fourment 1887-1933, ed.
Octave Nadal (Paris: Gallimard, 1957), pp. 211-216.
12"Sur la technique litt6raire" in 0, I, 1809.
13Also in "Calepin d'un poote," 0, I, 1454.
14"De la diction des vers," 0, II, 1254.
15Letter from Val6ry to Andr4 Gide, 1 February
1891, Correspondance d'Andr6 Gide et de Paul Valery
1890-1942, Pr6face et Notes par Robert Mallet (Paris:
Gallimard, 1955), p. 48. Hereafter cited as Correspon-
dance Gide-Val6ry. (Evidence indicates that Gide who
added the date to this letter may have dated it incor-
160, I, 1552-53. Appeared first in La Conque,
15 March 1891, pp. 4-5.
17Correspondance Gide-Valtry, p. 54.
18Valery discusses a similar circumstance related
to the "Cimetiere marin," an example of his theory that
a poem is never finished but instead abandoned: "Une
aprbs-midi de l'an 1920, notre ami tres regrett6, Jacques
Rivibre, 6tant venu me faire visit, m'avait trouvd
dans un '6tat' de ce Cimetiere marin, songeant A reprendre,
A supprimer, A substituer, A intervenir ga et 1A... Il
n'eut de cesse qu'il n'obtint de le lire; et l'ayant lu,
qu'il ne le ravit. Rien n'est plus d4cisif que l'esprit
d'un directeur de revue. C'est ainsi que par accident
fut fixde la figure de cet ouvrage. Il n'y a point de
mon fait. Du rest, je ne puis en general revenir sur
quoi que ce soit que j'aie ccrit que je ne pense que j'en
ferais tout autre chose si quelque intervention 6trangere
ou quelque circonstance quelconque n'avait rompu 1'enchante-
ment de ne pas en finir (0, I, 1500).
19Correspondance Gide-Val6ry, pp. 48-49.
20Correspondance Gide-Val6ry, p. 50.
21See, for example, Louise Vinge, The Narcissus
Theme in Western European Literature up to the Early 19th
Century (Lund: Gleerups, 1967).
22See Frederick Goldin, The Mirror of Narcissus
in the Courtly Love Lyric (New York: Cornell University
23Jean Soulairol, Paul Valrry (Paris: La Colombe,
1952), pp. 147-49 suggests some similarities between
Ronsard's elegy "La mort de Narcisse" and the Narcissus
poems of Val6ry.
24G6rard Genette, "Narcisse baroque," La Nouvelle
Revue Frangaise, 9 (1961), 558-564.
25"C'est le mythe de Narcisse, que nous retrouvons
a chaque instant dans l'histore du Symbolisme," Guy
Michaud, Message podtique du Symbolisme (Paris: Nizet,
1966), note, p. 34. "Le theme du narcissisme est int6gr6
dans le symbolisme, puisque pour celui-ci le monde exterieur
est un miroir de l'homme et de 1'essence myst6rieuse des
choses," Henry Nicholas, Mallarmu et le Symbolisme (Paris:
Librairie Larousse, 1965), p. 93.
26More of the myth is utilized for his two other
major works on Narcissus.
27Unless her presence is meant to be suggested
by the unusually large number of internal echo rhymes
in the poem.
28It should be noted, however, that Valdry said
that he read Ovid only after Chantavoine's remarks in
Le Journal des D6bats. "S'il me fallait def6ndre (s'il
fallait def6ndre Rien jug6 par N6ant), je cormmencerais
par remercier le critique de m'avoir fait ouvrir Ovide
pour la premiere, et sans doute ultime, fois. Je n'ai
trouv6 d'autre similitude que le titre dans son Narcisse,
et trois mots seuls m'ont arret6 comme exquis" in
Correspondence Gide-ValEry, p. 79.
29Maja Goth, "The Myth of Narcissus in the
Works of Rilke and of Val@ry," Wisconsin Studies in
Contemporary Literature, 7 (1966), 14.
30Goth, p. 14.
31Leonardo da Vinci, Pierre Louys, Rimbaud, and
Verlaine are four other major figures who undoubtedly
influenced and impressed Valery profoundly, but their
influence does not seem to be as significant in respect
to "Narcisse parle," although Louys, of course, requested
the poem and published it.
32Generally accepted dates 1885-1895 for symbolism
with a capital "S."
