UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Le langage de Paul Valery Walsh, Allan Frederick


By the word "langage" is meant the manner in which a poet uses his native tongue to express his thoughts and ideas. The German poet can actually create language, according to Ernst Curtius; the French poet cannot, - he must deal with the language as it exists. In order to express his ideas as clearly as possible Valéry insisted on observing rigid rules and constraints in language. Only by so doing could he achieve clarity. He considered his poems as exercises to this end. He felt that inspiration should have little or no part in the poetic creation, but only by exerting the intellect can a poet approach the state of pure poetry. Valéry took great pains in his choice of words both for their sense and for their musical effect. He was an admirer of Wagner, and as a symbolist sought to express music in words, both as an end in itself and as a support for his images. To Valéry the chief function of the human being lay in the intellect, in the process of thought, and he considered poetry the only road to the essence of being, pure conscience, as for him it was the act of thought. The purer the poetry the closer one approached to the absolute of pure conscience, and the problem of pure poetry is a problem of language. The law of continuity in the method of Leonardo da Vinci interested Valéry much, and in his images he tries to observe it and obey it. As a result his images are often obscure, mainly because of their extreme condensation. Too, Valery often ascribes special meanings to words, and places words together in unusual and unexpected manners, his verbs are always very full, especially verbs of motion, and he makes great use of words of light and colour. The sea also plays a great part in his poetry. There run through the poetry of Valéry certain words which are characteristic of his thought, and which recur time and again with slight variances of meaning. The two most important of these are "absence" and "pur", both of which have to do with the concept of the absolute. These may be termed key-words, and others not quite so important, master-words. To sum up, Valéry's interest was in the intellect and its functioning, poetry was to him the supreme creative activity because it was the intellect in action, so to speak. But poetry involves the use of language, therefore Valery approached the handling of language with an intensity and a capacity which have made him one of the masters of language among the French poets.

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