Title: Narcissus in Valéry's poetics
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Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00098937/00001
 Material Information
Title: Narcissus in Valéry's poetics
Physical Description: vi, 237 leaves. : ; 28 cm.
Language: English
Creator: Schnare, Dorothy Hopkins, 1938-
Publication Date: 1974
Copyright Date: 1974
Subject: Narcissus (Mythology)   ( lcsh )
Romance Languages and Literatures thesis Ph. D   ( lcsh )
Dissertations, Academic -- Romance Languages and Literatures -- UF   ( lcsh )
Genre: bibliography   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )
Thesis: Thesis -- University of Florida.
Bibliography: Bibliography: leaves 230-236.
General Note: Typescript.
General Note: Vita.
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Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
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Resource Identifier: alephbibnum - 000580821
oclc - 14087861
notis - ADA8926


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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.


ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS ........... ........................ ii

ABSTRACT .......................... ..................... ... ... iv

INTRODUCTION ................ ............. ....... ....... 1

NOTES ........................................... .. 12

CHAPTER ONE: "NARCISSE PARLE" ......................... 14

NOTES .............................. ........... ... 76


Introduction and Background...................... 85

"Narcisse parole" and the "Fragments"............. 105

Questionable Sources ............................. 122

Ovidian Elements............ .... .. .... ......... 138

Further Poetic Considerations.................... 149

Summary .............. .............. ............. 163

NOTES .......... ............ ......... ........... 167


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



Dorothy Hopkins Schnare

August, 1974

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

poetic theory.

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
(1956), 55.


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

beaux ornements."

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

les Narcisses:


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.

Narcisse Parle

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
d'6phebe solitaire.

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
(lines 459-60).

Et lacrimis turbavit aquas, obscuraque moto
(1. 475).

Inrita fallaci quotiens dedit oscula fonti!
(1. 427).

Credule, quid frustra simulacra fugacia captas?
(1. 432).

'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
mon coeur.

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

his poem.

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

of poetry:

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

in poetry:

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
au moins.71

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
des tombeaux.77

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
[. .]79

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.

It becomes:

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-

jective "glauque."

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

poetic problems.

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

des lapidaires."

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

d'un poete:"

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
cause autre.

Parler, c'est entendre [. .]

Le silence et l'attention sont
incompatible. II faut que le courant
soit ferm6.

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

similar change:

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
un po1me.04

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

general aims.

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

autobiographiese po6tique."


"'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),
p. 31.

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
Press, 1967).

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,
p. 116.

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),
p. 144-45.

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),
p. 47.

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
Gide's Traiti.

66Correspondance Gide-Valery, p. 46.

67Both would eventually attend Mallarm6's "mardi
soirs" frequently.

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,"
p. 54.

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.



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

mere prose.

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

du Narcisse:"

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

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