Paul Valéry
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96 French Paul Valéry (1871–1945) The Birth of Venus Out of the mothering deep, still cold and sweating, At the storm-beaten threshold, here the flesh Vomited to the sunlight by the bitter wash, Tears itself free from the diamond fretting. Her smile forms, slips where the white arm lies, Weeps down a bruised shoulder’s rosiness, Pure treasure of the watery Thetis, And her hair runs a shiver down her thighs. The pebbles, spattered, tossed aside—so agile Her course—crumble a thirsty sound, and fragile Sands drink as they kiss her childlike bounds; Vague or perfidious, she has a thousand glances; Her flashing eye, the lightning’s awe compounds With smiling sea, and the waves’ faithless dances. Bather Like fruit her naked flesh bathes in a pool (Blue in the trembling gardens) but over the brim The gold head shines, detaching the hair’s coil, Strong as a casque, cut off at the throat by a tomb. Beauty forced open by the rose and the comb! Born from the mirror itself where her jewels steep— Bizarre broken fires whose hard cluster bites Her ear given up to naked words and the soft deep. A rippling arm drowns in the water’s hollow Because of a flower’s shadow plucked in vain, Ravels, washes, dreams toward delight to follow, Paul Valéry 97  While the other, curved simply under the lovely sky, Moistening her hair’s luxuriant fold, Catches a drunken insect’s flight in gold. In Sleeping Beauty’s Wood The princess, in a palace of pure rose, Sleeps under whispers changing shadow brings; A word on the bright mouth, half-uttered, shows When the lost birds peck at her golden rings. She does not hear the raindrops as they fall, Tinkling a far-off century’s lost praise, Nor hears above the wood a wind’s flute call Tearing across the hunting horn’s far phrase. Let the long echo give back to sleep the waking, Always, O more resembling the soft vine That balances and on your sealed eyes beats. So close to your cheek, and slowly, the blown rose Will never dissipate those delicate pleats Secretly sensitive to light’s falling rays. Caesar Caesar, calm Caesar, standing on all that is, Fists clenched in his beard, and somber eye informed By eagles and the sunset’s combat stormed, Your heart swells, and feels itself all-powerful cause. Vainly the lake quivers and laps its bed of rose; Vainly the young wheat shines like precious metal; You harden and knot in the tension of the will Order, at last forcing your mouth to unclose. 98 French Enormous world, beyond horizon’s end, The Empire waits for lightning, the decree, the brand Which will change evening to a furious dawn. Happy on the waters, rocked by chance apart, A fisherman sings and, indolent, floats on, Ignorant of the bolt gathering in Caesar’s heart. Louise Bogan and May Sarton, 1959 ...


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