Paul Valéry

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Ambroise-Paul-Toussaint-Jules Valéry (30 October 187120 July 1945) was a French author and Symbolist poet. His interests were sufficiently broad that he can be classified as a polymath. In addition to his fiction (poetry, drama, and dialogues), he also wrote many essays and aphorisms on art, history, letters, music, and current events.


  • The folly of mistaking a paradox for a discovery, a metaphor for a proof, a torrent of verbiage for a spring of capital truths, and oneself for an oracle, is inborn in us.
    • Introduction to the Method of Leonardo da Vinci (1895)
  • Collect all the facts that can be collected about the life of Racine and you will never learn from them the art of his verse. All criticism is dominated by the outworn theory that the man is the cause of the work as in the eyes of the law the criminal is the cause of the crime. Far rather are they both the effects.
    • Introduction to the Method of Leonardo da Vinci
  • You have neither the patience that weaves long lines nor a feeling for the irregular, nor a sense of the fittest place for a thing ... For you intelligence is not one thing among many. You ... worship it as if it were an omnipotent beast ... a man intoxicated on it believes his own thoughts are legal decision, or facts themselves born of the crowd and time. He confuses his quick changes of heart with the imperceptible variation of real forms and enduring Beings .... You are in love with intelligence, until it frightens you. For your ideas are terrifying and your hearts are faint. Your acts of pity and cruelty are absurd, committed with no calm, as if they were irresitible. Finally, you fear blood more and more. Blood and time.
    • Writing at the Yalu River (1895) quoted in Of Time, Passion, and Knowledge: Reflections on the Strategy of Existence (1990) by Julius Thomas Fraser, Part 2, Images in Heaven and on the Earth, Ch. IV, The Roots of Time in the Physical World. Sect. 3 The Living Symmetries of Physics

  • We civilizations now know ourselves mortal.
    • La Crise de l'Esprit (1919)
  • The sea, the ever renewing sea!
    • Charmes. Le Cimetière Marin (1922)
  • The wind is rising...we must attempt to live.
    • Charmes. Le Cimetière Marin
  • Poetry is simply literature reduced to the essence of its active principle. It is purged of idols of every kind, of realistic illusions, of any conceivable equivocation between the language of "truth" and the language of "creation."
    • Littérature (1930)
  • Science is feasible when the variables are few and can be enumerated; when their combinations are distinct and clear. We are tending toward the condition of science and aspiring to do it. The artist works out his own formulas; the interest of science lies in the art of making science.
    • Moralités (1932)
  • Science means simply the aggregate of all the recipes that are always successful. All the rest is literature.
    • Moralités
  • An intelligent woman is a woman with whom one can be as stupid as one wants.
    • Mauvaises Pensées et Autres (1941)
  • The painter should not paint what he sees, but what will be seen.
    • Mauvaises Pensées et Autres
  • The very object of an art, the principle of its artifice, is precisely to impart the impression of an ideal state in which the man who reaches it will be capable of spontaneously producing, with no effort of hesitation, a magnificent and wonderfully ordered experession of his nature and our destinies.
    • Remarks on Poetry in The Art of Poetry (1958)
  • For the musician, before he has begun his work, all is in readiness so that the operation of his creative spirit may find, right from the start, the appropriate matter and means, without any possibility of error. He will not have to make this matter and means submit to any modification; he need only assemble elements which are clearly defined and ready-made. But in how different a situation is the poet! Before him is ordinary language, this aggregate of means which are not suited to his purpose, not made for him. There have not been physicians to determine the relationships of these means for him; there have not been constructors of scales; no diapason, no metronome, no certitude of this kind. He has nothing but the coarse instrument of the dictionary and the grammar. Moreover, he must address himself not to a special and unique sense like hearing, which the musician bends to his will, and which is, besides, the organ par excellence of expectation and attention; but rather to a general and diffused expectation, and he does so through a language which is a very odd mixture of incoherent stimuli.
    • Originally delivered as a lecture (late 1927). Pure Poetry: Notes for a Lecture The Creative Vision (1960)
  • A work is never completed except by some accident such as weariness, satisfaction, the need to deliver, or death: for, in relation to who or what is making it, it can only be one stage in a series of inner transformations.
    • 'Recollection, Collected Works, vol. 1 (1972)
  • Poe is the only impeccable writer. He was never mistaken.
    • Letter to writer André Gide. Quoted in Julian Symons, The Tell-Tale Heart: The Life and Works of Edgar Allan Poe, pt. 1, epilogue (1978)

Tel Quel (1943)

  • That which has always been accepted by everyone, everywhere, is almost certain to be false.
  • God created man, and finding him not sufficiently alone, gave him a female companion so that he might feel his solitude more acutely.
  • The purpose of psychology is to give us a completely different idea of the things we know best.
  • Politeness is organized indifference.
  • Politics is the art of stopping people from minding their own business.
  • Politics is the art of preventing people from taking part in affairs which properly concern them.


  • A businessman is a hybrid of a dancer and a calculator.
  • A good poet is of no more use to his country than a good petanque player.
  • A man who is “of sound mind” is one who keeps the inner madman under lock and key.
  • A poem is never finished; it's always an accident that puts a stop to it-that is to say, gives it to the public.
  • Ma main se sent touchée aussi bien qu’elle touche ; réel veut dire cela, et rien de plus.
    • Translation: My hand feels touched as well as it touches; reality says this, and nothing more.
  • Modern man no longer works at what cannot be abbreviated.
  • On a toujours cherché des explications quand c’était des représentations qu’on pouvait seulement essayé d’inventer.
    • Translation: We have always sought explanations when it was only representations that we could seek to invent.
  • The best way to make your dreams come true is to wake up.
  • The future is not what it used to be.
  • The trouble with our times is that the future is not what it used to be.
  • To see is to forget the name of the thing one sees.
  • A poem is never finished, only abandoned.

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