Paul Valery

(1871 - 1945 / Sete / France)

Biography of Paul Valery

Paul Valery poet

Paul Valéry, French poet, essayist, and critic was born in Sète, France in 1871. His father, Barthelmy Valéry, was a customs officer at the sea port of Sète, and his mother, Fanny Grassi, who was the daughter of an Italian consul and a descended from Venetian nobility.

He was educated in Sette and at the lycée and University of Montpellier, and obtained his licence in 1892 after studying law there. In this same year, Valéry fell in love with a young Spanish girl but suffered a personal crisis. It was at this time he discovered the 'revolution of the mind', during a stormy night in Genoa. He turned his back on writing poetry and dedicated himself to gaining 'maximum knowledge and control of his intellect.' The very act of writing, he decided, was one of vanity, and set to free himself at no matter what cost, from those falsehoods: literature and sentiment. During this time he published two prose works. In Introdution de la Methode de Leonard da Vince (1894) he claimed that "all criticism 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." La Soiree Avec Monsieur Teste (1896) which came to be the first part of his Teste cycle.

The publisher Gaston Gallimard, asked Valéry to collect and revise the poetry he had written in the 1890s. Valéry's original plan was to produce a poem of some forty lines, but he finished with one of his major works, La Jeune Pataque, which brought him immediate fame.

His 'mélodrames' Amphion and Sémiramis, found the stage at the Paris Opera in 1931 and 1934. Valéry was elected to the Académie Française in 1925 and in 1933 he was made administrative head of the Centre Universitaire Méditerranéen at Nice.In 1937 Valéry was appointed professor of poetry at the Collège de France. In 1939 he wrote the libretto for Germaine Taillefer's Cantate du Narcisse. Valéry died in Paris on July 20, 1945, and was returned to Sète for his burial.

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The Graveyard By The Sea

This quiet roof, where dove-sails saunter by,
Between the pines, the tombs, throbs visibly.
Impartial noon patterns the sea in flame --
That sea forever starting and re-starting.
When thought has had its hour, oh how rewarding
Are the long vistas of celestial calm!
What grace of light, what pure toil goes to form
The manifold diamond of the elusive foam!
What peace I feel begotten at that source!

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