33"Huysmans est celui d'aujourd'hui don't mon ame
s'accommode le mieux. J'en suis toujours A relire
A rebours; c'est ma bible et mon livre de chevet."
Lettres A quelques-uns (Paris: Gallimard, 1952), p. 11.
34Henri Mondor, Pr6cocit6 de Valry (Paris:
Gallimard, 1957), p. 215.
35Jacques Charpier, Essai sur Paul Valdry (Paris:
Seghers, 1956), p. 29.
36Lettres A quelques-uns, p. 35.
37Lettres A quelques-uns, p. 23.
38paul Valery, Cahiers, 29 vols. (Paris: Centre
national de la recherche scientifique, 1957-1961), v. 1,
39Lettres quelques-uns, pp. 12-13.
40Lettres a quelques-uns, p. 28.
41T.S. Eliot, From Poe to Val6ry (New York:
Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1948), pp. 22-23.
42Eliot, p. 23. Joseph Chiari in Symbolisme
from Poe to Mallarm6, The Growth of a Myth (London:
Rockliff, 1956), pp. 166-167, repeats this general assess-
ment concerning the influence of Poe on Mallarm6, Baude-
laire, and Val6ry.
43Lettres a quelques-uns, p. 97.
44Lucienne Julien Cain, Trois Essais sur Paul
Val6ry, "Edgar Poe et Valry," (Paris: Gallimard, 1958),
45Lettres a quelques-uns, p. 9.
46Lettres a quelques-uns, p. 28-29.
47Lettres a quelques-uns, p. 47.
48Michaud, p. 556.
49That Val6ry no longer believes in the power of
poetry as the "orphic explanation of the universe" after
the crisis of 1892 is well-known.
50See O, I, 1485 for Valry's discussion of the
artists need to reject "[ .] tout ce qui r6sulte de
notre relation statistique avec nos semblables et de notre
commerce obligatoire et obligatoirement impur avec le
ddsordre monotone de la vie exterieure."
51Valdry generalizes this tendency in "Sur les
'Narcisse.'" A cette epoque [1890's], les pontes dis-
posaient volontiers de pierreries don't ils croyaient
enrichir leurs ouvrages. Depuis, la po6sie a connu les
restrictions, nous sommes devenus plus simples, plus
52Henri Mondor, L'Heureuse Rencontre de Valery et
Mallarme (Lausanne: La Guilde du Livre, 1947), pp. 35-36.
53This is a brief but valuable aid to an under-
standing of the Valdry/lMallarm4 relationship. It contains
important letters rarely printed elsewhere, details,
especially, the initial stages of their relationship, and
recounts Val6ry's important role as confidant to Mallarm6
concerning Un Coup de dds and, subsequently, as a source
of information about the poem.
54For example, "En ce qui concern les influences
que j'ai subies, la plus profonde n'est pas celle de
Mallarmd: quelques lignes de Poe, l'influence de Wagner,
l'id6e que je me fais de Leonard, et maintes reflexions
et lectures scientifiques ont jou6 le plus grand r6le
dans le ddveloppement de ma pensee" (quoted in Mondor's
Prdcocit@ de Valdry, p. 412). "Mallarmd ne devait pas
avoir d'influence: c'est une proposition qui peut se
demontrer. Influence, c'est imitation ou continuation.
Imiter un 6tre si singulier, c'est crier qu'on imite.
Imiter un art si parfait, c'est une d6sastreuse affaire:
cela cofte plus cher que de risquer d'etre 'original'"
(from a letter to Albert Thibaudet in 1912 in Lettres f
quelques-uns, p. 98). Yet in an essay entitled "St6phane
Mallarm6" in Ecrits divers sur Mallarm6, in O, I, pp. 660-
680, Valery discusses in some detail the influence of
Mallarmd on himself and other young poets of the 1890's.
55The lines which begin '" miroir!/ Eau froide
par l'ennui dans ton cadre gel6e" to "J'ai de mon reve
pars connu la nudity!"
56Lettres a quelques-uns, p. 19.
57Fourment/Val6ry letters, p. 116.
58Correspondance Gide-Val6ry, p. 50.
59Stdphane Mallarm6, OEuvres completes, Texte
6tabli et annot6 par Henri Mondor et G. Jean-Aubry,
Bibliothbque de la Pliade (Paris: Gallimard, 1945),
60Mallarm6, p. 48.
61Prdcocit6 de Valdry, p. 214.
62Correspondance Gide-Val6ry, p. 56.
