The Young Fate, also translated as The Youngest of the Fates and The Eternal Virgin, is the work that catapulted Valéry to the forefront of the French literary scene. Dedicated to André Gide, the person to whom Valéry credits his renewed motivation to write poetry, the poem was written over the period from 1912 to 1917. During the struggle with the composition of The Young Fate, Valéry wrote approximately thirty other short works published in the collection Charmes: Ou, Poèmes in 1922.

The poet himself agreed that The Young Fate was his most obscure poem. The two main reasons that he undertook the poem were to continue the quest for identity already begun in his notebooks during these years and to indulge his preoccupation with form. He desired to create a literary means to show the kind of evolution from form to content that he termed “modulation” in music. He studied the operatic recitatives of Christoph Gluck’s Alceste (1767), whose purpose was to merge the poetry and the music into a dramatic whole. Valéry observed that the structure of the language and musical form in the speechlike passages functioned to immerse and carry the listener along in the intended mood of the work, unifying structure and feeling.

The poem is composed of 512 lines of Alexandrine verse. Keeping within strict twelve-syllable form, Valéry uses alliteration and inner assonance to give lines a...

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