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  • Paul Valéry and the Dark Night of the Soul
  • W. T. E. Kennett (bio)
W. T. E. Kennett

Associate Professor of French, Trinity College, University of Toronto


1. An exhaustive Valéry bibliography is lacking. The most useful guide is the Pléiade édition of the Œuvres (2 vols., Paris, Gallimard, 19572 vols., Paris, Gallimard, 1960), referred to hereinafter as Œuvres. Definitive texts of the works mentioned are to be found here, and bibliographical details concerning their original publication arc given in the notes at the end of each volume and in the bibliographical sketch at the beginning of vol. 1.

2. Cahiers, ed. facsimile (Paris, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, 1957–1960), 29 vols. The “period of silence” which began in 1892 with Valéry’s disgust with poetry and determination to devote himself to mathematics, was at first at least only relative, so far as actual publications were concerned. See Jean Hytier, La Poétique de Valéry (Paris, 1953), 7. See also Œuvres, I, 22.

3. Cahiers, IV, 881. For a study of Valéry’s analysis of consciousness, see Judith Robinson, “Dreaming and the Analysis of Consciousness in Valéry’s Cahiers,” French Studies, XVI, no. 2 (April, 1962), 101–23.

4. See Œuvres, I, 445–57.

5. Cyprien de la Nativité de la Vierge, Carme déchaussé, trad. Œuvres spirituelles du B. Père JEAN de la CROIX (Paris, 1641), 2 vols. The pagination of the 2 vols., which is consecutive, is further complicated by the fact that the Introduction has a separate pagination in the same Arabic numerals as the main text. References hereafter will be to the numeration of the main text. Vol. I contains, after the Introduction (not by Cyprien): The eight “Cantiques de l’âme” beginning “A l’ombre d’une Obscure Nuit”; the two treatises entitled “La Montée au Mont Carmel” and “La Nuit Obscure,” which are commentaries on the preceding “Cantiques”; the forty “Cantiques entre l’Ame et Jésus-Christ son Epoux,” followed by the “Exposition des Cantiques….” Vol. II has the four “Cantiques que chante l’Ame en l’intime union avec Dieu” beginning “O vive flamme, ô sainte ardeur”; they are followed by the commentary, and by some works of lesser interest. The “cantiques” referred to are the successive six-line stanzas of the three poems. We cannot deal here with the question of the relationship between the French and Spanish texts.

6. For a discussion of Valéry’s poetic theories, see Hytier, passim.

7. See Lucienne Julien Cain, Trois Essais sur Paul Valéry (Paris, 1958), 129–50, “Edgar Poe et Valéry.”

8. As we shall see. He seems to imply that he read only the first two (Œuvres, 1, 447). One seems to detect a certain lack of frankness (or a failure of the memory?) in Valéry’s account of his dealings with Cyprien. Nowhere in the essay is there any hint of the artistic debt he owed the author of the Cantiques spirituels.

9. Œuvres, I, 157–65.

10. Trois Essais, 94.

11. VI (1916–1918), 506.

12. Œuvres, I, 445.

13. See Hytier, 9; and Œuvres, I, “Introduction biographique,” passim.

14. It should be noted that the Cahiers are essentially a record of Valéry’s own highly abstract thinking and not of his reading. Mentions of other thinkers are very rare indeed. Some idea of the detached and rarefied nature of the Cahiers will be gained from the fact that during the whole period 1914–1919 there is scarcely a mention of the Great War.

15. See Cahiers, VI, 508–9; and Œuvres, I, 1611–41.

16. According to F. Lefèvre, Valéry told him “vers 1913” (see Œuvres, I, 1612). An entry in the Cahiers (VI, 508) gives 1912 as the date of the first work on La Jeune Parque.

17. 600 copies by the Editions de la Nouvelle Revue Française (achevé d’imprimer le 30 Avril 1917).

18. See Hytier, 9 ff; and the references in note 16 above.

19. Valéry’s preoccupations here are mainly metaphysical. He is particularly interested in the psychological phenomenon of surprise or “awakening to...


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