63In "Je disais quelquefois a Stephane Mallarm6..."
O, I, 649.
64The preface to the Correspondance Gide-Valdry
by Robert Mallet is an extremely perceptive study of the
friendship between Gide and Valery.
65A question remains as to whether there is any
relationship between the androgynous suggestion in
"Narcisse parole" in such lines as "O chair d'adolescent
et de princess douce!" and the androgynous Adam in
66Correspondance Gide-Valery, p. 46.
67Both would eventually attend Mallarm6's "mardi
68A Mon Ami Paul Ambroise Valery avec qui j'ai
fait un tel reve" quoted in Andr6 Gide, Romans, recits et
soties, oeuvres lyriques, Notices et Bibliographies par
Yvonne Davet et Jean-Jacques Thierry, Bibliotheque de
la Pl6iade (Paris: Gallimard, 1958), p. 1458.
69Gide had planned a Narcissus poem; however, see
Correspondance Gide-Val6ry, p. 154 concerning "Narcisse
70Andrd Gide, Romans, recits ..., p. 1457.
71Andrd Gide, Romans, rdcits .., p. 1458.
72Letter of 25 Mai 1892: "Ton oncle [Charles
Gide?] trouve le Traiti du Narcisse trop symboliste."
Letter of July 6, 1899: "J'ai re9u tes dernieres publi-
cations et je me suis amuse A les parcourir trhs vite
entierement, par gout du cindmatographe et par experience
de style. J'ai r-aim6e ce point de vue le Narcisse et
El Hadj" (p. 346).
73"Si vous avez lu mon hdtif poeme, bien loin de
l'oeuvre revge et que j'espere refaire un soir ou l'autre
(car sans cet espoir je souffrirais, dites-moi clairement,
comme une parties lucide et d6gris6e de moi-meme, ce que
vous en induisez" (Correspondance Gide-Valery, p. 50).
Also in February 1891 when he sent the poem to Gide,
"Dites-moi aussi franchement que vous parliez sous les
cypres et les t6erbinthes de ce pays sous la lune que
moi je n'ai pas oublie [The Botanical garden where the
tomb of Narcissa was] dites-moi ce qu'il vous en semble,"
74Correspondance Gide-Valdry, p. 56.
75Correspondance Gide-Val6ry, p. 56.
76Correspondance Gide-Valdry, p. 56.
77Jean Hytier, "Formules valdryennes," Romanic
Review, 47 (1956), 196.
78Paul Pieltain, "M6tamorphoses d'un fragment
du Narcisse de Paul Valry," Cahiers d'analyse textuelle,
4 (1962), 34.
79Correspondance Gide-Valry, p. 57.
80From "Si la fontaine claire est par la nuit
6teinte" to "Jusque dans les secrets de la fontaine
81"Lueur" is a weaker light than "lumiere."
"Lueur lumiere faible [. .], illumination faible
ou passagere." Paul Robert, Dictionnaire alphab6tique et
analogique de la langue franchise (Paris: Societ6 du
nouveau Littr6, 1967), p. 1012.
82As in "Par le talent; quand, sur l'or glauque
de lointaines" from Mallarm6's "L'Apres-midi d'un faune,"
OEuvres completes, p. 51.
83Correspondance Gide-Valdry, p. 56.
84"Mais il n'y a guIre de changement dans les
emotions qui garden plus ou moins le meme ton dans tout
le poeme. Toujours les faibles emotions d'un Narcisse
languissant. On ne remarque guere vers la fin du poeme
le glissement d'une faible souffrance A une souffrance
douce-ambre ou Narcisse se complaint. Ce sont les exi-
gences de l'esth6tique de 1890 que Valdry suit encore,
qui produisent ces sensations affaiblies, adoucies. Dans
L'Album, Valdry essaiera de corriger cette faiblesse
d'6motion, notamment en doublant les emplois de la premiere
personnel et le nombre de strophes." Charles G. Whiting,
Valdry, jeune poete (Paris: Presses Universitaires de
France, 1960), p. 65.
85Along with the line "Que je d6plore...," Gide
partially quotes another line "........bras.....dont les
gestes sont purs." He does not explain the objection to
these two lines except to say: "Pour faire le normalien
jusqu'au bout, excuse moi de trouver tout A fait au-dessous
de vous...." Perhaps he does not like the repetition pur/
purs at the end of the lines. At any rate, Valdry did not
change the second line Gide refers to either. It remains:
"Voici mes bras d'argent don't les gestes sont purs."
