Quick Thought after Paul Valéry

So I’ve been reading Paul Valéry’s “The Art of Poetry,” which I’m halfway through at this point. He’s been talking bad about critics, looking back on time away from poetry, and the woes of trying to explain a thing that feels implicit.

We must not lay stress upon [words], or we shall see the clearest discourse dissolve into enigmas and more or less learned illusions.

Paul Valéry: The Art of Poetry, trans. Denise Folliot, Pantheon Books, p56

As I’m working on a poem, I’ve decided to change enjambed lines which had felt off as I wrote them–I had ignored an unfamiliar sense for the sake of following a clear grammar and an expected break. I’m making the edit because Valéry has me thinking that I am undoing what had been a conscious effort to change the poem from its pure state.

The great error had not been whether or not the line successfully transitioned into the other or not, but that initially I had decided to move the few words purely on the basis of choice and logic.

It was after reading Valéry that I realized the error of pushing away chance with the forces of logic and reason.

Who knows what would have happened if I only stayed on the weird, wild, and unruly course I had set out on? The poem is lost, I’m afraid.

This, when the goal is to ignore the practical for the incomprehensible.

This is to say that the ‘state of poetry’ is completely irregular, inconstant, involuntary, and fragile, and that we lose it, as we find it, ‘by accident.’

Paul Valéry: The Art of Poetry, trans. Denise Folliot, Pantheon Books, p60, my quotation marks.

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