Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

Paul Valéry’s diverse and copious writings include plays, such as Mon Faust (pb. 1946; My Faust, 1960); musical drama such as Amphion (pr., pb. 1931; English translation, 1960), Sémiramis (pr., pb. 1934; English translation, 1960), and Cantate du Narcisse (pr. 1939; The Narcissus Cantata, 1960); dialogues such as Eupalinos: Ou L’Architecte (1921; Eupalinos: Or, The Architect, 1932) and L’Âme et la danse (1925; Dance and the Soul, 1951); the witty Monsieur Teste series; essays on a wide range of subjects; translations (such as that of Vergil’s Eclogues, 43-37 b.c.e.); numerous book prefaces, speeches, and university lectures; and an extensive correspondence with many illustrious contemporaries, such as André Gide and Stéphane Mallarmé. Dwarfing this work in terms of volume alone are the nearly twenty-nine thousand pages of his notebooks, which he kept from 1894 until his death in 1945. They record his thoughts on such diverse subjects as psychology, mathematics, culture, and literary theory, and are considered to contain some of the most beautiful prose ever written in the French language. Virtually the only literary form which Valéry did not attempt was the novel. He considered the genre, with its contradictory demand to create a fictional reality, to be alien to his sensibilities, once remarking that he was incapable of composing a work which began with a line such as “The Marquise went out at five o’clock.”