86"o0 puiserent mes yeux dans un mortel azur"
is the only other line which appears in exactly the same
form in the sonnets, La Conque, the Album, and even the
Fragments du Narcisse, but, at first, it did have another
form: "O mes yeux ont puis4 dans un mortel azur." This
is mentioned by Jean Bellemin-Nodl in "En Marge des
premiers 'Narcisse,' 1'en-jeu et le hors-jeu du texte,"
Revue d'histoire litt6raire de la France, 5-6 (1972),
975-991. One more point needs to be mentioned concerning
"Que je d6plore..." as the verss donn6." There is a
factor which might be used to discount the theory. The
prose poem version begins: "Que je deplore ton cclat,
fontaine!" On the other hand, there is no proof that it
antedated the sonnets.
87"Au sujet d'Adonis," 0, I, 482.
88Walzer, p. 96.
89Originally the lines had been: "Assez pour
deviner lh-bas le Fianc6/ Dans ton miroir don't m'attire
la lueur triste."
90A line reminiscent of another line of Val6ry's
"0 dieu ddmon demiurge ou destin" quoted in Valdry/Fourment
correspondence, p. 228 from an early poem called "Ambroise."
91And: rose, rose, close, close, and so on.
92Additional internal rhyme: "lueur," and "heure"
continuing the sound of "pleurs" two lines earlier and
"fleurs" in the line before that. "Mon image de fleurs
humides couronnde!/ Hl6as l'image est vaine et les pleurs
93The words in this line repeat sounds found
throughout the poem. "Dl6icieux" is related to "delie"
and "ddlice," for example, and "glace" follows "place" and
is itself followed later by "gracile."
94"Joueur" may be seen as the symbol of the reader
of the poem.
95In his essays on poetry, Valery often speaks of
the stage in poetic creation which he calls "attente." For
example: "...Nous avons A poursuivre des mots qui n'existent
pas toujours, et des coincidences chim6riques; nous avons a
nous maintenir dans l'impuissance, essayant de conjoindre
des sons et des significations, et cr6ant en pleine lumibre
l'un de ces cauchemars oO s'6puise le reveur, quand il
s'efforce ind6finiment d'6galiser deux fant6mes de lignes
aussi instables que lui-meme. Nous devons done passionne-
ment attendre, changer d'heure et de jour comme l'on
changerait d'outil, et vouloir, vouloir... Et meme, ne
pas excessivement vouloir" (0, I, p. 480)(my emphasis).
96'Je ch6ris, en po6sie comme en prose, les
theories si profondes et si perfidement savantes d'Edgar
Poe, je crois a la toute-puissance du rythme et surtout de
l'6pithete suggestive." From a letter to Karl Boes in
1889, Lettres A quelques-uns, p. 9 (my emphasis).
97Paraphrased from "N6cessit6 de la po6sie,"
0, I, p. 1390.
98The same epigraph is used in both versions -
"Narcissae placandis manibus."
99Whiting, p. 62.
100Whiting, p. 63.
101pierre Michel, Val6ry, L'dcrivain symboliste et
herm6tique (Paris: Foucher n.d.), p. 20.
102Michel, p. 20.
103Michel, p. 20.
104Michel, p. 20.
105Whiting, p. 66.
106Whiting, p. 65.
107For Creuzer's role in the nineteenth and
twentieth century interpretations of the Narcissus myth,
see Vinge, especially Chapter 12, pp. 315-320.
108Guy Michaud, "Le Thbme du miroir dans le symbo-
lisme franqais," Cahiers de l'Association Internationale
des Etudes Frangaises, 11 (1959), 206.
109"Par consequence, j'ai cess6 de faire des vers.
Cet art devenu impossible I moi de 1892 [. .]." Letter
from Valery to Thibaudet in 1912 in Lettres S quelques-uns,
p. 97. There were some exceptions, however. For example, two
poems "Vue" and "Et6" were published in Le Centaure in 1896
and seem to have been written after 1892.
"FRAGMENTS DU NARCISSE"
Introduction and Background
"Fragments du Narcisse" is one of the twenty-one
poems in Valery's collection of verse entitled Charmes.
There are only two major collections of Valery's poems:
Album de vers anciens and Charmes. The chief link between
the two is Valery's use of the Narcissus myth. Albert
Thibaudet, one of the earliest critics of Valery's work,
notes this when he says: "Au milieu du recueil, le
Fragment du Narcisse 6tablit la liaison de Charmes avec
1'Album de Vers Anciens.2 Quite significantly, earlier
in his study he makes the following comment: "L'Album
pourrait porter entier ce titre d'une de ses pieces:
Narcisse parle. Et la liaison entire l'Album et Charmes,
la perennit6 du theme po6tique que n'a jamais d6sert6
Valdry, le Fragment du Narcisse public dans Charmes nous
en assure f nouveau." The strong thematic bond between
the two works facilitates study of the development of
Val6ry's theory of poetry. This bond is made even stronger
by the fact that the first part of "Fragments du Narcisse"
contains lines taken directly from "Narcisse parle."
In addition to its direct tie with Valry's early
poetic endeavors, "Fragments du Narcisse," as one of the
most serious and important poems of Charmes, provides a
suitable medium for the study of Valery's poetics at the
time of his serious return to poetry. Charmes, because it
demonstrates a skillful use of a variety of forms and a
masterful command of the tools of poetry, is a testament
to the mature Valery's consummate skill in poetic compo-
sition and expression. "Fragments du Narcisse" is a model
of the craftmanship found in Charmes. The "Fragments"
illustrates Valery's increasing interest in and mastery of
the rhetorical devices of poetry. A further increase in
alliteration is readily noticeable, but there are also
tropes and literary devices not found in "Narcisse parle,"
such as anacoluthon, anaphora, asyndeton, oxymoron, simile,
etc. Although there is a determined movement away from
obscurity in this particular poem, nevertheless, there is
a calculated use of unusual syntax. Conscious attention
to expressive sound patterns, particularly the harmonic
use of vowels is also an important aspect of the exquisitely
fashioned poetry of this work. After the writing of
Charmes, the increased emphasis on the technical aspects
and rhetorical devices of poetry comes up again and again
in Valery's pronouncements on poetry. In typical Valdrian
fashion, the theory is expounded after the practice.4
For example, in "Au sujet du Cimetiere marin" published in
1933 as the preface to Gustave Cohen's famous lecture on
the poem, Val6ry writes:
L'univers po6tique don't je parlais
s'introduit par le nombre ou, plutot,
par la density des images, des figures,
des consonances, dissonances, par
1'enchainement des tours et des rythmes,
l'essentiel 6tant d'dviter constamment
ce qui reconduirait a la prose, soit en
la faisant regretter, soit en suivant
exclusivement l'id&e... (0, I, 1502-03).
A similar statement appears in "Questions de podsie:"
Les rimes, l'inversion, les figures
ddveloppdes, les sym6tries et les
images, tout ceci, trouvailles ou con-
ventions, sont autant de moyens de
s'opposer au penchant prosaique du
lecteur comee les "regles" fameuses
de l'art po6tique ont pour effet de
rappeler sans cesse au poote l'univers
complete de cet art). L'impossibilit&
de r6duire a la prose son ouvrage,
celle de le dire, ou de le comprendre
en tant que prose sont des conditions
imperieuses d'existence, hors desquelles
cet ouvrage n'a po6tiquement aucun sens
(0, I, 1294).
For Valery, perhaps the most important by-product of this
emphasis on the conventions of poetry is that by increasing
the poetry, he lessens its chances of being reduced to
Val6ry's poetic theory is revealed and clarified
through the study of the poetic concepts and conventions
that he utilized in the "Fragments du Narcisse," the second
chapter of his autobiographiese poetique." Following a
discussion of additional background material and a brief
survey of some representative studies of the poem, the
first fragment will be compared with "Narcisse parole "
This comparison focuses attention on the range of
poetic conventions Valry used for the poem, but, more
importantly, it points out what he rejected about his early
theory of poetry. Next, the question of influence is
taken up, but, unlike the case of "Narcisse parle," it is
a peripheral issue. Discussion is made necessary by the
frequent allusions to other poets by the critics who dis-
cuss the "Fragments." Sorting out these comparisons and
the question of possible sources does have positive re-
sults, however, since considerable light is shed on Valdry's
thoughts on poetry. Reference to Lucretius, for example,
brings out Valdry's position on the role of philosophy
in poetry. Subsequently, outlining the Ovidian elements
which appear in the poem also reflects aspects of Val6ry's
theory of poetry and underscores his unique ability to
choose and modify Ovid's details to enhance his own con-
cept of poetry. In the final section of this chapter,
the subject of pure poetry will be taken up briefly, but
the emphasis will be on additional theoretical and tech-
nical details of the "Fragments" which are important to
an understanding of Valdry's poetics.
"Fragments du Narcisse" is a dramatic, often
intensely lyrical, poem in three parts. Originally it
was at the center of Charmes.5 In the 1929 version,
considered to have the definitive order, it is number nine
following "Cantique des colonnes" and preceding "L'Abeille."
Taken as a whole, it is the longest poem in Charmes, 314
Each of the three fragments has a history of its
own. The first part has the longest and most complicated
background. It was first published in the Revue de Paris
on the 15th of September, 1919 (pp. 261-64). Later ver-
sions appeared in the Revue Universelle in May 1921 and
a month later in the Nouvelle Revue Frangaise. Also, in
1921, a version was published in La Pleiade which included
for the first time, the epigraph "Cur liquid vidi?"7
This first segment consisting of 148 lines is the longest
of the three fragments which make up the poem. On the
one hand, it is "Narcisse parle" greatly amplified; on
the other hand, it is a major departure from the early
poem. This seeming discrepancy will be cleared up in the
course of the detailed analysis of the poem.
Although the first sixteen lines were published
more than a year earlier in Le Divan, the entire second
fragment, consisting of 116 lines, appeared first in the
Nouvelle Revue Frangaise in 1923.8 The theme of love plays
a major role in all three parts of the poem, but it is
treated most objectively and completely in this second
Most fragmentary in appearance, the third segment
is composed of two sections separated by a line of dots.
The second of the two parts begins and ends with an
unrhymed line. Yet, in many ways the fragmentary aspect
of this part is illusory. The images, vocabulary, and
overall poetry of this section, just like the others, is
very carefully wrought. First published in the Nouvelle
Revue Frangais on May 1, 1922P this fifty-line fragment,
like the first, is reminiscent of "Narcisse parole The
motif of the final kiss appears again, and there is also
a tender rendering of "adieux," but the tone is different,
extremely anguished and tragic.
The three fragments were not united until the
Stols edition of Narcisse in 192610 and the 1926 edition
of Charmes. The 1922 edition of Charmes contained only
the first fragment.11
As was the case with studies of "Narcisse parle,"
it is Pierre-Olivier Walzer who once again presents the
most adequate background information.12 Among other im-
portant facts, he points out a common error which states
that the first publication of the first fragment was in
the Revue Universelle of May 1, 1921 when, in fact, it
first appeared in the Revue de Paris in 1919. Most of
the background material supplied by Walzer plus additional
data, such as the variants, can be found in 0, I, 1663-1673.
Also included there are some of Valdry's own comments made
in interviews and lectures on the subject of "Fragments
du Narcisse." For example, this paragraph from the lecture
"Sur les 'Narcisse,'" appears in O, I, 1671-72.
Assez longtemps apres, l'id4e m'est
venue de faire une sorte do contre-
partie A ce poeme si severe et si
obscur de la Jeune Parque. J'ai
choisi, ou plus exactement s'est
choisi lui-meme, ce theme du Narcisse
d'autrefois, propre a ce je voulais
faire, c'est-a-dire une oeuvre qui
soit presque la contre-partie de
la Jeune Parque, autrement simple
dans sa forme et ne donnant lieu i
presque aucune difficult de com-
prdhension, en portant surtout mon
effort sur 1'harmonie meme de la
Valdry has also made a number of comments concerning
Narcissus in the Cahiers and in letters and articles,
many of them not mentioned in the background information
in the Hytier edition of the OEuvres. A number of these
remarks will be brought up subsequently.
While Valdry's own commentary can be extremely
helpful to the reader attempting to understand his utili-
zation of the Narcissus myth, it is limited and does not
go into a number of important questions raised by the
poem. Although there are not countless exegeses of
"Fragments du Narcisse" as there are of Val6ry's La
Cimetiere marin or La Jeune Parque, still it has been
analyzed quite often and definitely more often than either
of his other works on Narcissus, "Narcisse parle" and
Cantate du Narcisse. Several of the studies of the
"Fragments" turn out to be very valuable in terms of in-
creasing the reader's understanding and enjoyment of the
poem. Even though "Fragments du Narcisse" is not as
difficult as the Cimetiere marin nor as obscure as La
Jeune Parque, it is, nonetheless, a complex and rich work
requiring sustained and determined analysis for maximum
comprehension and appreciation.
Among the analyses of "Fragments du Narcisse,"
Wallace Fowlie's "Valdry's Dream of Narcissus"l4 is a
good introduction to the poem. It is probably the most
thoughtful study in English. Frequently thought-provoking,
it is a broad look at the poem with some fine details.
While Fowlie concentrates primarily on the philosophical
implications of Val@ry's meditation and emphasizes that
the poem has the characteristics of a tragedy, he also
mentions, albeit briefly, several important points re-
lated to Valdry's theory of poetry. He understands, for
example, that Valery sees poetic creation as an exercise:
". .it is an exercise and one of the most brilliant
he ever wrote, on a theme that obsessed him throughout
his life, both in the narrow sense of the Greek myth and
in the broader philosophical sense of the 'self.'"15
For Val6ry the concept that writing poetry was primarily
an exercise was a strong conviction, seriously maintained
and often repeated after his return to poetry. In a
letter to Andrd Fontainas, he mentions the idea in rela-
tion to his masterpiece La Jeune Parque: "Oui, je me
suis impose pour ce poEme des lois, observances constantes,
qui en constituent le veritable objet. C'est bien un
exercise . (0, I, 1631). He even expresses the
idea in the dedication of La Jeune Parque to Gide:
"A Andrd Gide/ Depuis bien des anndes/ j'avais laiss6
1'art des vers:/ essayant de m'y astreindre encore,/ j'ai
fait cet exercise/ que je te d6die. 1917" (0, I, 96).
Again and again the point comes up in his theoretical dis-
cussions on poetry: ". . je rapporte tout ce que je
pense de l'art A l'id6e d'exercise, que je trouve la plus
belle du monde."17 Specifically in relation to "Fragments
Je lui dis que Narcisse 6tait n6
dans mon esprit trente-six ans avant,
a l'occasion d'une pierre oi le
feminin de son nom est grav6; que
l'image de cet amateur de soi-meme
m'avait s6duit en premier par sa
grice, et donn6 l'id6e d'un poeme
fort simple oO il n'y eft que le
chant d'un malheureux trop beau.
Bien des anndes plus tard, je repris
ce theme si pur, et m'en fis un
exercise.18 (My emphasis)
When Val6ry seriously returned to poetry about 1912 or
1913, what primarily interested him about poetic creation
was how much of the mind it was capable of engaging; and,
conversely, he recognized that the exercise of writing
poetry stimulated the mind:
Tandis que je m'abandonnais avec
d'assez grandes jouissances a des
rdflexions de cette espOce, et
que je trouvais dans la po6sie un
sujet de questions infinies, la
meme conscience de moi-m&me qui
m'y engageait me repr6sontait qu'une
speculation sans quelque production
d'oeuvres ou d'actes qui la puissent
vdrifier est chose trop douce pour
ne pas devenir, si profonde ou si
ardue qu'on la poursuive en soi,
une tentation prochaine de facility
sous des apparences abstraites.
Je m' apercevais que ce qui
d6sormais m'int6ressait dans cet
art 6tait la quantity d'esprit
qu'il me semblait pouvoir deve-
lopper, et qu'il excitait d'autant
plus qu'on se faisait de lui une
idde plus approfondie. Je ne
voyais pas moins nettement que
toute cette d6pense d'analyse ne
pouvait prendre un sens et une
valeur que moyennant une prati-
que et une production qui s'y
What is important to Valery is the labor which goes into
the poem and the way the mind functions in creation. It
is the means not the end which Val6ry values most. "En
some, je regarded bien plus amoureusement aux m6thodes
qu'aux resiltats, et la fin ne me justifie pas les moyens
car il n'y a pas de fin" (0, I, 1472).
The last part of the preceding quotation, which
Val4ry emphasizes, is related to another important factor
that comes up in Fowlie's discussion of the poem the
idea that, for Valery, a poem is never finished: "Val6ry
is constantly establishing an opposition between life and
the mind of the poet observing life. But he is also con-
stantly establishing a connection between life and the
poet's mind. Life never comes to a completion (until,
of course, the event of death) and a poem is therefore
never completed until the poet's death arrests all future
work on it."20 Val6ry felt very strongly about this
point, too: "Une oeuvre n'est jamais n6cessairement
finie, car celui qui 1'a faite ne s'est jamais accompli..."
(0, I, 1450-51).21 He comments at length on the subject